Luis Santos immigrated to the United States from Lima, Peru when he was 13 years old. Growing up, Santos wasn’t certain what career he wanted to pursue, “I thought I wanted to be a firefighter,” he says laughing. Since South Florida is a hub for hospitality jobs, it is no surprise that he gravitated towards those positions. “I worked in various customer service roles at local hotels. I knew I wanted to do something in the hospitality industry, but I wasn’t sure,” he says. Then, at 23 years old, he decided to pursue his vision and enroll in Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School in Miami. Santos remembers a childhood memory that led him to become a chef. “I remember my mom used to ask me what I wanted to eat for my birthday. I think I was 6 years old. I told her to make my favorite dish. By 9 years old, I was preparing that dish myself because I loved it so much. I wanted to know how to make it and master it on my own.”
Now, as the Executive Chef and Owner, Santos has shown he’s worth his salt with his third restaurant, Inkanto Peruvian Cuisine located in Fort Lauderdale. In March, Inkanto, whose name merges the word, “Inca” and “encanto” (charm) celebrated its two year anniversary. Santos loves the unique experience that the restaurant business provides, “No day is the same. I couldn’t work at a job that was mundane. The beauty of this field is that everyday brings different challenges, so I never get bored.” The life of a chef is certainly not an easy one. It requires long hours. The pace is very demanding. Social life and free time are often compromised. Only chefs that truly love what they do sustain longevity in this fast-paced profession, “If you don’t have passion for what you do, you just feel obligated. I don’t do it for the money. I do it because I love it,” Santos admits.
In an over-saturated market, it is important to stand out. “I’m always evolving by trying to create dishes that captivate the customer,” Santos says. “We have quite a few regulars who visit the restaurant 3-4 times a week. I feel it’s my duty to give them a variety of options, so I’m always thinking about what new items I can incorporate into the menu. Customer satisfaction is my number one priority.”
Peru is often referred to as the “culinary capital of Latin America.” Santos understands that in order to evolve he needs to continue to learn and grow as a chef, “I travel to Peru once a month to gain inspiration and refresh my ideas.” By visiting his native country, Santos diversifies his skills, stays up-to-date with techniques as well as commits to the authenticity of his practice. “Dining is an experience and it’s my job to make it the best experience possible,” Santos reflects.