Chef, restaurateur, author, entrepreneur and television personality – Aarón Sánchez is a culinary tour de force. The owner of multiple restaurants, including Mestizo in Leawood, Kansas, and Alegre in New York City, New York, Sánchez is familiar to US audiences due to his frequent appearances on Food Network shows such as Chopped. The son of celebrated Mexican cooking authority Zarela Martinez, Sánchez’s passion and commitment have placed him among the country’s leading Latin chefs. He’s the author of several books including La Comida del Barrio and Simple Food, Big Flavor: Unforgettable Mexican-Inspired Recipes from My Kitchen to Yours.
Q&A Aarón Sánchez
Describe the Southwest in two words: Honest and humble.
What is your favourite ingredient to cook with? Huitlacoche [also known as Mexican truffle, it’s a fungus that grows on corn]. It’s so versatile – you can have it whole, pureed into a tamale butter, or in soup. It has a great earthy flavour and is reminiscent of truffles.
What is your favourite regional dish? Machaca. It’s a dried beef that’s stewed down with broth, garlic, onions, chilies and tomatoes.
What tasty bite should travellers coming to your region for the first time not miss? Gorditas Chopes in Old Mesilla, New Mexico.
What inspires you about your work? Being able to teach the younger generations of chefs all of the things that I’ve learned. Also, getting people interested in Mexican food and culture is inspiring.
What inspires you about your region? All of the different flavours and produce – the green chilies, the flour tortillas and Asadero cheese.
What’s your favourite place to visit in the US? New Orleans, Louisiana. The city is a melting pot of all these different cultures, and the people are great. It’s a vibrant city with a lot of good food!
What is your favourite place to eat in the US? Restaurant August in New Orleans, Louisiana. Chef John Besh is a very good friend, and he makes the best gnocchi and crab dish I’ve ever tasted.
Who/What inspired you to become a chef? My family. My grandmother was a cook, and my mom, Zarela Martinez, had a restaurant in New York for years. I grew up around cooking, and it’s always been a passion of mine.
How are you inspired by your environment and the seasonal foods in the US? The Southwest region is a very particular environment, and you can only grow certain produce, like chilies, walnuts and pomegranates, so you find a lot of those ingredients featured in the cuisine of the area. I think that's true for most regions – you highlight the produce and ingredients that are grown there.
How has American culture shaped the way you cook? There is a commitment to sustainable farming and cooking. I love the way that here you can actually meet the people who grow the food, and they can come to your restaurant and eat. You get to interact with them and get to know their stories. That’s one of the reasons I love working with Why Hunger as their chef ambassador. They work with a lot of farmers and urban communities, and it’s been great to get on the ground floor and interact with those people. In a lot of other countries, you don’t get to do that.
What international influences have inspired your cooking? Traveling to different countries always inspires my cooking. I learn about and taste different ingredients, cooking techniques and flavours. I’ve especially loved traveling to Peru and Colombia.
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