Interview: Aarón Sanchez Discusses Cinco de Mayo, Free Time + Restaurant Expansion
In the past decade, Aarón Sanchez has made an impact on the New York City restaurant community, and beyond. The celebrated chef started with Paladar in 2001, currently owns Centrico with Myriad Restaurant Group, oversees the kitchen at Tacombi, and co-hosts Chefs vs. City with Chris Cosentino on the Food Network, and he’s just getting started. Sanchez is also consulting for House of Blues and is working with Trifecta Management Group on Mestizo, a Mexican restaurant that’s destined for the Kansas City suburbs. On May 3, we spoke with Sanchez, the son of Mexican cooking authority Zarela Martinez, and he explained his connection to Cinco de Mayo, his role as spokesperson for Cacique, what he enjoys during time off, and what he has planned for Mestizo.
What do you have planned for Cinco de Mayo?
I’ll be at my restaurants working. That’s probably the busiest day of the year for us. We do dishes that are patriotic, which symbolize the battle of Puebla. People think it honros Mexican independence, but it doesn’t. It commemorates the Battle of Puebla, where the Mexicans expelled the French [in 1862].
What’s your first Cinco de Mayo memory?
Probably just having a big old queso fundido with my family, having a big old party enjoying El Grito, passages from a priest [Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla] who gave this rally cry to remember we are a young nation as Mexico, and to have pride. I also remember oelted Oaxaca style cheese in a big cauldron with green chiles.
What are the keys to a great Cinco de Mayo party?
Having a variety of different dishes. Everyone can have finger foods, it being a social event, so nothing too formal. I partnerd with the good people of Cacique, a company that produces some of the best cheesses, creames and chorizos to create my Cinco de Mayo spread.
When did you first know you wanted to be a chef for a living?
My mom is a Mexican food authority and she sort of paved the way for me. I saw her having so much love and pleasure for what she does. I remember at 12 years old, helping her in the kitchen to make tortillas and mole. I knew this would be a calling for me.
What are the dishes that you can’t imagine taking off the menu at Centrico?
My quesos fundidos, I can’t take them off. There’s something about bubbling melted cheese and chorizo that people love. With fresh made corn tortillas, what’s better?
What was the most challenging episode of Chefs vs. City?
Probably the one where we’re in Portland and we had to carry those big old halibuts, break them down, that was a tough one.
How do you think working with chef Chris Cosentino has affected your cooking?
It’s affected me immensesly. I’ve learned how to make great pasta from him, meat curing and salumi. That was very inspirational to me. Now I understand how guanciale, mortadella, salami are made, which I never would have known otherwise.
Where and what do you like to drink when you’re not at work?
I love to drink wine, I love to drink a great martini or anything with rye, and I love local craft beers. I have some neighborhood spots in New York City I go to. I live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and there are places I love. I love to go to my to friend Marcus Samuelsson’s restaurant in Harlem, the Red Rooster. And when I’m in New Orleans, I go to my friend John Besh’s restaurants, August and Lüke.
If you could only cook with one animal, what would it be and why?
I’d have to cook with pork, because it’s so delicious, fatty and rich and it has cuts that cook very quickly or long stewed. That’s why pork is where it’s at.
Knowing what you know now, if you were to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
No. I live a dream every day. I really have the fortune to work with great people. Like I’ve aligned with the good people of Cacique. I’m just living the dream. I have television programs that touch people with my passion for food. There’s nothing I would change.
What are your favorite outdoor activities?
I love the beach. I love to fish. I like to hike.
Any plans to open another restaurant?
I’m actually going to be opening up a resturant in a little suburb of Kansas City in the fall. It’s going to be called Mestizo. I’m also just working on my resturant in New York, making it better. Everybody’s so quick to open new places instead of improving what they currently have. That’s my goal.
How would you describe Mestizo?
It’s going to be sort of my favorite Mexican dishes reinvented and reimagined…I’m developing a menu for all the House of Blues…I’m doing this with my partners from Trifecta Management. Our goal is just to bring good food to all different markets.