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An exclusive interview with celebrity chef Aaron Sanchez

The award-winning chef, TV personality, cookbook author and philanthropist encourages everyone not to forget their roots

It was a busy day for celebrity chef Aaron Sanchez who appeared on Good Day NY before our interview. I thanked him for talking to HOLA! USA. Sanchez exclaimed, “I love HOLA! Me Encanta HOLA!” We are off to a good start.

The award-winning chef, TV personality, cookbook author, and philanthropist’s voice is instantly recognizable. In our exclusive interview, we talked about his long-standing partnership with the Mexican brand Cacique, Hispanic heritage month, traditional cooking techniques and tips, as well as his time judging on MasterChef and MasterChef Jr.

FOX's MasterChef Junior - Season Seven©GettyImages

HOLA! USA: Thank you again and happy Hispanic Heritage Month! I know you’re a long-time partner with Cacique and have a lot of stuff going on right now. You can enlighten us with some traditional Mexican cooking tips we can use to celebrate the authenticity of our cooking this month. I think my mom took all of her authenticity and secrets with her and my dad tried putting bananas in albondigas, so educate me!, I joked.

Aaron Sanchez: “No! No! No! Pump the breaks!” Sanchez exclaimed. “I think it all starts with authentic ingredients to be honest. I think because we are in Hispanic Heritage Month it‘s the perfect opportunity to be able to celebrate our culture and not only that but the contributions that Hispanics and Latinos have made as a whole.

I think that’s extremely important, and how do you do that? You do it through food. The way you do that is you’re bringing home into people’s worlds that might not be the way they grew up or their narrative. And you do that by utilizing authentic ingredients. That’s why Cacique has been my long-standing partner for over 10 years. They’re still a family-owned company, their principles and values are in line with mine and that’s why this is so important, and especially now where I think the focus is on different cultures, understanding our identity, and making sure that we continue to celebrate in a way that stays all-inclusive… So that’s what it’s all about, going and taking that time to venture into neighborhoods that you haven’t ventured into, to go seek out these different ethnic enclaves and go out there and shop at different Latin stores and pick up these ingredients that are so essential in making these traditional recipes. I think that’s something we have to be focused on more than ever now.”

FOX's MasterChef - Season Ten©GettyImages

Sanchez then shared some tips that people can start incorporating every day with these traditional recipes.

Aaron Sanchez: “When you think about people working with avocados a lot of times we‘ll go to the store and we’ll find a green one that can be used as a weapon because they’re so hard you know? If someone’s trying to roll up on you just throw an under ripe avocado at their head, and take them out. But as far as ripening avocados and getting them to that point where they’re just beautiful and creamy my suggestion would be: take a paper bag and put them in an ambient temperature like right near a window or your kitchen, something like that and let them breathe in this bag and let it [speed] up the ripening process.”

HOLA! USA: “Especially when they‘re like $5 each,” I chimed in.

Aaron Sanchez: “Exactly and you want to get the best out of them right? And there‘s a couple trains of thought that if you put an onion inside the bag with under ripened avocado, the onion mixes gases and the sort of energy that also helps accelerate that. So that’s another little tip.”

His second tip was to use everything you work with because traditionally, food is never wasted.

Aaron Sanchez: “At home when we‘re working with vegetables, we will shop for recipes right? And we’ll go out and say ‘I’m going to make this unbelievable pork ragu with these cheesy toasts’ that I’ve done for Cacique that utilizes all these wonderful ingredients. Go there buy all the ingredients but if you happen to have scraps right? You’re peeling the carrots you’re using cilantro, you have the stems, you have the onion tops- save all that put it in a Ziploc bag and at the end of the week make a vegetable stock and just freeze that. That way nothing goes to waste, especially in this quarantine environment that we’re living in, we have to be conscious of our spending and our utilization of ingredients etc. So making sure you’re using all those scraps and making stocks with them. You can make a little caldito later on. And then using ingredients like Mexican oregano, things that really speak to the Mexican flavor building process where you’re either adding it at the beginning part of the recipe where you’re sautéing onion and garlic. Or you can use it as a topping for a caldo, and just making sure that those authentic ingredients are always present. And that’s why Cacique always does a really great job at making sure they have a beautiful array not just of their crema, chorizos and cheeses but their also about this authentic Hispanic food brand that continues to strive and be innovative and bringing back special ingredients.”

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Chorizo Ragu with Cheese Toasts
Long baguetteTablespoons olive oil
1 yellow or white onion, chopped2 to 3 carrots, chopped
½ teaspoon salt6 cloves garlic
8 ounces white mushrooms, chopped2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin1 ¼ ground beef
1 (10-ounce) package Cacique Pork Chorizo1 (28-ounce) canned crushed or pureed tomatoes
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened9 Tablespoons Cacique Crema Mexicana | 1.5 cups crumbled Cacique Ranchero Queso Fresno

HOLA! USA:“What are some of the traditional Mexican ingredients or staple items that people can have at their house? Or that people who don’t usually cook Mexican food or think its’ too complicated and maybe want to start playing with it or fusing their food?”

Aaron Sanchez: Chorizo. Because the chorizo, especially with what we do over at Cacique, you can have a pork version, you can have beef, we also make one with a soy product if you don‘t eat meat. So always have a tube of chorizo in your fridge and Chorizo is great if pop in your freezer as well. You definitely always want to have a Crema Mexicana for sure because that’s a beautiful finishing piece and as an accent to add to little antojitos or corn-based appetizers like a quesadilla or a sope or a taco. So definitely some crema Mexicana. You have to have queso fresco ranchero… Queso fresco is the most popular cheese in Mexico so you gotta bring that back and make sure you have that as an accent piece to make different dishes whether it’s enchiladas, sopes. Have a can of chipotles and adobo, because those are non-perishable items so you can always have [them] in your fridge or in your pantry. And have cilantro, lime, have all of those flavors that can finish dishes.”

HOLA! USA: This is making me hungry. “So you are a world-renowned chef and judge. Everyone knows your face from watching you on TV. I watched you on MasterChef and MasterChef Junior and I just loved seeing representation on that show and seeing all the Latino’s that were contestants, all of their faces just kind of lit up when they saw you. They had someone that kind of looks like them, that has their culture and experience. What were some of the rewarding things that you saw on that show being a Latin judge and being that face and representation for the Latinos out there?”

Aaron Sanchez: “I mean for me first of all, the idea of being able to just sit on that judging panel with Gordon Ramsay and Joe Bastianich and now we have Daphne Oz who is in the mix with the juniors. For me, to teach Gordon Ramsey who is arguably one of the best chefs in the world how to work with Mexican techniques and flavors- that‘s been a huge rewarding part of it. Because he’s very much entrenched in French technique and training. That’s the way he was brought up in Europe and so the idea of roasting chilies and making some of these dishes are completely foreign to him, so that’s been a very rewarding part of it. And also to see from MasterChef Junior for example when you have Latino kids, I remember there was a young little girl named Nayeli who was really excited about me being someone who looked like her Tío and she would say I love to have tacos on the weekends and have carne asadas. So that for me was something so rewarding because I have a 9-year-old son and I feel like I’m living that reality with a lot of the kids in that age group.”

Tacos & Tequila Presented By Mexico Hosted By Aaron Sanchez - Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival presented By FOOD & WINE©GettyImages

HOLA! USA: “What are some predictions that you think will happen with Mexican cuisine this coming year and the future?”

Aaron Sanchez: “The one thing that I‘ve seen is a lot of people going to home style cooking. So for instance, taking that time since we’re spending more time at home and maybe making more elaborate salsas, where you’re making mole or you’re making something that’s a lot more time-consuming. Because it’s something that you can cross utilize from a lot of different recipes and dishes over a long period of time, so I think we’re going to see a lot more of those home style recipes relived and brought back to surface. And I think also the idea that we’ll be able to source those authentic ingredients easier now, there’s really no excuses now right? We have the time. You can go venture out, you can go to these markets, these Mercados and… get these authentic ingredients in your home and then utilize them”

HOLA! USA: “Any upcoming projects we can get excited for?”

Aaron Sanchez: “I just came out with my memoir Where I Come From: Life Lessons from a Latino Chef which is published by Abrams. I encourage everyone to pick up the book. We also have an audio version with audible. The book is a real letter and a testament to my journey and my story in kitchens and life. And continue to see all the different things I‘m doing with Cacique, as far as recipe development. We have a wonderful blog if you go to caciqueinc.com you can kind of see a lot of the different things we are doing as far as celebrating the brand and celebrating authentic Mexican ingredients. So I would encourage everyone to do that as well, and yeah, just keep up with me.”

HOLA! USA: “Amazing thank you. And is there anything you want to say to your fans for Hispanic heritage month?”

Aaron Sanchez:“I would encourage everyone not to forget their roots. This is the time to celebrate. ‘Cuando pierdes tu lengua, pierdes tu patria’ [when you lose your tongue, you lose your pride] so don‘t forget to speak Spanish at home and speak Spanish as much as you can. That‘s a way to stay connected, don’t lose that. And engage with your abuelos and abuelas on the weekends and ask them for recipes and make sure that their legacy is not forgotten.”

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