Jacqueline Kleis has been reinventing Latin Food for over 25 years. As Research and Development Manager for Pollo Tropical, she creates and refines the menu items served at the 120 Pollo Tropical restaurants.
“I began my adventure in the kitchen when I was just 10 years old, but didn’t think it was what I wanted to be when I grew up,” said Kleis.
Originally a math major in college, Kleis grew more and more interested in the French courses she started taking than in Algebra. She decided to participate in an exchange program to study in France. It was there that she really began to figure out where she wanted to be in life. Soon she knew where that was: the kitchen.
“I cooked one night (for a friend), and she loved it,” Kleis said. “She suggested that I intern with a chef, and I figured that since I was in France, it was the perfect place to give it a try.”
That summer of 1983, Kleis got an internship with a well-known chef, Georges Blanc at his restaurant, La Mére Blanc and followed her mentor to Geneva, Switzerland to work at the five-star Hotel Beau Rivage. She was one of two women among 25 chefs. She worked alongside Blanc for a year, also traveling to Puerto Rico and the South of France during the winters and summers to act as a private chef for the owners of Chanel.
“Looking back, I was very fortunate Georges was my mentor,” said Kleis. “He grew up with his mother in the kitchen and accepted women in his.”
After graduating and spending time in some prestigious kitchen in France, she moved back home to Puerto Rico and created one of the most prestigious off-premise catering companies on the island.
“We catered for the Puerto Rican tourism company, Major League Baseball, several of the governors’ inauguration balls and the National Governor’s Association Convention,” she said. “ I even cooked in school cafeterias. “
Next, how Kleis is revamping Pollo Tropical...