Chef Sara Villavicencio was born and raised in Costa Rica. Her love for cooking was passed down from her mother and grandmother, who often filled the kitchen with the aroma of Picadillo, a traditional Costa Rican dish. “My grandmas and mother’s picadillos are the best,” she says. Inspired by the women before her and a profound interest in food ingredients, Sara knew that she would one day have a career centered around food. “I was studying to be a nutritionist,” she recalls. “Chemistry wasn’t my strength [but] I still wanted to help and serve people through food. Culinary arts was my first option, as I always loved to cook with my family.”
At the age of 21, Sara took the first step to realizing her culinary ambitions by moving to Argentina to pursue a culinary degree at UADE (Universidad Argentina de la Empresa). Her decision to move was driven by scholastic attainment at a highly rated school, and exploration of new flavors. “I was interested in Argentinian cuisine because I love the mix of flavors they use around the country,” she says. Sara also hoped that the move would provide ample growth opportunities, both in and out of the kitchen. “I wanted to add extra value to my studies by learning not just the basics, but…life experiences by being by myself in a different country.”
For the next few years, she expanded her culinary skills and foodservice knowledge while working in restaurants, bakeries, hotels, and catering companies. She also learned the value of teamwork and the impact that each team member has in the kitchen. “If we want to succeed as a chef, we need to count on our team,” she explains. We have to [manage] a lot of details in order to serve a successful meal. Our most important job is to make people happy by creating a great experience.”
After seven years in Argentina, Sara returned to Costa Rica where she began working with Sysco. “Everyday is different, and I get to share, learn, and teach…in order to [help our clients] succeed,” Sara says. “To get a business running successfully, all areas are important, but [what’s most important is guiding] the head of the business to manage the numbers such as expenses, supplies, vendors, etc.” Sara has the heart to help customers do more than survive but thrive in their business by maximizing opportunities to reduce operational costs, while increasing revenue.
Sara’s culinary style is best described as classic modern. “Classic, as I’m inspired by the gastronomy and culture of my country,” she explains. “Modern, as we present classics using different influences and presentations on a plate. I like to cook as naturally as possible,” she says. “In Costa Rica, we have a great biodiversity that also applies to ingredients. We have richness in every kind of exotic and tropical fruit, and we use a lot of tubers – those are part of our native gastronomy and…inspiration [that reflects] our culture. Sara is intentional in adding Latin American ingredients onto every dish that she creates, and is proud of her heritage. “Never forget where you come from in order to know where you will like to go.”