Here's the thing about Food Network chef Aarón Sánchez; in person, he's very different than he is on television...but that's a really good thing. Rather than the polished, refined, blazer-wearing chef we see on Food Network, the real Sánchez is a hilarious, tattooed father, husband and Buddhist with the energy of a teenager and he's not afraid to talk about anything.
He sat down with Eater for a chat inside House of Blues Houston, where he paid a visit to kick off the new menu he helped revamp. Read on to find out why he thinks Morimoto Masaharu is a scary dude, why fellow Chopped judge Scott Conant is not and why he benefits from his wife's first marriage.
On the launch party (the previous night) for the new menu at the newly named Crossroads restaurant inside House of Blues:
Last night was great. It was an absolute treat to come back to Texas. I'm from El Paso, Texas and any time I'm here I'm reminded of the hospitality [...] When people come out in Texas, especially Houston, they get all gussied up, and I like that.
On eating at places in Houston (other than House of Blues of course):
Last night we ate at Reef. We had a really good meal there. The chef took good care of us. Awesome food. You know, usually there's a lot of time in between my visits. A lot of new things happen when I'm gone. But now that I know you Amber, I'm sure that I'll have my finger on the pulse...
On competing against Masaharu Morimoto on the second season of Iron Chef America:
The original was very challenging, very difficult. You know, Morimoto was a very formidable opponent. He's scary, actually. Let's be real, he's a scary man.
On Scott Conant (fellow judge on Chopped who is also quite scary):
What people misconstrue is that Scott is very passionate and he also has high standards. He's one of the most driven, passionate, great chefs that I know. I'm honored to call him a friend. He's the man.
On which dish on the new Crossroads at House of Blues menu would fair the best on an episode of Chopped:
I would do either the meatball sliders or the shrimp and grits, just because they're both pretty quick to do. With Chopped, you've got to factor in the time.
On family life (he's married to a signed, touring musician, Ife Mora):
Ife, my wife, is a person that's toured and been signed [...] and she has a really good understanding of my schedule. It's a little hard on us, because we have a six-month-old baby. I'm on the road a lot. She's writing music and recording, she's just not touring right now, which I know she wants to do, so as soon as I calm down a bit, she'll be able to get back on the road. There's a reversal of roles and I think that's great. And we both know what it's like to be artists. We have that love/hate relationship with that need to create art. It's a necessity.
On making the jump from being a chef to being a chef on television:
I got into cooking with no expectations of being on television. I think many of the new generation of chefs want to do that. Like, being famous, in the true essence of the word, is a by-product of being good at what you do. Like old school actors, they became famous because they were good actors. Before TMZ and all this other stuff, people got recognized because they were good at their jobs, not because they had to do something scandalous. I got into cooking because I was an incorrigible, undisciplined teenager. [Eater: And because your mom was in the business?] Yeah, but she never pressured me. I needed to get my act together and the kitchen provided structure, mentoring and discipline, which were three things I desperately needed. And that's why I got into it initially and it was something I was good at. Most people that are good chefs are cooks. I take exception with people who call themselves "chefs." You know, it's like, "I'm chef blah blah blah." It's like, no, you have other people call you that, by your actions and the way you present yourself and your food. You earn it, you don't self-anoint. It doesn't work like that.
His advice to anyone looking to get into the restaurant world:
I think school is very important, because it provides you with a foundation. Most school programs are two years. The second year, you should be allowed to work with experts in your arena of food. Because now food encompasses food styling, recipe testing, catering, hotel work, cruise ships, personal chefs. Because I think what happens is people go to culinary school and they go and work in restaurants and they hate it, and they get turned off by the restaurants, but they still love food. And in your education, you should figure out what arena of food service you want to get into and then specialize in that.
On paying back loans from culinary school (or not being able to):
People need to get over that. If you get into this business to make money, that's your first mistake. You make money after a long time doing this. I remember the first time I made $400 in one week. I was dancing a jig I was so happy.
On cooking at home:
My wife cooks. One of the good things that came out of her first marriage, her husband was Italian, so he taught her how to make good pasta. So I benefit from that. My wife cooks for me a lot. Great pastas, great risottos, wonderful salads. And she's not intimidated to cook for me.
A tangent about cooking for his wife when they were dating:
The first time we met, I had it all in the bag. I was like, I'm going to cook for this girl and she's mine. But she had me all set up. She took her guitar and started to sing for me. I was like a puppy. She did the reverse game on me.
On the House of Blues menu revamp project:
I think what I'm doing here at House of Blues is a good reflection of where I am in my life. I think this menu afforded me the opportunity to have all the things I like to eat on one menu. And then, have something that appeals to a very diverse audience, which House of Blues attracts.