Interview by Jose Morales & Luis De Jesus
From October 11-14th, Capital One presented The 11th Annual Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival at Piers 92 and 94 benefiting No Kid Hungry® and Food Bank For New York City. The festival, which has raised more than $11 Million to date to help end hunger, was attended by nearly 50,000 people, including media and industry professionals. The festival offered over 75 events, including parties throughout New York City, cooking classes, panel discussions by the chef celebrities of both networks, as well as signature tastings. During the festival, we had the pleasure of sitting down with ChefAarón Sánchez, and we discussed his beginnings as a chef, his future plans, and his advice for those wishing to enter the culinary arts.
– You began your career path at a very early age, working alongside your mother. Few people know what they will do with their lives at such an early age. Did you ever imagine you would end up being the celebrity chef you have been now for all these years?
“When I first started, my dream was to have my own restaurant and to be the captain of my own ship. Initially, when the Food Network Channel started knocking on my door, I realized that this was an opportunity to do a lot more marketing for the restaurant. My original vision changed, as I became more of an ambassador for Latin food and culture. I took the opportunity to do more with this new visibility and exposure, and began the profound mission of sharing Latino culture, especially Mexican culture, all over the world.”
– Your first book, “La Comida Del Barrio: Latin-American Cooking in the U.S.A,” was published in May 2003. Your second book, “Simple Food, Simple Flavor: Unforgettable Mexican-Inspired Recipes from My Kitchen to Yours,” was released in October 2011. Can you tell us about your evolution as a chef since then, and that of Mexican cuisine around the world?
“My first book, ‘La comida Del Barrio,’ was really all about Latin food in neighborhoods all over the country. My initial inspiration was from eating great home food, like Arroz con Pollo, that really spoke to me earlier in my career. I then started adding my own cooking style to this process, and that’s when ‘Simple Food, Simple Flavor…’ came about. All of the evolution of my personal style has changed in line with Mexican food, and Latino food. Now, you have great chefs from all over Latin America, especially Mexico, doing high-end, modern Mexican food here in the United States. We are raising the level of quality of our foods, and I think this is great. It is challenging everyone to put their best foot forward and offer the food we deserve.”
– One hundred percent of the net proceeds from the NYCWFF event benefit the No Kid Hungry® campaign and Food Bank For New York City to end childhood hunger in America, and the five boroughs of New York City. You are also the founder of the Aarón Sánchez Scholarship Fund. How important is it for you to give back to the community?
“It is paramount. Just as the NYCFWF has its mission, I think it’s the same with us chefs here, as we try to be just as generous. As people in the food industry, we are constantly donating our time, effort and food. I think fighting hunger for me is about taking the Latinos kids from different backgrounds and lifestyles and having them use the culinary world as an outlet, and a path in life. There is a high discrepancy when it comes to Latinos getting higher positions in kitchens. When you go to the kitchen of any restaurant in America, whether Italian, or French, for example, many of those doing the cooking are Latinos, but they are overlooked for executive positions. I want to help those kids with the foundation and schooling they need. This is what my foundation does. Up to this point, we have helped four kids with their education, and I just partnered with the Hispanic Federation which will allow me to blow it up, and go bigger.”
– You have had a long trajectory with the Food Network and shows such as “Chopped.” You are currently Judge Chef on “Masterchef” on Fox which has been recently renewed for a new season. What is next for Aaron Sanchez?
“Well, right now I’m putting the finishing touches on an autobiography; writing the story of my life. This is tied to where I come from as a Latin America cook. It’s going to be a story about how I came up, and how I came to be, and hopefully be an inspiration and handbook for young people to pursue the culinary world by doing it the right away; to not be afraid to make some mistakes along the way- of which I’ve made plenty! The book will be out in about a year. I will also continue to do more work with my scholarship and foundation, and want to do a show to cover the journey of the culinary school kids in the foundation, to watch them grow from where they started to where they are now.”
– What advice can you give to up-and-coming chefs who wish to follow your foot steps?
“The best thing to do is to find five different people that you would love to work for, be mentored by, and who have different styles of cooking, and continue to engage with those people so you can be well versed in your style as a chef. You shouldn’t just know one style of food. You should know many different styles and think of your longevity as a chef.”
– When celebrity Chef Aarón Sánchez is not in front of the camera, in the kitchen or running restaurants, what does the regular man, Aarón, like to do?
“I’m a huge music lover, so when I’m home with my girlfriend, we like to spend time with our dogs, and like to entertain guests. I also like to write poetry. I am a Buddhist and always try to be centered and find a way to be in unison with the universe. Love doing that! I also love going to sporting events as I’m a big football and basketball fan. I like doing regular day stuff, and drinking wine!” -GM