Food Network personality and executive chef of New York’s Centrico restaurant, Aarón Sanchez is unquestionably one of the country’s leading contemporary Latin chefs. Son of celebrated cooking authority, Zarela Martinez, Aarón has been cooking most of his life. The author of the recently published Simple Food, Big Flavor (Atria Books, 2011), Aarón now gives his enthusiasm, creativity and amazing tastes and aromas to home cooks. Mamiverse recently caught up with Aaron who shares his story and inspiration for our readers.
MAMIVERSE: Could you share an early childhood memory of cooking with your mother? Any particular dishes you learned to make as a child? How did you mother teach you to cook?
Aarón Sanchez: When I was younger, in our first apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, my mom and I were trying to make mole. We were toasting the chiles and accidentally triggered the smoke detectors. Everyone in the building ended up outside thinking there was a fire, and my mom was like, “What’s the big deal, we’re just making mole!” My mom taught me the fundamentals for everything that I know. Cooking together with her grew out of love – it was an opportunity to spend time together. Our favorite thing to cook now is the turkey at Thanksgiving.
MAMIVERSE: Simple Food, Big Flavor is organized by presenting a key paste/puree/salsa that’s then used in a variety of dishes – is that part of your philosophy of cooking? For example, being able to use several key ingredients in a variety of ways?
Aarón Sanchez: It’s not so much my philosophy as it was my wanting to create a book and recipes that made Latin cooking easy and accessible for a wide audience. I think that by giving the readers the pastes, purees and salsas first, which are easy to make, then showing them how they could use them for other, more complex dishes, it helps to demystify the complexities of Latin cooking. By approaching cooking this way, it makes it easy and fun to cook the foods that I love.
MAMIVERSE: With your New Orleans experience, your food influences and inspirations came actually from many cultures, not just Mexican – can you talk about that? Do you see any similarities between Cajun and Creole cooking and classic Mexican?
Aarón Sanchez: I’m a huge proponent of New World ingredients, meaning ingredients that were here prior to European influences. Like Mexican food, Cajun and Creole foods incorporate so much from their native cultures. Mexico is a melting pot for so many different cultures, which is reflected in the food.
MAMIVERSE: Since Mamiverse Food is focused on moms providing and teaching about good food for their children and families, do you have advice for moms to introduce cooking to children?
Aarón Sanchez: The best advice I have for moms is for them to take their kids to the source of their food. By taking their kids to their local butcher shops and farmers markets, it shows them that food does not come from supermarkets and helps show them the evolution of their food, where it comes from, and who it comes from. If getting them interested in the process doesn’t work, you can always incentivize them. To get dessert, you have to eat your vegetables!
MAMIVERSE: Today many home cooks are returning to the kitchen to learn to cook better for themselves or to learn more about food and the pleasure of eating and cooking together for their families – do you have any advice for a cook just starting out? There’s so much to learn, what’s the best way to start?
Aarón Sanchez: The best way to start is to really think about the foods and cuisines that you like to eat. Identify those foods and start exploring them, either online, in cookbooks, or at restaurants. Finding good sources for your ingredients is also a great way to start – an artisanal butcher or cheese shop – that you can explore and learn more about the food from. At the end of the day, you have to grow with the food, you may not have the best results the first time around, but if you keep on trying, you’ll prevail.