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National Restaurant Association - Aarón Sánchez: Mixing culture and innovation

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Aarón Sánchez: Mixing culture and innovation

Celebrity chef Aarón Sánchez comes from a long line of culinary experts. His mother, renowned New York restaurateur Zarela Martinez, and grandmother, the well-known Mexican cook Aida Gabilondo, influenced his culinary success. During Hispanic Heritage Month, the TV personality, author and owner of the Paloma and Johnny Sánchez restaurants in Baltimore, Stamford, Conn., and New Orleans, talks about the impact his family and Latin culture have had on his life, career and restaurants.

What was your first job and how did it lead you to where you are today?

My first job was at my mom’s restaurant, Zarela’s, in New York City. I washed dishes, cooked and even ran coat check. She wanted me to experience all facets of the restaurant business. I learned how to do the humble parts of the job. Interacting with all the guests was a great learning experience.

How did your heritage affect your life and career?

My culture and heritage are so important to me and have had a huge impact on my life. As I get older, I’m reverting back to simpler foods and doing things the way my mom and grandmother taught me to do. A lot of people don't know this, but I’m actually a third-generation cookbook author. It started with my grandmother. And obviously my mom has taught me so much, not only about food, but also about following and cultivating your passions.

What’s the best advice your mother ever gave you?

Not to waste your talent, to follow your passion and constantly work at it to become better.

What skills have you learned that helped you succeed?

Patience and understanding are two things I learned early on.

How has your career evolved over the years?

The idea of working in kitchens and being there every day has changed. Now I’m able to reach people through other channels, like my show, “Taco Trip” on the Cooking Channel, and through my product line with IMUSA. I can reach people in different ways. They don’t just have to come to my restaurant.

How important is the Latin culture to the food and restaurants you create?

It’s so important for me to honor Latin culture and traditions, but it’s also important for chefs to make the food their own. I do that by using contemporary techniques and local ingredients.

What’s your advice to young people thinking about pursuing the industry as a career?

The best thing you can do is find mentors, people you look up to who you can learn from. I’ve had many mentors in my career, including chefs Paul Prudhomme in New Orleans and Jonathan Waxman in New York. These people have helped guide me over the years and taught me so many invaluable lessons.

What do you still hope to achieve?

I want to start my own foundation to help farmers and migrant workers.

Visit America Works Here to learn more about Hispanic Heritage Month and all of the opportunities the restaurant industry provides.

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