REGIONAL CHEF/ DIEGO SOLANO
Diego Solano always had dreams and aspirations to become a lawyer. Born and raised in Costa Rica, he remembers being young and eating his grandmother's home cooking, but never pictured the culinary arts being his calling. In a change of heart and the curiosity to learn more about food, Solano attended and graduated with a degree in Culinary Arts from Universidad de Costa Rica in YEAR.
In 2001, Solano moved to the United States and settled in Hiltonhead, South Carolina, where he began his career in the kitchen as a line cook in local restaurants. Making his way south, Solano moved to Palm Beach Island, Florida in 2004, where he landed his first position as Executive Chef at Grotto's in 2007. Prior to its opening, Solano spent a few months in Italy to learn the ins and outs of traditional Italian cuisine. During this trip, he took culinary classes in Italian kitchens and was given the opportunity to cook with Italian chefs from all over the country. It was there that Solano learned to prepare homemade pastas, sauces and different meats, which became the key to his success at Grotto's.
In June 2014 Solano received an opportunity he couldn't refuse, when approached by Carlos Centurion and Juan Carlos Marchan of Centurion Restaurant Group - owners of Bulla Gastrobar in Coral Gables - to become their new regional chef. Given the success of the Spanish gastrobar, and word that the restaurant would be opening a new concept in 2015, Solano accepted the offer.
Since, Centurion, Marchan and Solano traveled to Spain for eight weeks, where the chef had the fortune of cooking in some of Spain's most prestigious kitchens, acquiring techniques from acclaimed chefs as well as homemade family recipes in small home kitchens. During his trip to Spain, Solano visited Madrid, San Sebastian and Barcelona to sharpen his understanding of tapas and authentic Spanish dishes.
"I learned so much during my trip to Spain and have been inspired to bring new dishes to our menu at Bulla," said Solano. "One of my favorite parts of the trip was going to the markets every morning with local chefs, and seeing and learning about the ingredients and different produce."
A natural leader, Solano believes that educating and coaching his team are fundamentals of success. "It's important to teach the younger chefs your techniques and ways of doing things, so you can trust that while you're not in the kitchen, everything will come out consistent," says Solano. "For me to grow as a chef, I must be able to leave the kitchen once in a while and trust that my team is delivering and preparing dishes to the best of standards."
Solano will be opening Bulla's newest concept in Town & Country in Spring 2015, while overseeing their flagship location in Coral Gables. His vision for Bulla is to launch three or four new locations by 2016, and ensure that all Bulla locations capture the taste, caliber and feel the authenticity of the cuisine, operation and experience.
Learn More About Diego Solano
What is your earliest memory involving food or wine?
My earliest memory involving food and wine is when I was a child and in my grandmother's house in Costa Rica. Everyone was gathered in the kitchen cooking up their signature dishes, the music was on, the windows were open and everyone was having a great time. Every time I smell one of those dishes it takes me back to my childhood.
If you've participated in the Festival before, what is your favorite SOBEWFF memory to date?
My favorite memory of SOBEWFF is, without a doubt, from 2014 when Graeter's won the award for Best Sweet. It was quite a thrill to share the stage with Shake Shack for best savory. As always, for an aspiring home-chef like me, getting to meet the Food Network’s star chefs is always a pretty big thrill too.
If you could cook with anyone in the world, who would it be?
I never leave home without my:
Willingness to learn about other culture’s culinary dishes.