October 2017 (Vol. 31, No. 10)

Page 88


With a passion for cooking, international tutoring, and a golden ticket, Saul Paniagua, Jr. is dishing out little bit of a fusion with Southern and Southwestern at FIRESIDE GRILL and River Spirit Casino Resort. By Michele Chiappetta

Photos by Marc Rains

Born and raised in Albuquerque, N.M., executive sous chef Saul Paniagua, Jr. has taken an interesting journey through the culinary world before arriving at River Spirit Casino Resort a little over a year ago to head up River Spirit’s Fireside Grill. With his passion for cooking, love of culinary competitions, and unique approaches to flavor, Paniagua is smoking up the kitchen, all to the benefit of Green Country residents who love good food. “I started cooking when I was 16, almost 17, so I’m going on 20 years doing this,” says Paniagua. “I got to work with a really good chef in New Mexico who started teaching me how to make sauces and pasta from scratch. I really appreciated the art.” From those humble beginnings, Paniagua worked his way up in the kitchen ranks, becoming a kitchen supervisor while he was 18 and still in high school. Clearly, he was hooked on cooking, going on to work in several area hotels. Then at age 22, his cooking took him out of New Mexico to see the world via cruise ship.

Saul Paniagua, Jr.

“At the time, I was young and single and didn’t have anything going,” he says. “I signed on with the Norwegian Cruise Line. I’d never even been on an airplane, never left the desert. I applied for the job. They asked me why I wanted it, and I told them I wanted to travel and learn more. They hired me on the spot.” Two days later, Paniagua was in Honolulu, Hawaii, training for his time at Norwegian, where he was exposed to many styles of cuisine,

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