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  • Diana Brandt

The Sweet Side Of Chef Sanchez

I was thrilled to get invited to the first Taste of the Tournament put on by Coca-Cola. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I rode the bus to this private event. I’m not familiar with basketball, but when it comes to food, I’m obsessed!

We arrive at our destination giddy like children on their first day of school. We shuffle through the dirt walkways, under the wooden arches, and then into an experience we wouldn’t soon forget. Lights twinkled above our heads, and notes from electric violins charmed my ears. Flames on the firepits danced like ballerinas trying to escape their stage. The perfect details captivated my senses. The waitstaff greeted us with mouthwatering food and drinks that shimmered in the sun. I followed the delicious aroma into the modified barn.

Comfy couches and chairs welcomed us as we stepped through the barn doors, and just beyond that, our favorite chefs were preparing their tables for their eager and hungry guests. It wasn’t quite time to eat yet, so I made my way to the adjacent barn, where the demos were taking place.

Katie Lee, in her white jumpsuit and sweet smile, was the first to show us a recipe for our entertaining pleasure. She mixed some cheese, placed it on crackers and sipped on a coke. Chef Aarón Sánchez followed her with a tantalizing taco recipe and a few stories from his childhood. After we watched the two prepare some quick bites, we returned to the firepits where the atmosphere buzzed with energy. Drinks were passed around merrily, and the waitstaff offered us everything from duck taquitos to fresh fish, all prepared by Chef Aarón Sánchez.

We eagerly waited for the barn doors to reopen before our tummies became content. I needed to leave room for the main bites of the evening, after all. But before that, I had to calm my nerves. I booked an exclusive interview with Chef Aarón. I feel pretty confident in my interviewing skills with our local peeps, but for some reason, I got the butterflies thinking about interviewing a TV Celebrity Chef.

I got the message that Chef Aarón was ready, so I headed back into the VIP room for Katie Lee and Chef Aarón Sanchez. The music was blaring next to us, and we may have had to yell at times, but it didn’t stop us from having a touching interview. I realized Chef Aarón was far from intimidating. As a matter-of-fact, he made me feel comfortable. Like we had been friends forever.

Being a little sugar obsessed, I got straight to the most important question. “Do you like sugar and what’s your favorite dessert to make?”

“Oh man!” Aarón perked up. “I like sugar. I think if a chef tells you they don’t like dessert, they're lying. It’s one of the things most chefs make an excuse about, not making dessert.”

He deepens his voice and states in a barreling tone, “Well, you know I’m a savory cook.” His voice goes back to normal, “And I’m like no, the perfect analogy is similar to a basketball player. They can’t say, oh I only like to score, I don’t like to play defense. You got to do a little bit of everything in order to be good at anything in life. And I think being well balanced is one of them and I think being a Chef, you have to be good at dessert.”

He grabs his coke bottle and takes a swig and places it loudly back on the table, “For me, I love ooey gooey stuff. I love being able to dig my fork into things, and I’m down with floats. I love Coca-Cola floats, but I really love layers.” He moves his hands in the air, “So imagine this idea of doing a little bit of brittle, dulce de leche ice cream and then layering that in there and finishing it off with Coca-cola. It’s all about the layers and texture.”

Now that we have the difficult question out of the way, I ask him about his personal life. I know he has a son, Yuma, that is 6. I want to know how he finds balance. He’s a busy man, a prolific traveler, and has a hectic TV schedule, but he’s also a father.

Chef Sanchez sits back calmly in his chair. “What I do is schedule family time, the same way I schedule work. All my colleagues on Food Network and Fox do the same thing. For instance, all of July is scheduled at my beach home, and everybody knows you don’t reach me during that time. I give my cell phone to my assistant, and I tell her, I don’t want to be bothered. I got to do it that way.”

He goes on to tell me that during the rest of the year he has to plan differently.

“I try to do as much forecasting about my son’s life and what he’ll be doing so that I know to schedule it in and try to be there for those big moments. My hope is that I’m going to hustle, hustle, hustle right now so that maybe in 10 years I don’t have to do this and I can be there for you 100% or 80%, instead of 30%. Technology is a blessing, we use Facetime regularly, I do everything I can to stay in contact.”

His eyes shift down, and his voice lightens a bit. “I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that I want to be with my son more often.” He catches himself from an emotional moment and becomes serious, “A lot of us parents are in this kind of role, we just deal with it.”

Chef Sanchez glances off to the side in deep thought. I imagine he’s thinking about his son, so I lighten the subject. We talk about the lifestyle of the Chefs on TV.

“I feel so blessed to be doing what I’m doing,” he says, “and I’ve had the opportunity to make some lifelong friends.”

We discuss the people and fans he had the opportunity to meet.

“When I started doing this, I made a promise that I would always make time for my fans.”

Putting yourself out there all the time can be emotionally exhausting, and that’s why you might not find him out on the town regularly or eating at restaurants. When he has time off, he wants to be at home, cooking and simply hanging out.

“I can’t just go out to a restaurant and have a small meal,” Aarón says. “I end up getting recognized, and the Chef sends out the entire menu.”

After being on the Food Network Channel for 20 years, It’s not surprising that he’s recognized by many people.

I ask about his most recent work on Master Chef and with Chef Gordon Ramsey, and his eyes light up. He talks with such admiration about Chef Gordon Ramsey and what a kind soul he has.

“When you see him with his family,” Aarón says, in a cheerful voice, “they adore him! He’s such a great father to them, and it shows how much he loves his kids and wife.”

Our conversation shifts to our kids, the life of being food-loving parents, and trying to get our children to eat and try everything. We share several laughs, and he tells me that he’s heading out to Mora to see Chef Scott Conant after the event. He gives me a hug, and we take a selfie. I thank him for graciously taking his time to chat with me, and we part ways.

His words weigh on my mind, as I’m reminded of how we all have the same struggle of trying to do the right thing as people and as parents. We want so badly to succeed at giving them a better life, but we also want to be there for them as much as possible. Balance, I wonder if it’s ever truly attainable?

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