Aarón Sánchez is back in his natural habitat for the ninth season of ‘MasterChef’ (8 p.m. Wednesdays on the FOX television network).
Armed with chopping blocks, pans and 10 years of experience as a chef or cooking judge, Sánchez teams up with award-winning chef Gordon Ramsay and restauranteur Joe Bastianich to dice and spice through the latest group of contestants in the battle for the title of MasterChef, a cookbook deal and a $250,000 prize.
“I guess my voice and my presence was something the competition needed,” said the 42-year-old native of El Paso.
‘MasterChef’ kicks off tonight (May 30).
This is not Sánchez’s first television cook show rodeo. He appeared last season.
“I had a couple of challenges and episodes with the audience,” he said during a recent telephone interview. “I think I connected with everyone. I love how it went down.”
This season, the judges will serve as mentors for the contestants.
Imagine working with a chef who came up with the idea of pairing dulce de leche (caramel) with poultry dishes!
“I felt I had enough experience and enough of an understanding on how the competition format works, not just with the amateur home cook,” said Sánchez about his work on television.
Sánchez – whose twin brother, Rodrigo, is a lawyer in New York – was born to cooking royalty. His mother, Zarela Martínez, owned a catering business in El Paso before moving to New York to open Café Marimba.
I started showing interest in cooking in my teens. I had a list of chefs I wanted to work for.
Chef Aarón Sánchez
Sánchez pitched in where he could before moving into the kitchen his teen years. His sister, Marissa, worked as general manager. Rodrigo worked as a server.
“I started showing interest in cooking in my teens,” said Sánchez, who owns the New Orleans restaurant Johnny Sánchez. “I had a list of chefs I wanted to work for.”
Sánchez worked with chef Paul Prudhommne in New Orleans when he was 16. Sánchez later worked for Prudhommne and other chefs like Douglas Rodríguez in New York and Reed Hearon in San Francisco.
In 2000, he opened the pan-Latin restaurant Paladar on the Lower East Side and went on to win numerous awards. He opened taquería Johnny Sánchez in Baltimore in August 2014, and opened a second one in New Orleans two months later.
Sánchez has developed a specialty of combining traditional Mexican cuisine with that from Central and South America.
“I was experimenting early on with the Mexican food style of that cuisine, elevating them with more technique, more luxurious ingredients,” said Sánchez. “It’s nuevo Latino, taking influences from South and Central América and México as well.”
Question: Flour or corn tortillas?
“From my point of view, any kind of meat always goes with flour tortillas, whether it’s lamb, beef, goat or anything else,” he said. “Vegetable or anything else goes with corn.”
Sánchez believes his restaurant fare “has an unbelievable array of seafood.”
He also recommends the carnitas made from scratch and the tortillas made in house.
So, what tip does he have for home cooks?
“The way you should approach cooking is being absolutely 100 percent passionate about it,” he said. “You live it 24/7; it’s not something you can do part-time.”
Sánchez added, “Work on your craft, travel and continue to grow with your own food.”