NAO San Antonio

The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) established a San Antonio campus in 2010 thanks to a $35 million donation from local entrepreneur and philanthropist Christopher “Kit” Goldsbury. Goldsbury made his fortune in salsa—initially making it from scratch and bottling it on the line before he became the CEO of Pace Foods, then selling the company to Campbell Soup years later. His generous gift came in an effort to give back to the same industry where he found profit, to support domestic ties to Latin American cuisine and to assist kitchen workers who may not have the resources to attend culinary school (roughly two-thirds of the money is designated for need-based scholarships).


The San Antonio campus was the third CIA location, following the main campus in Hyde Park, New York, and the Greystone campus in Napa Valley (and now there’s a fourth location in Singapore). It is the first culinary program of its kind to offer a certificate program in Latin cuisine, with the first class of students beginning this March. The 30-week program is an in-depth curriculum for those who have already earned associates degrees in culinary arts, which are also offered, and want to study the foods of Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and more.

The campus is located at the site of the historic former Pearl Brewery, which has been restored and transformed into a cultural epicenter and is already home to such restaurants as Il Sogno Osteria, La Gloria, Sandbar and the CIA Bakery Café. But an exciting new addition recently emerged with the opening of NAO: New World Flavors—a CIA teaching restaurant focusing on New World, pan-Latin flavors.

“A restaurant where our students can serve the public is a part of CIA’s core educational offerings,” says Stephan Hengst, director of marketing, communications and public relations for the CIA. “As a not-for-profit college, our primary focus is education. We reinvest in facilities and our faculty to make it the best experience for our students.” Hence, campus-run restaurants such as NAO [pronounced “nay-o”] are created not as a means for generating profit, but as experiential labs. “Any public offering that we provide there, the proceeds will be reinvested in the education of our students,” explains Hengst.

NAO’s menu is focused on small plates and tapas with a variety of entrée-style offerings, as well. Set along the famous River Walk, guests may choose to dine indoors or out. One side of the restaurant is a casual 24-seat tapas lounge, while the other is a formal 78-seat dining room with an open kitchen. In addition to all the standard equipment found in a fine-dining establishment, NAO’s kitchen is home to a number of pieces of Latin American specialty equipment, such as a six-foot parrilla grill, a wood-fired comal and a wood-fired hearth oven for mastering open-fire cooking techniques. 

NAO’s executive chef, Venezuelan-born Geronimo Lopez, will do a majority of the teaching, but an exciting array of visiting chefs from around the world will act as guest instructors. While the visiting chefs might be well-known in their own countries, Hengst points out that this might be the only opportunity many people in North America will get to try their food. A limited number of tickets will be offered to the public for these special dinners. “We’re really excited about this opportunity,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity for students to work for [the chefs], but also a great opportunity for the general public—to learn more about these chefs and taste their cuisine.” Some upcoming guest chefs include Peru’s Pedro Miguel Schiaffino (July 2–7), Brazil’s Yara Castro Roberts (August 6–11) and Almir Da Fonseca (August 27–September 1), Bolivia’s Eric Calderon (September 10–15) and Argentina’s Huberto O’Farrel (October 9–13). —Veronica Meewes


NAO is currently open for dinner and seats are available by
reservation only. For more information visit ciachef.edu.

NAO
312 Pearl Pkwy., San Antonio
210-554-6484
naorestaurant.com