Meet Cristian Camacho ’09, currently a line cook at Frontera Grill.
Cristo Rey celebrates all 2,319 alumni and this month, we are honored to share the profile of Cristian Camacho ’09, a line cook and aspiring restauranteur.
Upon graduating from Cristo Rey in 2009, Cristian enrolled at Northeastern Illinois University to study Accounting. After two years and much discernment, he decided to take a leave of absence and began searching for a different profession that would bring him more joy. Inspired by the first season of Hell’s Kitchen, and through joining his mother in the kitchen, Cristian began researching culinary schools.
He enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago. His parents were skeptical about the career change, but after a couple of visits to restaurants he was able to show his parents the potential of this new career.
After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu, Cristian began working at Carnivale, a Latin inspired restaurant. Working under Chef David grew his passion for cooking. He shared his future aspirations of becoming a restaurateur and it was Chef David who encouraged Cristian to return to NEIU and complete his business degree. He completed his General Business degree in 2019.
After Carnivale, Cristian transitioned to Topolobampo, where he worked until COVID-19 closures. Since the city’s reopening, he began work at Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill and has had the opportunity to also work at the other Rick Bayless’ restaurants: Xoco, Bar Sotano, and Leña Brava.
Cristian’s favorite dish is the first plate he helped inspire to the menu at Topolobampo, the Noche Buena salad, pictured. He developed an interest in food fermentation and for this dish, he used fermented honey on the salmon. He also enjoys making aguachiles because they are so simple yet so versatile.
The Noche Buena salad: Ora King salmon (slow-cooked with fermented honey), olive oil poached beet, crunchy jicama, new-harvest citrus, fermented peanuts with guajillo chile, pomegranate.
Aside from loving the cooking piece, he also enjoys the environment of the kitchen and the bond between all the staff. Even on busy days, like New Year’s Eve, working with a colleague and finding harmony among the chaos while delivering a great service is what feeds his passion.
“All of our hard work, you can see it. Food brings people memories and creates new ones,” says Cristian, thinking about his guests.
When asked about the advice he would give to others who are interested in becoming a chef he responded, “If you want to pursue it go for it. It is a tough environment; you will need to be tough." Being a chef requires great passion and motivation and for him, it is his family and his Guatemalan culture that motivates him. Chefs work long hours, on the weekends and holidays. He acknowledged that missing family birthdays or events has been tough, but to move ahead in the industry the sacrifice is required.
When Cristian is not in the kitchen, you can still find him working with his hands. One of his hobbies is modifying his car, a hobby he shares with his dad and finds very therapeutic. He is also very passionate about coffee and beer brewing, as well as plants. Cristian also loves spending time with his two-year-old niece, introducing her to new flavors – his little taster and future restaurateur.
In the future, Cristian hopes to open his own gourmet restaurant to honor his Guatemalan heritage, and one that will earn a Michelin star. Other potential business ventures are starting his own coffee or beer brewing business.
Cristian attributed his discipline to Cristo Rey, “Cristo Rey te pone el martillo (puts the hammer on you). Teachers care about more than just an education, they want us to become leaders. As a student you don’t realize it, but as you mature and go through life and go back to Cristo Rey, you discover how it has helped keep you focused.”
While a student at Cristo Rey, he worked at the Chicago Board of Trade, R.R. Donnelly, and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange through the Corporate Work Study Program. There, he learned skills like time management, organization, being proactive, and maintenance. These are lifelong skills – today, his workstation is ready to go, he looks presentable when walking into the dining room, and being proactive has allowed him to work at all four of Rick Bayless’ Chicago restaurants.
Cristian also shared his favorite memory at Cristo Rey: a time working on a mural project with eight of his classmates. It was the first time they all worked together on a project outside of school and after it was done his friendships became stronger.
Thank you to Cristian Camacho ’09 for sharing his career journey with us. We are so proud of your work and know your passion will take you to the next level! For updates on Cristian’s future endeavors, follow him at @whats.cris.cooking.
Would you like to be featured? Contact Citlally Delgado, Manager of Alumni Support.