Mexican-American chef Aaron Sanchez is not new to the food scene. It's very likely that you have seen him, well, everywhere.
Ten years have passed since he opened his first restaurant, the pan-Latin-inspired Paladar, with Eamon Furlong on Manhattan's Lower East Side. The acclaimed chef is also owner and executive chef of Centrico restaurant. In 2005, Aaron was nominated as the “Rising Star Chef of the Year” by the James Beard Foundation. You can also find him on an array of shows on the Food Network, including: "Chefs vs. City," "Chopped," "Best Thing I Ever Ate," "Next Iron Chef" and probably more in the future.
Sanchez's first book, La Comida Del Barrio– Latin American Cooking in the USA, was published in 2003. Now, his second book with JJ Goode, Simple Food, Big Flavor: Unforgettable Mexican-Inspired Recipes from My Kitchen to Yours, has come just in time for the holiday season, offering 15 simple recipes from his "culinary heritage that, once learned, will offer a lifetime of delicious food."
Now, Sanchez is reaching a different audience on his new show "Aaron Loves New York" on the Spanish-language television cable network Utilisima. Sanchez will be cooking up new dishes with a Latino flavor, en español, all while sharing some of his favorite spots in New York.
HuffPost chatted with Aaron Sanchez on his inspirations, challenges and post-meal power naps:
How do you feel about making the leap into Spanish-language television?
¡Increíble! This is something I've wanted to do for a very long time. It was very important that we created a show that was genuine. I did not want to be part of a stereotypical Spanish-language TV show. We wanted to create a show that would resonate with first-, second-, third- and fourth-generation Latin Americans. The team at Utilisima has been amazing to work with. We shared the same vision for the show and I think it came out fantastic.
What inspired you to become a chef?
My mother and my grandmother are pioneers of Mexican cuisine in this country, so I grew up in the kitchen. My mom, Zarela Martinez, was by far my biggest influence and inspiration -- and toughest critic. I was a pretty wild teenager so it wasn't until she sent me to work for Paul Prudhomme down in New Orleans that I realized this is what I wanted to do for a living.
What are your favorite foods to cook? Which dishes are your biggest challenges?
I love to cook with chiles. They're so versatile and have such a wide range of flavors. In one form or another -- fresh, dried, ground, etc. -- chiles are used in virtually every type of cuisine. I have no challenges, I'm perfect! (laughs) My biggest challenge is cooking traditional French dishes, which usually require very specific techniques and methods. That's just not my style... I cook from the soul.
If you weren't a chef, what else would you be?
It's funny... I've never really thought about being anything else. If we're talking fantasy, I would love to host a late night talk show... More Fallon than Leno. Those guys always seem like they're having way too much fun at their "jobs."
Who are your favorite chefs and why?
Now that's a loaded question! There are so many great chefs that I admire. John Besh down in New Orleans is one of the most talented chefs out there. His food is incredibly flavorful and his restaurants are on-point in every way. John exemplifies the modern-day chef: Great cook, great businessman, great cultivator of talent, and has great relationships with his farmers and purveyors. Marcus Samuelsson is a chef who inspires me everyday. He has such a deep understanding of flavors and techniques. His food is representative of the diverse world that we live in. What he has done in Harlem with Red Rooster is very special. Marcus is not just a chef, he's a food activist. Chris Cosentino out in San Francisco is what I call a "chef's chef." He's a true student of the profession and probably knows more about food and technique than anyone I've ever met. He is innovative, has a point of view and isn't afraid to take chances with his food. Chris is also one of the most sustainable chefs in the world, and has been that way long before it became a trend.
What are your must-eat Latino NYC restaurants?
Well, my favorite, Zarela, closed this past year after being the NYC standard for 23 years. I like Suenos. I love what Chef Sue Torres is doing at Suenos with regional Mexican cuisines. And the vibe there is very cool. I'm a big fan of Rayuela, because of their lobster ceviche and the lobster coconut rice. Caracas has a great Arepa bar. The chicken and avocado arepa is my favorite. And, Calexico -- these guys make some of the best tacos and burritos in the city. I usually hit the Greenpoint location. My favorite taco is the pollo verde with the tangy tomatillo sauce. Sofrito has some of the best Puerto Rican food in the city -- the Pernil is awesome!
What are your plans for Thanksgiving? What are some of your favorite Thanksgiving recipes?
To hang with family and friends. It's been a hectic last few months with the release of my new book, opening of new restaurants, and shooting new shows, so I'm just looking forward to some downtime. I haven't given much thought to the menu yet, but two dishes I will definitely be making are my Bean and Butternut Squash Picadillo and Chorizo Corn Bread Stuffing. Thanksgiving memories for me are family, friends, football and a serious post-meal power-nap!
Chorizo And Corn Bread Stuffing (From Simple Food, Big Flavor, p. 109)
Makes 3 cups
1 pound Aaron’s Chorizo (page 102)
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 cups coarsely crumbled corn bread
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup chicken stock (low-sodium store bought is fine)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Chopped fresh cilantro and grated cotija (preferably the Cacique brand), for Garnish
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the chorizo, breaking it up with a spoon and stirring occasionally as it cooks, until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have browned, about 10 minutes. Add the corn bread and cilantro. Gradually stir in enough of the stock so that the stuffing is not too dry but at the same time not too wet. Stir gently and well.
3. Butter a small casserole. Spread the stuffing in an even layer. Bake until it’s heated through and lightly browned on top, about 20 minutes. Serve right away, garnished with the cilantro and cotija.
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