The year 2009 has been a busy one for Aarón Sánchez. The chef, who's known for his contemporary Latin cuisine, runs New York restaurants Paladar and Centrico, while racing against the clock on Food Network's Chefs vs. City. Yet he still finds time to cook at home, and wants you to do the same.
"We're at a time when people are very conscious about how much money they spend on food," said Sánchez, who recently partnered with Walmart to design a budget holiday menu. We sat down to talk, and he shared his thoughts on the show, food trends, and season two of the Next Iron Chef. Hear what he has to say when you read more.
On his favorite Chefs vs. City challenges: My favorite challenges have been the palate challenges, where I have to distinguish between different flavors. Like a musician uses his ear, I use my palate as a guide.
On the food city that most surprised him: Los Angeles. People understand it to be a glitzy, health-conscious place that's spread out. I was really surprised by how many different kinds of meals you can seek out.
On Chefs vs. City costar Chris Cosentino: Working with Chris is awesome. We both like to do things the slow food way. He's the high-energy guy and I approach things a little more methodically. We feed off of each other's energy. We end up butting heads when it comes to the driving. We might do really well on the challenge, but then we'll lose our lead when we get lost.
On the second season of the Next Iron Chef: It was a lot more challenging than ours [season one] — they have raised the bar and made it more difficult. The contestants were . . . I don't want to say cutthroat, but . . . a bit more singular in their mission. We had a lot of mutual respect and camaraderie. I wasn't [surprised by the outcome], to be very honest. José's food is interesting. It's very much like how Rick Bayless did well on Top Chef Masters; people want to see bold flavors.
On food trends he's over: I'm over having to Twitter to find out where I'm going to eat. It's hard enough to find a cab!
On what's going to be huge in 2010: There'll be a proliferation of ethnic restaurants. We're going back to doing things more simple, stripped-down. Casual, neighborhood restaurants are being opened. I don't think it's very sensitive to open up a restaurant with entrées for $40 considering what's going on right now.
On his advice for the home cook: Plan your meals ahead of time. At the supermarket, try to buy for a week. Make stuff in bulk. Try to do as much of the leg work as you can in advance. Peel your potatoes the day before and leave them in water in the fridge. The next day you can literally put them in the pot and start cooking them.
On what's next for him: I'm working on a second book on flavor bases; I've come up with 10 to 15 different sauces. We've got a second season of Chefs vs. City. I'm also going to roll out a taco concept; it'll be my interpretation of the best tacos from all over Mexico. I'll be doing that and continuing to work with all my partners.