Staff Spotlight: Hector Cruz, Executive Chef

Airlie Executive Chef Hector Cruz

If you have recently visited Airlie for business or pleasure, you have tasted the culinary influences of Chef Hector Cruz. As Airlie’s new Executive Chef, Hector brings years of experience as a Garde Manger, master of cold food creation and colorful display to the table - quite literally - and his exceptional talent with a carving knife adds a flare to buffet bravura.

Inspired by his Puerto Rican heritage and south Florida upbringing, Hector's personality shines through his menus with bold yet approachable flavor profiles and creative use of locally grown products.

Born and raised in Miami, Florida, Hector became interested in cooking by helping his Mother in the kitchen. Not only was she the family cook, routinely hosting the extended family for meals, but she also ran a catering business, which also offered pastry services. When Hector was 11 years old, he began assisting his Mother during holiday meal preparations and first began to understand his passion for the kitchen.

Hector attended Johnson & Wales University in Miami, and while in school began working at the Ocean Reef Country Club. Under the tutelage of Chef Mark Galludet, Chef Nelson Millán, and Chef Rafael Torano, Hector climbed the ranks at Ocean Reef. He was eager to learn, citing that often times when his shift was complete, he would find himself observing other culinary specialties such as Pastry.

In 2007, Hector was presented with an opportunity to move to Boar's Head in Charlottesville, Virginia, and work with his mentor, Chef Galludet. Hector continued as Garde Manger Chef, but due to the fast-paced nature of his environment, wore many hats and went on to lead the team of talented culinarians.

Taking on the Executive Chef role at Airlie is an exciting new chapter, as Hector puts it, “a new property means a new challenge.” He is looking forward to working with his Culinary Team, which includes Head Gardener, Katey Wietor. “The opportunity to plan menus based on what’s fresh from our own on-site garden is very special. I’m excited to collaborate with Katey and spend time in the garden hand-selecting herbs and produce regularly.” He continues, "I believe in the Airlie vision and am excited to build upon their rich history, which includes environmentally-friendly roots and a strong culinary program." Alongside Sous Chef Brian Donato, and Garden Bistro Restaurant Chef Tyler Canon, Hector will work to add his signature to Airlie’s menus, including new and exciting flavors inspired by the team.

What is your favorite thing about Airlie?
The people and the camaraderie. We work as a team and have fun while we’re doing it. The team across the board at Airlie is passionate about what they are doing.

What do you do when you’re not at work?
This summer I planted a garden at home with lots of herbs, tomatoes, and peppers. I was pleasantly surprised with about 30lbs of tomatoes – not bad for a first harvest! I also love preparing traditional Spanish “home-cooked” meals.

Why do you love your job / cooking / creating new dishes?
The people – specifically, feeding people to make their day special. Whether it’s a wedding, luncheon or Thursday evening dinner, I believe food can make someone's day. That’s why I chose the hospitality industry; to serve people, and make their day extra enjoyable. 

What’s your favorite vacation spot?
Anywhere in the Carribean I can see clear water for miles around and relax on the beach – especially Puerto Rico. I try to get there once a year. I also have family in The Bronx, NYC and visit there often as well – although it's a very different type of vacation. 

Favorite meal?
Traditional Puerto Rican food. My favorite is Roasted Pork with Pigeon Pea Rice.  The cuisine is hard to find in Central hector-bistroVirginia, so I mostly cook this dish at home.

What is your favorite kitchen utensil or tool you could not live without?
Definitely my knives. Chef Nelson Millán from Ocean Reef made a carving knife for me, which travels with me everywhere.

What would you do if you won $1 million in the lottery?
Spend lots of time with family. Maybe start a food truck business.

Who is your hero and why?
My three mentor chefs from Ocean Reef. Chef Galludet gave me the opportunity to move and advance my career. Chef Millán and Chef Torano both gave me inspiration and vision of all there is to do in our industry. When I was mastering Ice and fruit/vegetable carving, they told me, “it’s not easy, just keep working towards your goals as success takes a lot of hard work.” To this day, I live by those words and share them with my team regularly.

Who living or passed would you like to have a meal with?
Definitely my parents. Since I moved away from Miami 9 years ago, I don’t get to see them as much, and always enjoy sharing a family meal together.


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