Young Des Plaines chef cooking up recipe for success

  • Quin Santucci, 17, an incoming senior at Maine West High School, recreates the pan-seared chicken dish that earned his culinary team second place at the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America Inc. national competition.

    Quin Santucci, 17, an incoming senior at Maine West High School, recreates the pan-seared chicken dish that earned his culinary team second place at the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America Inc. national competition. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Quin Santucci, 17, of Des Plaines said he plans to get a culinary degree from Kendall College in Chicago, land a cooking job and then return to school to study music. He says cooking and music are his two passions in life.

    Quin Santucci, 17, of Des Plaines said he plans to get a culinary degree from Kendall College in Chicago, land a cooking job and then return to school to study music. He says cooking and music are his two passions in life. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • This award-winning pan-seared chicken dish helped Quin Santucci earn a scholarship to the culinary program at Kendall College in Chicago.

    This award-winning pan-seared chicken dish helped Quin Santucci earn a scholarship to the culinary program at Kendall College in Chicago. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Quin Santucci, 17, of Des Plaines learned to cook as a little boy by helping his grandma during family gatherings and watching his father, Dino Santucci, cook dinner every night for him and his 16-year-old brother, Sam.

    Quin Santucci, 17, of Des Plaines learned to cook as a little boy by helping his grandma during family gatherings and watching his father, Dino Santucci, cook dinner every night for him and his 16-year-old brother, Sam. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Kendall College instructor Brian Schreiber, from left, and the three members of Illinois culinary arts team, Matheu Hoegen of Niles North High School, Quin Santucci of Maine West High School and Martha Guerrero of Lockport Township High School, show off the chicken dish made by the team at nationals.

    Kendall College instructor Brian Schreiber, from left, and the three members of Illinois culinary arts team, Matheu Hoegen of Niles North High School, Quin Santucci of Maine West High School and Martha Guerrero of Lockport Township High School, show off the chicken dish made by the team at nationals. courtesy of Brian Schreiber

  • Quin Santucci, 17, plays the cello for three orchestras at Maine West High School. He also plays the violin, shown here, and viola, upright and electric bass, guitar, piano, mandolin, accordion, ukulele and trumpet.

    Quin Santucci, 17, plays the cello for three orchestras at Maine West High School. He also plays the violin, shown here, and viola, upright and electric bass, guitar, piano, mandolin, accordion, ukulele and trumpet. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 7/31/2015 10:10 AM

"Presentation is key. You always eat with your eyes first," according to 17-year-old budding chef Quin Santucci.

The incoming senior at Maine West High School proved he knows exactly what he's talking about when he served as captain of the Illinois culinary arts team that placed second in the nation in the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America competition held in early July in Washington, D.C. The team also took gold in the U.S. Central region.

 

The national achievement means that Quin and his teammates -- Martha Guerrero of Lockport Township High School and Matheu Hoegen of Niles North High School -- will have their pick of scholarships from a slew of culinary schools.

"It's huge in terms of both recognition for the state, but particularly for the students," said Marta Lockwood, executive director for Illinois FCCLA. "And Quin is just a junior. He has another year, which is amazing. To finish at a national level as a junior is quite an accomplishment."

Quin, who lives in Des Plaines, plans to attend Kendall College in Chicago, one of four schools that offered him scholarships. The others include Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island and The Culinary Institute of America in New York.

"(Kendall) is the nicest one," he said. "I've been with them for a while and I just love that school. They helped me get this far in life."

by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

That's because Kendall College instructor Brian Schreiber served as coach for the Illinois team, leading practices at the college from January to June. Schreiber selected the team's three members out of the top six finishers in the state competition.

"I was very astonished I made it out of the six," Quin said. "I just had to work really, really hard. I was home cutting potatoes for an hour a day. I was looking at other people's skills -- some of them were good at speed, some were good with knife skills. I tried to make myself as good as they are."

Schreiber said Quin impressed him so much he selected him as team captain.

"I saw him make the most progress when it comes to cleanliness and when it comes to overall technique -- from searing to knife cutting to blanching broccoli to everything else. He's the one who made the most overall improvement," Schreiber said. "On top of it, he seemed to have that ownership kind of oozing off him."

Being team captain was a struggle at first, Quin said.

"I had to focus more on my teammates, make sure everyone was one task," he said. "But as we kept practicing it got easier and easier for me."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Quin ended up proving leadership is his strong suit, Schreiber said.

"Did he meet expectations? Well, I mean, we placed second in the nation," he said.

Quin learned to cook as a little boy by helping his grandma during family gatherings and watching his father, Dino Santucci, cook dinner every night for him and his brother Sam, 16. Sam, an incoming junior at Maine West, plans to join the school's culinary arts program as well.

Staple dishes at home include chicken and baked mostaccioli, but he'd also experiment with marinades and even served sushi, Dino Santucci said. "I'm a very picky eater, and I swore I would never turn them into picky eaters," he said.

Still, it was a surprise to find out exactly how skilled Quin is at cooking, his father said.

"I was amazed by how much knowledge he had of cooking when I don't even see him cook at home," he said.

So why doesn't he cook more at home? "I like cooking more in a commercial kitchen," Quin said. "I don't mind cleaning; it's more (work) cleaning at home than in a commercial kitchen."

The Illinois team practiced its dish -- pan-seared chicken with Dijon cream sauce, rice pilaf, sauteed broccoli and apple trifle -- every Saturday for six months. By the end, the young chefs could hardly stomach one more bite, Quin admits.

But it all paid off at competition time, despite the fact the team had no time to make a planned sauteed onion garnish. "Competition is furious," he said.

His best dish is chicken Alfredo. Merengues are the hardest.

"I gave up on pastries," he said. "I'm not good at measuring all this stuff. You have to be perfect if you want to do pastry."

Quin said his plan is to get a degree from Kendall College, get a cooking job and then go to music school and become a music teacher. As passionate as he is about cooking, he sees music as a more solid career choice.

Quin plays the violin and viola, along with upright and electric bass, guitar, piano, mandolin, accordion, ukulele and trumpet.

He took lessons in viola and bass for a year in middle school, but he's largely self-taught, he said.

Music has always come naturally to him, he said.

"I love the full sound of an orchestra. I just love music, period," he said. "I just love the fullness, the excitement, the energy, the emotions you get from it."

Then again, there are also moments when he dreams of making it as a celebrity TV chef, he admits.

"Cooking is more of a passion that could get me somewhere in life, but I feel like orchestra is a better job."

Quin plays the cello for three orchestras at Maine West, where he's become a leader among his fellow young musicians, said orchestra director Daniella Valdez. His dedication to music makes him stand out, she said.

"He's a student that's always on top in class," Valdez said. "He's constantly listening to different types of music, looking up videos, he's always sharing videos with me, he's always in the practice room.

"People definitely go to him when they need help," she added. "When somebody is looking for a practice buddy, Quin is one to always be there."

Quin has a shot at making it both in the music world and the culinary world, his mentors say.

"As long as he continues to work hard and puts in that dedication, I think all three (culinary team members) have that opportunity and that ability to really make it one day," Schreiber said.

Valdez echoed the sentiment.

"I could see him being very successful at being an orchestra director," she said.

"The thing I've also seen growth in Quin is more focus as he's gotten older. That focus has really helped him -- and will carry him in everything he decides to do."

0 Comments
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.