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Spotlight on Hospitality: Monterey County chefs open doors for tomorrow’s culinary stars

Rick Aldinger, MCHA Board Chair
February 14, 2024

The hospitality industry offers unexpected opportunities at every turn. Just ask Chef Bert Cutino, who earned 30 cents an hour washing dishes as a teenager. 

“I didn’t know, at the time, if I would go into the culinary profession. I just knew that someday I wanted to own something,” he says.

That job set Cutino on the path to co-founding Monterey’s Sardine Factory with Ted Balestreri. Since opening in 1968, they’ve supported generations of culinary students. 

In fact, many Monterey County chefs mentor tomorrow’s culinary stars. They hire for apprenticeships, provide on-the-job training, and share industry connections. They offer hands-on culinary experience during major events. Chefs partner with educators at Monterey Peninsula College and California State University, Monterey Bay, and they also support initiatives like the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation’s ProStart program at Pacific Grove High School.

Cutino credits hospitality mentors who taught him about teamwork, diversity and setting goals. He promotes those same values while mentoring the next generation of chefs. He’s also a passionate supporter of the Drummond Culinary Academy at Rancho Cielo, the Salinas facility that offers education, job training and social services for underserved and disconnected youth.

Cutino is especially proud of the Rancho Cielo-Monterey County Hospitality Association (MCHA) White Tablecloth dinners. Students sit down for meals at the Sardine Factory, Pebble Beach Resorts, the Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa, Bernardus Lodge, and elsewhere. Participants sample the guest dining experience while learning from accomplished culinary professionals.

“Students encounter different atmospheres and dining concepts,” Cutino says. “The type of cuisine doesn’t matter. It’s that they experience both the consumer and internal points of view. You can’t get that educational experience from a book.”

Last month, Quail Lodge hosted a white tablecloth dinner for Rancho Cielo students. Executive Chef Alvin Quinol and his team explained dishes and shared details about ingredient sourcing, menu building, plate presentation and other topics before leading a kitchen tour. 

Quinol, who worked at a friend's brunch place prior to culinary school, highlighted the differences between resort kitchens and mom-and-pop operations. He also emphasized the value of industry relationships.

"Culinary school was a complete 180 from my training in the field," Quinol says. "Talking with a chef and hearing how he or she came into this industry would have meant so much at that stage."

Quinol recently hired a highly motivated Rancho Cielo intern with an impressive work ethic. Classwork equipped her with the basics. Now, she's building catering experience, working as a line cook, and learning about kitchen administration. 

Though the culinary field can be challenging, opportunities abound for these types of driven individuals.

"Cooking is like an art skill. If you have that passion, that creativity, don't let it burn out. Stay focused, and if you're willing to learn from other chefs and other kitchens, you can go a long way in this field," Quinol says.

MCHA highlights educational programs and career pathways for hospitality students and job seekers at

The Monterey County Hospitality Association is the trade association serving the local tourism industry with advocacy, education and employee recognition programs. For more information, visit or contact Kristin Horton at


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