Chef Richard Sandoval now has five of his famed modern Mexican restaurants in Colorado with the December 10th opening of his newest, Venga Venga, in Aspen's Snowmass Village. Venga Venga, meaning "Let's go, let's go!" keeps with Sandoval's signature cantina and tequila bar format on the Snowmass Ski Resort.
Sandoval's savory take on Mexican cuisine also spans North America with restaurants in Mexico, California, Nevada, New York, Virginia, Washington D.C. and even Dubai. He's published one book, Modern Mexican Flavors, and opened a total of 28 restaurants.
The Huffington Post spoke with Chef Sandoval about the opening of Venga Venga, his inspirations for cooking, and love of food.
HP: What inspired you to open Venga Venga in Snowmass Village?
RS: I was approached by the owner of the Village. Then Lance Hool--the owner of the building--sold the building but with the recession the sale fell through and in June he asked me if I would be intrested in developing a restaurant and that's how Venga Venga came about. I saw that there were no Mexican restaurants there, and in a skiing area you want more approachable food, so I came up with this concept of a Cantina there. And I love tequila, so I liked the name Venga Venga.
HP: What is the inspiration behind your Latin-Asian cuisine?
RS: Obviously I'm Latin, but other than Latin, my favorite other cuisine is Asian. They're also very similar, I think. We both use a lot of cornstarch, tortillas, and spices, etc. so I always thought they could come together very easily.
HP: Zengo is Japanese for "give and take". What were some of your thoughts behind this name?
RS: The whole concept was Zengo means "give and take," back and forth. Two chefs, two cultures. I had met a chef in Singapore who I would work with. I would give him a dish and he would "Asianize" it and then I would take his dish and "Latinize" it.
HP: Where in Mexico are you from?
RS: I was born in Mexico City. My mother's Canadian and my father's Mexican.
HP: What was your first restaurant?
RS: My first restaurant was called Savann in Manhattan, New York City, about 50 years ago.
HP: What attracted you to Colorado?
RS: Jeff Hermanson of Larimer Square approached me, and he's kind of followed me and what I was doing with modern Mexican food. After New York, I opened in San Francisco and then opened in Denver.
HP: Do you have plans to open other restaurants in Colorado?
RS: Absolutely. I love Denver, I spend a lot of time there. I'm looking at another project there, for sometime this year downtown. I can't say what 'cause it's not signed yet (laughs).
HP: How did you decide to become a chef?
RS: I actually wanted to be a professional tennis player. I actually played in high school and played around a circuit in Europe. But I always was interested in the culture of areas I'd visit, and the food. I've always loved food, and always gravitated toward the kitchen back in Mexico so I went to culinary school, and I'm a graduate of the C.I.A., Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park.
HP: Did you create/write all the menus for all 18 of your restaurants?
RS: Yes absolutely.
HP: What's your favorite dish?
RS: I love tacos. More specifically tacos al pastor, which is very popular in Mexico. It's pork, marinated with different chilis like guajillo, ancho, and also pineapple. It's my favorite and it's very interesting.
HP: Who is a cook or chef who inspires you?
RS: Nobu. He's a very famous Japanese chef who grew up in Peru, who kind of fused Japanese with Latin cuisine.
HP: What are your thoughts on Denver's Mexican restaurant scene?
RS: I think it's very good. Colfax has more of the great "mom and pop" stops.
I think Denver really likes Latin cuisine. There's definitely room for the 'culinization' of Denver.
HP: Any chance of bringing a "La Biblioteca" tequila bar (like the one in New York) to Denver?
RS: No, not right now. That's the first one of it's kind. I took a 19,000 square foot building in New York and thought it would be perfect for a tequila library.