Interview: Chef Aarón Sánchez

Chef Aarón Sánchez has always represented his Mexican heritage to the fullest. He is a current judge on Master Chef and has built his food empire with restaurants, television shows and cookbooks over two decades. The Travel Addict caught up with him at the Bourbon & Beyond music, food and drink festival in Louisville, Kentucky, which took place from September 22-23. Sanchez could be seen all day having a blast all around the festival enjoying the music and interacting with fans. Before taking the stage for his cooking demo with his good friend Ed Lee on the culinary stage, Sanchez talked about his Mexican roots, his love of Lenny Kravitz and life in New Orleans.

This week Sanchez hosted a Feast Under the Stars at Voodoo Festival in New Orleans for VIP patrons to experience a five-course meal expertly prepared by Sanchez and four other culinary powerhouses including, Justin Devillier, Kelly Fields, Nina Compton, and Todd Pulsinelli. Each course was paired with the perfect wine and fans got to preview the site of the Voodoo Festival in New Orleans.

Check out The Travel Addict’s interview with chef Aarón Sánchez:

What are your favorite New Orleans places to eat?

We love all the restaurants in our group obviously. That goes without saying. The ones that my lovely girlfriend and I like to go to are 1000 Figs and Echo’s Pizza, which has some really great stuff. We go to Lilette. We like Napoleon House for some traditional stuff. We go there quite a bit. We take people from out of town to Napoleon House if they want great jam or a Muffuletta. We are also fans of Turkey and the Wolf.

When people I know visit New Orleans, I tell them to go to your restaurant Johnny Sanchez.

What is interesting, when you think of coming to New Orleans you don’t think of Mexican food, but the similarities and parallels are that people come to New Orleans to get great seasoned food, well-prepared deliciousness. Not the subtle stuff. They want something in their face and delicious. That is why we have been so successful. We like to have a good time provide wonderful food for guests.

When tourists visit what activities do you recommend in NOLA?

I tell everyone to take a walk and go have lunch at St. Roch Market. I tell people to take a moment and go to the Audubon Park Sculpture garden for sure. Jackson Square is also an obvious choice. I think the more exciting stuff if you want the more real experience, go to the Marigny, up at the Bywater and check out those restaurants. That’s where I tell people to go. I think there will be more interesting stuff is happening in Mid-City. I think Lakeview will get a lot more attention in the coming days.

I wanted to talk to you about your Cocina website. What inspired you to create that? The food images just pop.

What we are doing is introducing that taste made love with a Latin medium. We are celebrating all things Latin culture and bringing those recipes to life, showing the full breadth and diversity of Latin cuisine. We are trying to shake the misconception of just being Mexican. We wanted to bring recipes from all over, from the Caribbean, Central and South America, obviously Mexico, and making those recipes present, giving people access to those in a very user-friendly way. We do everything with a cinematic lens. It is food porn. We wanted everyone to have access, inspired by the Taste Mates of the world, inspired by Chef’s Table. It is really about that.

What is your version of the perfect taco?

I am a sucker for the traditional stuff. I love a good Carne Asada, a little bit of avocado and guacamole, beautiful salsa.

You always talk about your mother’s cooking, on Chopped and other shows. Aside from your mother’s cooking, what travel locations have inspired you the most?

So many. Peru, for sure. You think of 300 ways to make potatoes, the Japanese influence in the food, the indigenous influence. I think it is the birthplace of ceviche’. There is so much food. It is so rich and diverse. We just got back from Italy. We were in the South in Calabria, loved the food down there. It is one of the few regions of Italy that uses a lot of chilies and spice. We were stoked about there and we love Italy.

What is your funniest Chopped moment?

I have had a lot. Chopped is so fun. When people see stuff like chicken in a can and duck testicles, I am marveled at how quick thinking people are. It is very telling about a cook. Chopped is not an exercise into what kind of chef you are, but how resourceful you are, how you can mix things together.

We are at Bourbon and Beyond. What is your favorite bourbon?

I have so many it is hard to choose. We just had Copper and Rye (Look it Up). It’s one of my favorites. For me, being from the South and loving bourbon, yes there is Buffalo Trace and Pappy Van Winkle, but I like the more utilitarian kind of bourbons, the single batch, that are compatible with putting it on ice. I love how much fun the distillers are having using wine barrels to age their stuff.

Any favorite bourbon and food pairing?

Oh my God, there are so many. If you think of bourbon and food, you obviously think Bar-B-Que. I think there is other stuff like duck, I think mole would be interesting.

What is one dish nobody would expect you to love?

Tofu, a really beautifully cooked tofu, I love mapo tofu which is kind of like an Asian style ground pork mixed with tons of chilies and tomato mixed with pieces of tofu.

Who are you most excited to see here?

Lenny Kravitz, he is just amazing. He brings a sexuality to the music that only he can do. His music is constantly evolving. He is on like his 12th album or something crazy like that. He’s been doing it 30 years.

Robert Plant is here. We saw him in L.A. He is still sexy and still into it, and still loves it. Where do you think Lenny got it from? His idols are Prince and Bowie, and if you throw Robert Plant in there, it is Lenny Kravitz. This festival has so much great music.

I saw you at Bottle Rock as well. It is becoming more popular to combine these food and music festivals and events. What would be your dream cooking music collaboration?

I want to cook with musicians who love food. I think musicians are always so svelte, in skinny jeans, cute little fingers, I am always wondering if they really eat. I am good friends with Kings of Leon. I just did a fun cooking demo in Nashville with Caleb, the lead singer is a buddy of mine. Somebody I have never done one with who I truly love, I would love to cook with Rihanna.

If you had a dream vacation destination, where would it be? Where have you not gone yet?

I want to say something unattainable. I haven’t been to Copenhagen; I really want to go there. I am fascinated with Vikings. I want to go up in the mountains in Norway and meet the indigenous Sami people.

What has been your response to your Aaron Sanchez scholarship? Do you think it is increasing aspiring chefs in the Latin community?

Absolutely. The whole purpose of my scholarship is to create Latino leaders in the kitchen. A lot of times there has been issues with advancement and executive positions. I think everything starts with education. I think everything starts with foundation. We get kids with Latin descent, preferably bi-lingual, and then be able to get that bi-cultural narrative and support that with great education and mentoring.

We are creating leaders single-handedly by doing that. That is the motivation behind the scholarship. This year we have given two scholarships, one to a young kid from New Orleans named Alejandro, and given one to a woman, a young lady from Puerto Rico named Jan, because I wanted to give love to the one-year anniversary of the hurricane there, so I chose a young lady from Puerto Rico, and she’s going to be awesome.

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