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Chef Aaron Sanchez Talks 'Chopped' and Super Bowl Party Tips

by Kelly Woo, posted Feb 4th 2011 9:00AM
Aaron SanchezChef Aaron Sanchez loves Super Bowl season.

"It's one of the few times that it's quiet at the restaurants," the 'Chopped' judge confessed to me in a phone interview. "This is an opportunity for me to get together with my parents, family and people that I love that I don't get to see very often because of my work schedule."

When Sanchez isn't at one of his restaurants in New York City, Centrico and Paladar, he's judging 'Chopped' or filming something else for the Food Network. While 'Chefs vs. City' has come to an end, he teased he's working on some new show concepts.

Read what he had to say about 'Chopped,' his upcoming Food Network projects and that infamous battle with Masaharu Morimo on 'Iron Chef America.' Plus, Chef Sanchez gives us three Super Bowl recipes.

Kelly Woo: What's coming up next for 'Chopped'?
Aaron Sanchez: The show is maintaining the interest level by doing champion rounds, integrating more difficult baskets. Now they're also starting to search out talent from all over the country, which is something they didn't do before. They were sort of focusing more on local chefs and people that could get themselves here. They're seeing now that there needs to be more variance of cooking ability to make the show more engaging. They're on it.

ChoppedIs there a particularly memorable basket or wacky ingredient that comes to mind?
Something that's very interesting is competitors who are vegetarian or vegan and they don't eat meat, but they cook it very well. They kill it. They don't taste is, it's just a feel and really understanding how proteins work. That's something really memorable to me, to see vegetarians who cook meat so well ... I remember having a day where we had goat brains just recently, fish heads and durian, a funky fruit from Southeast Asia. Banned from restaurants and airplanes -- that's how funky it is. We had a day where to consume all three things, you can imagine how that was.

When you're judging, do you look more for something that's inventive or do you just care about how it tastes? Does it matter how risky the dish is?
Well, when I judge, I want a little bit of everything ... What we really look for is the mystery basket to be used in a way that it's not a throwaway. If there's a very challenging ingredient, we don't like to see it just put on the plate or used as a garnish. What we look for is a real glimpse of creativity and just good tasty food. You'd be surprised how much people forget about the basics when they're in that high-pressure situation.

Would you ever undertake the 'Chopped' challenge yourself?
Would I ever battle? Yeah. I would battle gladly, it's a matter of them asking us. I think that's down the road. I know a lot of viewers have been asking for the judges to compete and I think that's something that everybody wants to see, [for us to] back up our critiques in the kitchen.

The Super Bowl is coming up. Do you have any tips on putting on a great party?
This time of year is a very exciting time of year for me. It's one of the few times that it's quiet at the restaurants and it sort of leads up to the Super Bowl ... This is an opportunity for me to get together with my parents, family and people that I love that I don't get to see very often because of my work schedule. I like to bring them over to my house because I have a really nice kitchen and I'm able to entertain at home quite often.

The thing that I like to do is to have food readily available. So when people walk in the door they're presented with some really good food, finger food that is accessible. People don't have to be fiddling around with silverware.

When I have these parties, I call them "Delicioso Nights In." I want people to be able to come at their leisure, come in and out and not feel that stress ... And I like to have drinks that are reflective of my heritage. I think when people come over to my house, they want to see some Mexican food and food that reflects where I'm from. I have a lot of friends that are chefs, and at their houses they make food that is reflective of their background, so when I have people over I like to have spicy food, things that are flavorful from my homeland.

Veracruz is one of those regions I'm in love with in Mexico. My mom wrote a cookbook all about the food from Veracruz ... I like to do a lot of food from Veracruz and then serve Kahlua, because that's from there.

I know when I'm trying to make something for a party, I can't decide what to make and am frantically looking up recipes online. Do you have a go-to dish for parties?
One of the things that I like to do for people are tostadas ... something I can make ahead of time. I have an avocado salsa I can make ahead of time and then when people arrive, I sauté the shrimp really quickly ... and I just top the tostada with salsa and sautéed shrimp.

Chefs vs. CityWhat's happening with 'Chef's vs. City'? Your co-host Chris Cosentino had posted on Twitter that it was canceled. Is that true?
I think that show is going to be revisited a little bit down the road. I know Chris had some trouble physically with the travel and some of the things that we had to do. We're going to re-look at that but I'm still doing some other stuff for Food Network. Nothing that's been 100 percent confirmed, but there are new things coming up, I'm just waiting for that to be finalized.

Can you tell us more about these projects?
I just did a special for Cooking Channel called 'Heat Seeker,' it was an hour special I shot with a gentleman named Roger Mooking, a really great guy from Canada. Basically, the premise of the show is to go around and sample spicy food and [give] the history of spices. Not necessarily [just] heat, but ginger and black pepper -- things people wouldn't necessarily associate with heat. But we're approaching these flavors in a lighthearted way, sort of like 'Diners, Drive-ins and Dives' but with spicy food. We're hoping to move forward in a bigger capacity. That's something that aired over the holidays and people really took to it. Hopefully it's something that can air on Food Network or Cooking Channel.

Would you ever do a rematch with Morimoto on 'Iron Chef: America'?
I've been asking for one. He has my number, I'm easy to find. If he wants some of this, let's do it (laughs). It's been something I've been asking for. I'm very competitive, that's why I did the first season of 'The Next Iron Chef.' I was put through hell on the first season -- all of the competitors were ... The fact that [Morimoto and I] tied was unprecedented and I think that calls for a rematch.

Enter to win a "Delicious Night In" with Aaron Sanchez as your chef at kahlua.com

Chef Aaron Sanchez's Super Bowl Recipes:

Kahlúa and Ginger Ale (Super Bowl Spritz)

2 parts Kahlúa
4 parts Ginger ale

Directions: Fill a highball glass with ice, add Kahlúa and ginger ale, then stir.

Carne Asada Tacos

12-ounce jar sliced pickled jalapenos, drained
1-3/4-pound flank steak, trimmed
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup chopped white onion
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
Lime wedges, for serving
2–4 tablespoons Salsa del Arbol (recipe below, or store-bought)
Corn tortillas (homemade or store-bought)

Directions: Make tortillas, if you're using Homemade Tortillas. If not, flat flour tortillas are perfect.

Marinate the steak: Spread the jalapenos in a baking dish and press the steak on top. Cover and set aside at room temperature, about 1 hour.

Preheat a grill or grill pan to high. Brush the jalapenos off the steak, pat dry and season with salt and pepper. Grill the steak for 4 to 6 minutes per side for medium-rare. Let rest 10 minutes, then slice.

Assemble the tacos: For each taco, stack 2 tortillas and lay a few pieces of steak in the middle. Top with onion, salsa and cilantro. Top with lime wedges.

Salsa del Arbol (referenced above)

4 dried arbol chiles, stemmed
1 pound plum tomatoes, halved
1/2 white onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
Juice of 1/2 lime
Pinch of sugar
Kosher salt
Fresh cilantro, for garnish

Directions: Toast the chiles in a dry skillet or saucepan over medium-low heat, shaking the pan, about 2 minutes. Pour 1/2 cup boiling water on top, cover and let soak 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat a grill or grill pan to high. Grill the tomatoes, turning, until charred. Transfer to a food processor. Add the chiles and their soaking water, onion, garlic, oregano, lime juice, sugar and 1 1/4 teaspoons salt; pulse until chunky. Set aside, about 1 hour. Garnish with cilantro.

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I am watching the episode "Thyme Flies"...and I have to say...after watching you chop a chef who took precious moments to double glove his hands to protect YOU judges, while you sat there and refused to eat his food,,,knowing if he didn't finish he'd be chopped anyway? It would be a cold day in hell before I EVER considered appearing on this show. Not only did he complete his dish where another contestant did not, he took precious moments out of his prep time to ensure that even though he was injured YOU were safe. I have NEVER seen a collective panel of more pompous, arrogant, and undeserving 'judges' in a food preparation competition in my life. Every single one of you should be ashamed to even consider yourselves lofty enough to be in the position of Judgement. Word to the wise aspiring chefs...if you don't complete your dishes...you'll be chopped. If you injure yourself and take measures necessary to protect the pompous panel of judges ..you'll be chopped. Don't waste your time. This show won't be wasting any more of mine.

June 29 2011 at 1:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I love "Chopped." I think having the judges compete would be a great idea. Maybe after they go through it, they won't be so picky. (Jeffrey Zakarian, let's see how YOU do deboning and preparing perfectly cooked fish in 20 minutes when you also have to figure out what to do with a bag of cheese puffs and a jar of peanut butter!)

I also think a "Chopped" round would be great for "The Next Iron Chef" or "The Next Food Network Star." Have the final four contestants compete in "Chopped," but instead of eliminating one per round, all four would compete in all three rounds. The judges would critique each course as they do now, but only one person would be chopped after the final round based on their overall performance in all three rounds.

February 04 2011 at 11:44 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Oh wow, OK now that makes a lot of sense dude.


February 04 2011 at 10:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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