As Chef and Owner of Richard Sandoval Restaurants, now a leading international restaurant group with more than twenty six locations in New York City, Washington DC, Virginia, Denver, Las Vegas, Santa Monica, Snowmass Village, Mexico, Dubai and Qatar, Chef Sandoval maintains the stellar reputation of his restaurants while identifying opportunities to bring Latin American flavors to larger and increasingly diverse audiences.
A little more than a decade ago, Richard Sandoval opened the contemporary Mexican restaurant Maya on the New York Upper East Side, and its success paved the way toward a small empire of restaurants, including Maya Dubai, which opened last year.
Here is a casual conversation with Chef Sandoval talking about his secrets and his favorite ingredients
Who in your life has influenced your cooking the most?
I will never forget the wonderful weekend reunions at my grandmother’s house while growing up in Mexico. Her warmth and hospitality set the foundation for my future as a chef. And her wonderful dishes — tortilla soup, enchiladas de mole, carnitas, among many more are always with me, wherever I am.
Which book has had the biggest impact?
I admire Nobu’s cookbook, which reflects his talent for incorporating Latin ingredients into his Japanese traditional cuisine.
Which foreign country (or region) do you most enjoy eating in?
I love the versatility of Mexican cuisine. The number of flavors that can be achieved by preparing ingredients, spices and chilies in different ways is infinite — and inspiring!
Which restaurant meal from the past lives most vividly in your memory?
Fifteen years ago, before moving to New York City, I dined at Lespinasse in the St. Regis Hotel with a friend of the sommelier. We shared a breathtaking six-course tasting menu and wine pairing. To this day, I remember the sensations that touched my palate without even remembering the actual dishes. It was a truly magical meal.
Which three cooking tools or gadgets are your favorites?
The hand blender, the Chinese mandolin and (of course!) the molcajete: the traditional Mexican volcanic stone mortar.
What’s your favorite music to play in the kitchen?
Mariachi music, because it takes me right back to Mexico.
Which are the most overrated — and underrated — seasonings?
I love the flavor of truffle oil so I wouldn’t necessarily say it is overrated, but I would definitely say it is overused. I think salt is underrated and underused. When used correctly, it enhances every flavor in a dish.
Is there a guilty secret — something canned, something hokey — in your arsenal of ingredients?
Honey. I personally cook with a lot of chilies, and honey balances out the spiciness.
Is there a rule of conduct or etiquette in your kitchen that you enforce above all others?
Cleanliness. I feel that personal hygiene and sense of order are reflected in the final product.
What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done in a restaurant kitchen?
No way. I just can’t say.
Which item in your home refrigerator would you least like to cop to?
Chicken bouillon cubes. I think they are very practical and they’ve been known to save the day.
Is there a food you can’t bring yourself to like?
I love food. There is really nothing I don’t like. But I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to dine on pig’s feet. And I tend to use clove as sparingly as possible.
You did something awful and are sentenced to die. Dead Chef Walking! What’s your final meal — and we’re not talking five or six courses, though you can have dessert — before you go?
I love rice and beans so it will definitely be a large bowl of that, topped with habanero sauce. I will also have a dozen tacos al pastor with all the right garnishes: pineapple, cilantro, onion and salsa. For dessert, a chocoflan: half dark chocolate cake and half caramel flan.
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