At this point in his career, chef Aarón Sánchez needs little introduction. Whether for his cookbooks, his New Orleans restaurant Johnny Sánchez, or most prominently, as one of the judges on Masterchef, Sánchez’s carefully-prepared Mexican cuisine and warm personality have made him a star.
A select group of lucky Houstonians will get to dine with Sánchez on November 15, when he hosts a sold-out cooking class at Central Market. Even though all the seats are spoken for, CultureMap talked to Sánchez about the class, his relationship with Terrazas de los Andes wine, and his affection for the Bayou City.
“A lot of this is coming from an inspirational trip that I took to Argentina to Mendoza, which is the equivalent of their Napa,” Sánchez says. “I was blown away by the culture and the introduction to Malbec. It’s been allowed to flourish for 100 years in Argentina.”
During the class, attendees will taste wine with the chef and learn to make dishes like beet and goat cheese salad, grilled lobster tail with Yucatan-style recado and hearts of palm salad, pasilla-glazed duck with roasted Brussels sprouts, and Ancho-braised short ribs. While they probably aren’t a fit for the Thanksgiving table, all of them can be scaled up to serve a group for holiday entertaining.
Of course, he recommends a Terrazas de los Andes Malbec to pair with turkey; the chef has served as the winery’s chef ambassador since 2016.
“They have a tradition of doing things top-notch. They’re one of the originators of making wine in the region. I’ve had the chance to tour the vineyard and taste,” Sánchez says. “I know it on a very intimate level, and it allows me to speak very passionately.”
Whether for a cooking class or just for a weekend getaway, living in New Orleans means the chef makes frequent trips to Houston. His restaurant Johnny Sánchez is part of BRG Hospitality, the company behind Eunice, the recently opened Creole restaurant near Greenway Plaza. Visiting that restaurant is also (tentatively) on his agenda. He also has a number of favorite Houston spots.
“Where don’t I go? I’m a huge fan of Hugo Ortega’s restaurants. I just think he does it so well,” he says. “I love Julep, Alba Huerta’s cocktail bar. I go to the Pass & Provisions all the time; it’s probably one of my favorite restaurants in the country.”
“I really love what Houston is doing,” Sánchez adds. “They’re going through a food renaissance. It’s no longer a haven for steakhouses and all the traditional stuff. It’s such a diverse city with so many cultural influences.”
Does that mean the city could see a Sánchez restaurant someday?
“I would love to do something in Houston,” the chef says. “I would maybe do something with a broad backing instead of Mexican flavors. There’s a lot of respect with my generation of chefs that you don’t encroach on other chef’s territory. For me, Houston is Hugo Ortega’s territory. I would do something completely different if I got there, out of respect.”
Beet and Goat Cheese Salad recipe by Aarón Sánchez
3 large beets, scrubbed clean
1 medium jalapeno
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon agave syrup
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup olive oil
1 bunch fresh kale, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 bag baby arugula
4 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro
Salt and fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup toasted pumpkins seeds
8 ounces goat cheese
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
- Trim roots and stems from beets. Coat the beets and jalapeno with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and black pepper, then place on the lined baking sheet.
- Roast the beets and jalapeno for 30 minutes. Remove the jalapeno from the baking sheet and set aside to use in the dressing. Turn the beets over. Continue roasting for another 5 to 10 minutes or until they are fork tender (note: they may not need additional cooking if the beets are on the smaller side.) Remove the beets from the oven and let cool.
- While the beets are roasting, make the dressing: once the jalapeno is cool enough to handle, remove seeds and mince. In a bowl, whisk vinegar, lime juice, Dijon mustard, agave syrup, garlic and jalapeno. Then, slowly drizzle olive oil into the mixture, whisking constantly, until dressing is fully combined. Set aside 3 tablespoons for the beets, the rest of the dressing should be refrigerated for at least 30 minutes before serving.
- Peel the skins from the beets and cut into 1inch cubes. Marinate with 3 tablespoons of the dressing and let rest in a covered bowl for approximately 30 minutes.
- In a large salad bowl, combine the arugula, kale, and cilantro and toss with some of the dressing. Lightly season with salt and fresh ground pepper. Add marinated beets, pumpkin seeds, and goat cheese.
- Serve immediately. Pair with Terrazas de los Andes Reserva Malbec.