Andrea Cuellar ’07 welcomes the opportunity to show off her chef’s coat and share her CIA pride with the world. A post on Instagram by her company gave her the chance to do just that. “It was a quick mini photo shoot by the marketing team at Just Salad,” Andrea recalled of the post, a part of the restaurant’s #humansofjustsalad social media campaign.
She has every reason to be proud. For three years, Andrea has been heading the development and implementation strategy for Just Salad’s R&D team. A lot goes into that, including developing seasonal and permanent menu items; scheduling menu tests, tastings, roll-outs, photo shoots, and media events; modifying existing recipes and processes to align with the brand’s core values; educating the operations team about menu changes; conducting menu audits; and training international franchise partners.
Did she expect to lead research and development in the quick-service sector? “Never in my wildest dreams,” Chef Cuellar says. Like many incoming CIA freshmen, her initial goal was to be a chef in a high-end restaurant. “But at the CIA, I learned that there were many pathways to follow,” she says. “My calling was to be behind the scenes developing the recipes and menu items for restaurants. I knew I wanted to teach food, but it never occurred to me that I’d be doing that on such a large scale.”
It was through working at her grandmother’s four-seat juice bar and sandwich shop in Los Angeles that her love of the food business began. In high school, as part of the Careers Through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP), she won a week at the CIA at Greystone in the Napa Valley.
“From there, I just knew that the CIA was my top choice,” she recalls. When Andrea earned college scholarships from C-CAP, she used them to enroll at the CIA, and that was life-changing. “My CIA experience helped open my eyes to the bigger world of the food industry. Not only did I learn so much about food and different cuisines, but I also got a well-rounded education about the industry from different perspectives,” she explains. “I am glad I chose to stay for the bachelor’s program as well. That taught me so much about management and different styles of dealing with it. If I could do it again, I totally would!”
Quick-service R&D may not be where she planned to be 10 years after graduation, but keeping an open mind led to career success. “It doesn’t matter where you come from, if your passion is food, then the CIA is the place to go! You will go in with one idea in mind of where you think your career will go, but the CIA will help expand that. You may choose to go in a different direction. Food is not just cooking; you can do anything and
everything with it.”