Erin Solis was born and raised in Anaheim as the eldest of three girls. When she finished high school, she wanted to be a doctor. However, when she started her pre-med biology and chemistry classes at UCLA, it didn’t sit well with her.
“Other classmates had bright eyes and were excited about what they were learning – but me, I was lost,” said Solis. “I did not enjoy the classes at all.”
Eventually she realized that a medical career was not for her and switched her major to English. Then her friend suggested that she make music her career. She always had a thing for music but never thought of it as a career.
“I assumed that you had to be a musician to be in the music business,” said Solis. When she learned about the various pathways available in the music business, she decided to go for it. She became active working on campus at UCLA booking music events for campus venues. She also did multiple internships in the music industry and made connections.
When she graduated from UCLA in 2002, she landed a job in music promotion. She eventually became art manager for Rhino Records, a record company specializing in archival box sets. After an intensive five-year journey in music promotion, where schmoozing is the key to get ahead in the business, Solis was worn out.
Seven years ago, Solis’ parents owned a bagel bakery and hired a baker, Jesusita Lopez. Lopez showed Solis how to bake and taught her the basics of cooking. Solis started cooking for family and friends. She enjoyed entertaining them, but, again, she never thought of cooking as a career.
When Solis was planning a career change from the music business, she called Lopez to seek advice. By talking to Lopez, Solis was convinced that she was creative enough to be successful as a chef. She researched culinary schools and determined that Cerritos College, where Lopez taught part-time, was the best choice in terms of tuition and the program quality.
“I think the Cerritos College Culinary Arts program is one of the best,” said Solis. “Unlike other community college culinary programs, we have our own café. We get to experience the real restaurant setting and revenue from the café goes to buying ingredients and materials for our classes.”
Solis enrolled in the program in fall 2007 and finished the cooking program in fall 2008. She also began the baking program in fall and is planning to finish it by the end of the year.
She credits Chef Michael Pierini, chair of the Culinary Arts program, for his dedication and support for motivated students. “If you show that you are focused and driven, he will do whatever it takes to make you a better chef,” said Solis. “If you tell him that you want to try making certain food, he would bring in the ingredients for it to the next class!”
Solis won first place in the state’s student cooking competition this spring with her chicken dish. “When I was practicing for the competition, I worked with Chef Pierini every day and cut more than 100 chickens! He is very passionate about our success.”
She has travelled to various countries - England, France, Italy, and The Philippines - and tasted various cuisines. She hopes to visit Spain to explore the region’s food with the money she won in the competition.
“I think I’m lucky to live in Los Angeles, where all kinds of different international cuisines are available in styles that are relatively close to its original,” said Solis. The geographical advantage gives her opportunities to do her culinary research often. She just tried Ethiopian cuisine in Little Ethiopia a few weeks ago.
When she is introduced to new food, she can recreate it by solely relying on her tongue in most cases – undisputedly one of the traits of a good chef. The more she tries new food, it adds to her culinary knowledge.
After she receives her certificate at the end of this year, she plans on working at a high-end restaurant and gain as much experience as possible. One day she hopes to open a sophisticated restaurant in either North Orange County or Southeast Los Angeles, where there is an untapped market for such restaurants.