Aarón Sánchez Makes an Impact
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Aarón Sánchez is one of the world’s most distinguished chefs. You have seen him host and star in multiple food shows, most notably as a judge on FOX’s “MasterChef” and “MasterChef Junior” and co-star of Food Network’s “Chopped” and “Chopped Junior.” He recently debuted a Spanish language cooking competition series called “El Sabor de Aarón.” He was the host of the Cooking Channel’s Emmy-nominated series, “Taco Trip,” and has appeared on numerous other shows, including “Iron Chef” and “Best Thing I Ever Ate.” Additionally, Sánchez hosted two Spanish-language shows on Fox Life, “3 Minutos con Aarón” and “MOTOCHEFS.”
If you’re lucky, you’ve run into him at his CBD restaurant, Johnny Sánchez, or around town in New Orleans, where he has resided for the last seven years.
Sánchez dislikes using the term “Latinx,” but he is a proud Latino. He was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, and moved to El Paso, Texas, so he grew up in a bicultural community and spoke Spanish first and English second. Later, his mom, Zarela Martínez, moved the family to New York City to pursue her culinary dream of becoming one of the pioneers of Mexican food in New York.
Sánchez is passionate about preserving his family’s legacy through food and encouraging diversity in the kitchen. “I’m a third-generation cookbook author. My grandmother wrote a fantastic book called “Mexican Family Cooking” in 1986.”
He comes from a matriarchal background and admires women in charge. “My grandmother and mom are the gatekeepers of flavors and the tastemakers, and that’s how I grew up.” Sánchez’s books include two cookbooks - “La Comida del Barrio” and “Simple Food, Big Flavor” as well as a memoir, “Where I Come From: Life Lessons From A Latino Chef.”
Celebrating Latino heritage is part of everything Sánchez does. And for the active philanthropist, The Aarón Sánchez Impact Fund was his outlet to help preserve his community. The chef understood the impact of mentorship because he lived it when his mother sent him to New Orleans under chef Paul Prudhomme’s wing. “I came down here at a troubling time in my life, and he got me right. He mentored me and gave me fatherly lessons and all the things that I needed, so I always had New Orleans in my heart.”
Sanchez decided it was time to say goodbye to New York and moved to New Orleans when he became the co-owner of the Johnny Sánchez restaurant in 2014. He wanted to add Mexican cuisine and its flavors to the New Orleans food scene. He also wanted to make a difference for young Latino aspiring chefs that needed the support he once sought. “When I started cooking 25 years ago, I felt there was a huge disparity between Latinos getting leadership positions in kitchens, and I didn’t want education to be the crutch.”
The Aarón Sánchez Impact Fund, a program of the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, provides access to the best education for aspiring Latino chefs ages 18 to 25. Eleven students have received scholarships thus far valued at approximately $715,000. The scholarship includes full tuition to the Institute of Culinary Education in New York, eight months of room and board, all required school supplies, a monthly unlimited MetroCard, and flights to and from New York for the start and end of the program. It also provides mentorship opportunities for the duration of the program, as well as culinary industry experience.
“I’m a chef at heart,” says Sánchez. “I do television, and I used that as a marketing tool initially in my career, but now it is this unbelievable tool to reach a huge audience. I can tell stories, and I can tell stories through my food, through the unbelievable team that we have, and we can inspire the next generation through the Aarón Sánchez Impact Fund.”
That reach is visible and authentic. Camila Arias, the 21-year-old sous chef at Johnny Sánchez, is one of the three graduates of the program from the New Orleans area. She applied for the scholarship as soon as she turned 18. “I applied online and was interviewed in the restaurant. Then, two weeks later, I got the phone call that I got the scholarship.” Arias was on her way to New York by 2020. “I learned so much from my teachers there and the chef mentoring me. Even though he wasn’t there day to day, he was still checking on us, making sure our grades were good.”
After completing the program, she returned to New Orleans, and they called her from Johnny Sánchez to do her internship with them. She has loved being part of and learning from the restaurant family chef Sánchez has created.
“Camilla is bold, confident, and has such an appreciation for New Orleans,” Sánchez proudly says. “She loves to learn and be accepted into all the unbelievable opportunities that happen when you are part of our program. Her power is infectious; it’s beautiful.”
Sánchez hopes to find four culinary students, hopefully from the New Orleans area, who, like Arias, will benefit from the Aarón Sánchez Impact Fund. “Fill out the applications. Chase your dreams of being a culinary leader. You will have access to all our colleagues and our unbelievable network of chefs who can inspire you.”
To find out more about the Aarón Sánchez Impact Fund, visit AaronSanchezImpactFund.com.
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