Aarón Sanchez is one busy celebrity chef. He stars on the Food Network TV series Chopped and Heat Seekers and has appeared on Chopped All-Stars, Chef Vs. City, Iron Chef America and The Best Thing I Ever Ate.
Sanchez is the chef/owner of Centrico Restaurant and Tacombi, in New York City, as well as Mestizo Restaurant, located in Kansas City. And luckily for foodies locally, as of last March, he is the executive chef at Crossroads at the House of Blues. In fact, he has been updating all of the House of Blues eateries across the country, bringing his Crossroads concept to stops in Las Vegas, Houston and New Orleans among others.
The personable chef, whose skin is a work of art with numerous tattoos, was in town last Friday, June 22, for a media dinner to introduce his updated pub menu at Crossroads and AC Weekly managed to grab a few minutes for five questions.
This is not your first restaurant gig in Atlantic City. Some people might not remember that when Borgata opened in 2003 Mixx was a restaurant by day that turned into a nightclub after 10pm. You and Chef Edwyn Ferrari created the menu but the concept didn’t last. What happened there?
Borgata was a real pioneer in the Atlantic City area, raising the bar for food and beverage, the experience as a whole. My position there was more of a consulting one. I helped design the menu. There were changes in leadership and they decided to go in a different direction, which was totally cool. That is the way of the business.
What makes Crossroads a better fit?
This is a different scenario. House of Blues encompasses very particular markets and very particular needs and I’m catering to each one of those cities. That is what makes this challenging and also exciting. The formula they have here with the music and the spirituality and the art, all of it makes sense for my personal taste. With all those factors into play there is no reason we shouldn’t be successful.
You talked about the different markets. What specifically do you think about the Atlantic City market, which has been growing so much in the last few years?
When I think about Atlantic City, it’s interesting because you have one foot in the Northeast and one foot in the mid-Atlantic. You have all the great food from Philadelphia and Washington DC flanking you and not to far away is New York City. And I think about everything New England, the wonderful seafood and I think about Boardwalk food [like] burgers and wonderful flatbreads. I’ve catered our signature burger line to this area; the seafood is represented shrimp and grits. We have all the things people think House of Blues should be.
With all your other commitments and restaurants, how to you coordinate? How to you keep the quality at a level that satisfies you when obviously you can’t be everywhere at once.
As it pertains to House of Blues, it was a challenge getting people to believe in your view of food. I wanted to do a menu that was easy to execute and full of flavor. Before we even did one menu change, I went out and ate at all 13 restaurants. I made my comments about what was working and what wasn’t. I picked chefs from the locations that I felt were the strongest. I handpicked a team of corporate chefs and they spend time with me to understand my food. I held them accountable for the quality and the implementation. I’ll make quarterly or maybe monthly visits to the locations to maintain that standard.
Where does your passion for cooking come from?
My grandmother was a wonderful home cook and grew up on a cattle ranch in northern Mexico. We made our own cheese, our own sausage. So it came from my grandmother, and my mother [Chef Zarela Martinez] was a pioneer of Mexican food in New York [Aaron began working as a chef in a professional capacity as a teenager]. Really the women in my life forged my love for food and also my love of my culture.
Chef Aaron Sanchez, he of the Food Network’s Chefs Vs. City, Heat Seekers and Chopped, recently became the latest addition to Atlantic City’s star-stuffed roster of celebrity food figures.