Amidst the turbulent times and swirling debate over immigration, one New York City chef represents the positive outcome that can be accomplished. Armed with a recipe that includes hard work and an insatiable desire to learn Chef Saul Montiel has accomplished his American dreams.
Montiel is the Executive Chef of Cantina Rooftop, one of New York City’s most popular rooftop spots. Saul Montiel, now age 35, was born in Atotonilco el Grande, a small town outside of the city of Pachuca in central Mexico. Montiel was one of four children, all of whom were raised by his single mother, Margarita Montiel Perez. As a young child, Montiel adopted the kitchen as his second home, where he developed a passion for food.
At age fifteen, Montiel moved to the United States and lived with family members in New York City and began work at Diva. It was there that Montiel learned much from the cooks he worked with. Montiel’s culinary skills allowed him to quickly advance in the kitchen. He began working at I Coppi, a Tuscan cuisine restaurant, and was responsible for its salads, pizzas, and desserts. He also worked at Amaranth, an Upper East Side restaurant that specializes in the fusion of Italian and French cuisines.
“When I came to New York I was determined to find an opportunity in the restaurant industry. I didn’t care what I had to do to get started, so I basically showed up and washed dishes at several restaurants,” Montiel continued. “God I hated it. I was washing hundreds of dishes and it drove me to tears. Kind of funny though how things worked out as people wouldn’t show up to work and the next thing I knew I was working on the cooking line.”
It was at his next job, at the Mediterranean restaurant Tappo, that Saul Montiel had the good fortune of meeting Chef Jodi Williams, now a television personality on Food Network. Montiel soon found himself making pizza. “The owners liked how I made the dough and before I knew it they had me making pasta.”
Williams served as a mentor to Montiel, teaching him many of his culinary skills and reaffirming his passion for food. At nineteen years of age, Montiel worked directly under Williams as Tappo’s sous chef. When Williams moved to Giorgione, founded by Giorgio DeLuca of Dean & DeLuca gourmet foods line, she invited Montiel to work with her once again. Montiel continued to work as Giorgione’s sous chef until he was appointed executive chef when Williams moved to another restaurant.
“She had restaurants in New York and Tokyo. I was 19 years old and she taught me so much. But then she left and ownership asked me if I could run the kitchen. I said yes and told myself that I would figure it out along the way.”
After Giorgione, Montiel moved to SoHo’s Lure Fishbar, where he worked as sous chef to Chef Josh Capon. After his work at Lure, Montiel was invited by Williams to work as the sous chef of Gusto Ristorante e Bar Americano, owned by restaurateur Sasha Muniak, the founder of New York’s Mangia Corporation. At Gusto, Montiel worked as sous chef to celebrity chefs, Amanda Freitag and Anne Burrell.
In 2008, Montiel became executive chef of Gusto and in 2009, he became part-owner of the restaurant. He is also part owner of The Lexington Social, a cocktail and Mediterranean tapas lounge located in East Harlem.
While at Gusto, Saul Montiel has been featured on several television programs, including Telemundo’s “Al Rojo Vivo” and Univision’s “Despierta America.” He has been featured on the front page of El Diario and has been recognized for his contributions to the Latino community in New York City.
In 2017 he started at Cantina Rooftop, but also reopened his grandparents’ old restaurant La Unica in Hilalgo. With Cantina Rooftop’s new menu reflecting both the old and new worlds of Mexican cuisine, he took classic recipes and made them fun and delicious, adding some American dishes with a Mexican twist.
Montiel’s recipe for success at Cantina Rooftop has been based on authentic product and enticing price point. “We utilize authentic heirloom tomatoes that create a signature taste and combine that with signature cheese blends. We are in that $12 to $18 entree range that makes our menu a great value.”
Chef Saul Montiel has managed to accomplish his American dream on his own terms. “With a wonderful wife, two wonderful daughters and a successful restaurant, I am very lucky,” Montiel concluded.
To learn more about Cantina Rooftop and Chef Saul Montiel’s cuisine, visit their website.