Celebrity chef, philanthropist, restaurant owner and MasterChef judge, those are just a few titles used for Aarón Sanchez. The chef opened his first restaurant in 2000 and has been spreading his food and expertise since then. Not only does Sanchez give aspiring chefs tough critiques on MasterChef, he also provides a scholarship for aspiring Latino chefs. Sanchez spoke with mitú about his time as a chef, growing up in a non-machismo home and what he hopes his successes could mean for other Latinos trying to follow in his footsteps.
You might recognize Aarón Sanchez as one of the judges on MasterChef.
The chef has lent his expertise and tough critiques to contestants on season 8 and season 9. He was also a guest co-host during season 7. All this has come after a long career as a chef spreading his food and appreciation far and wide.
As a child, Sanchez was surrounded by strong women who made their own marks on the culinary world.
Sanchez says that machismo was not something that he ever experienced in his childhood. In fact, his mother and grandmother nurtured his interest in food as they themselves made their names in food.
“My mom had a restaurant for 30 years in New York City. She’s an author of three cookbooks,” Sanchez recalls about his upbringing. “My grandmother also wrote a cookbook. All the women in my family were absolutely essential in my formation and my love for food. Without them I wouldn’t be the man I am today.”
But the one bit of advice his mother did stress was finding his own culinary voice.
“I told my mom I wanted to be a chef and all she said to me was ‘to continue to go through your craft, make sure that you find your voice, and don’t be a retrogradation of me,'” Sanchez says. “That was the biggest piece of advice she gave me when I told her I wanted to be a chef.”
As a chef, his career began and grew alongside Anthony Bourdain’s.
In 2000, Bourdain published his infamous “Kitchen Confidential” book. That was the same year that Sanchez opened his first restaurant.
“We used to run into each other a lot in social settings and at the farmers market and we kind of ran with the same crew,” Sanchez remembers about his friendship with Bourdain. “He was someone that I considered a great friend.” He added: “I remember his unbelievable wit, I remember how smart he was and how grateful he was to have his opportunity, to touch so many people through television. He was a self-proclaimed mesa.”
Sanchez admits that his career and experiences were shaped by his friendship with Bourdain.
“One thing he would always say was, learn the culture and make friends along the way and open yourself up and make sure you’re not just there to extract recipes from them,” he says. “You’re there to make friendship and bonds.”
“Food has done a lot [for me],” Sanchez explains.
It is something so important to his life that he can’t imagine himself doing anything different.
“It’s allowed me to be able to inspire others, it’s allowed me to maintain my culture, stay close to my family,” Sanchez says. “It’s given me an unbelievable lifestyle and it’s allowed me to travel the world.”
Food has been so pivotal to his life that he set up a scholarship fund to help other Latinos become chefs in their own right.
The idea for the foundation came to Sanchez because he wanted to make sure he was recognizing the next generation of talent.
“I wanted to create the next executive chefs and [restaurant] owners of Latino descent,” Sanchez explains. “That was really the goal behind it, and education is the most important [part].”
And even Sanchez has been touched by the students who use the scholarship, like Oswaldo Rios.
“He was the first one and I remember giving him the scholarship. His grandmother and mother came to the actual unveiling of him winning and all of them were crying,” Sanchez remembers. “No one could believe that he had gotten to this point. It was one of those things where you could tell it was something that they didn’t think was attainable. So that was a very touching moment.”
The one piece of advice Sanchez has for new chefs and restaurant owners: develop your voice.
“Make sure that you have developed a culinary style and voice,” Sanchez says. “Whether that’s working 10 years with different chefs or traveling. Continue to refine your cooking ability. Through that you will find the style that you feel will be engaging enough to sustain a restaurant.”
You can catch up with Sanchez on MasterChef every Wednesday 8 p.m. EST/7 p.m. CST.