After a shift, what is your favorite guilty pleasure to eat? “I always have tortillas and some Cacique cheese in my fridge. When I come home after work or after a long day where I couldn’t find time to eat dinner, I will make a quesadilla with homemade pickled jalapeño and Queso Oaxaca. It’s definitely my go-to easy meal!”
Is there one dish you won’t cook? “There isn’t one dish in particular I won’t cook, but there are some ingredients I won’t cook with. I don’t like green bell peppers, and I don’t like little squash. They seem flavorless to me.”
All-time favorite spice. “My all-time favorite spice is canela, which is Mexican cinnamon. It’s long and a little bit more brittle than the traditional, stringent American version. It is also sometimes called Ceylon cinnamon.”
What is your favorite music to listen to while you cook? “My favorite music to listen to while I cook is Ranchera, which is traditional Mexican music, and my favorite artist is Vicente Fernández. He’s one of my favorite artists because his music is very inspirational. All of the cooks in my kitchen tend to be Latin, so it’s something they can identify with and that reminds them of home.”
Did you grow up cooking as a child? “Yes! My mom had a restaurant for 30 years in New York and my grandmother was a cookbook author, so I come from a long line of cooks.”
What cookbook is your go-to resource for inspiration? “Right now, it’s the Gran Cocina Latina by Maricel Presilla. It’s the first-ever complete catalogue of Latin food. She’s an academic by training, originally a professor of Spanish antiquities, and then got into food later on in life. She did an in-depth study of all of the regional foods of Latin America, from the Caribbean to Central America to Mexico to South America. Her work constantly inspires me!”
After all these years working in restaurants and judging on hit Food Network show Chopped, do you still enjoy going out to eat? “Yes! I love to go out to see what other chefs are doing in their kitchens, and I’m always inspired by the different trends popping up across the country.”
Is there one chef you’d like to cook with? “I would have loved to cook with Julia Child. A less obvious pick would be Bradley Cooper. I’ve heard that he loves to cook!”
Name the all-time best cooking show. “The all-time best cooking show is MasterChef. I’m excited for the next season. It’s going to be epic! It will be the tenth season, so it’s definitely a monumental one.”
What is the one tool that you always make sure to pack when you’re traveling for business? “I always make sure to pack my favorite apron and clogs. I like to look my best because you never know who you’re going to meet and run into at the airport! You need the right blend of comfort and style.”
Aarón Sánchez is the chef/partner of New Orleans restaurant Johnny Sánchez and a judge on hit Food Network show, Chopped. He’s also working with Cacique Cheese to figure out the next big trends in Mexican cuisine. Try his recipe for Barbacoa Style Short Ribs with Creamed “Street Corn” and Blistered Padron Peppers.
Interview has been condensed and edited.