The Wine-Down With Chef Aarón Sánchez

Who in the world can keep up with (Super) Chef Aarón Sánchez? When Sánchez is not at his own eateries like New Orleans' Johnny Sánchez – the taqueria love child of he and fellow esteemed American chef John Besh – his ever-expanding star power as an author, entrepreneur, and television personality (including top series "Chopped" and Cooking Channel's "Taco Trip") keeps him on the move. Sánchez recently added 2016 Brand Ambassador to his lengthy resume for Terrazas de los Andes, where he'll be pairing gourmet recipes with wines from one of Argentina's most celebrated wine makers. The Daily Meal was fortunate enough to pin down and join the itinerant New York chef on his tour of the Terrazas de los Andes estate in Mendoza, Argentina, and get his take on Argentine meat, Malbec, and his bigger mission.   

The Daily Meal: You're not a first-timer to Argentina. What excites you most culinary-wise?

Chef Aaron Sánchez: I started coming to Argentina four or five years ago... and the idea of the parrilla (grill) is one of the most memorable. It's like the world of beef opened up for me. The way that they fabricate the meats and cut them in certain ways is completely different, so that blew me away. "Ok, so you cut a rib-eye this way?" That's something so counter-intuitive to someone that's been trained in the States like I have.

Along with that, what can American cooks learn from Argentinian cooking? What do Argentinians do better that Americans can learn from?

I think the idea of understanding beef... We heard Don Fernando (of Los Chulengos ranch) speaking today about no meat going into a freezer, allowing it to sit and the proteins to rest and the liquid to flow out so the meat is at its most optimal time to cook.  And the biggest one: you don't need a gas stove to cook great food. Did you see anybody, since we've been [in Argentina], cook on a gas stove?

Not at all, everything's been done outside.

Everything's been outside, everything's been on open fire... we don't need to have some fancy stove and all these kind of tools to enhance our food. Get back to the roots, baby.

Now that you've had some time to sample Terrazas de los Andes wines and visit the vineyards, what has impressed you?

I've always been a fan of Malbec in general; as a proud Latino, I always wanted to have a varietal of wine I could kind of identify with. You and I have been drinking a fair amount of the [Terrazas] wine (laughs), but I didn't know Malbec had that many different expressions. Also, I didn't realize a New World country can impart terroir. I thought [this] could only happen if it were 500 years old in France or Spain or Italy, so that was remarkable for me. 

You seemed particularly fond of Terrazas Single Vineyard Las Compuertas Malbec 2011.

It's textbook because you can't even compare it to anything... it's so beautiful, and it has nothing to do with the Old World at all. It is truly like the first New World wine that people can say, "You want to taste New World red?  This is it."  

You're on TV, you're traveling all of the time, you're doing brand deals... do you ever miss being in one restaurant kitchen cooking, several days a week?

When I get frustrated that's the one thing I tell Andrew [Chason], my business partner, all the time: "I'm not in the kitchen cooking." I need to touch food. I don't have an office... my "office" is my kitchen. But at the same time I have a bigger mission, man. My mission now is to teach people in Sioux City, Iowa, how to cook Mexican food. My mission is to make sure migrant workers in California get the rights that they deserve... so that's extremely important to me.  

What does your schedule, which seems to be a hectic one, look like?

I do TV 15 percent of my time... people think because I'm on it a lot that I do it all the time. The rest of the time I'm working, writing books, and traveling to try and get myself more inspired. The remaining 40 percent of my time I'm in the kitchen.

When you are visiting your restaurants, which ones are you involved with the most – where do people see you?

I think Johnny Sanchez in New Orleans would be the one right now.  When I come there, it's like "Oh my God, he's here!" And I get that from everybody...I walk by a table and people are whispering, "That's him!  That's him!" It's beautiful [that] they associate me with a restaurant. 

Rumor has it that you might consider opening an Argentine-inspired restaurant in New Orleans, too.

That's the goal.  We do want to open up... not only just an Argentine place but to have South American influences in the restaurant, because New Orleans doesn't have that.  This Argentina trip has definitely been inspirational for me. 

As the host of Cooking Channel's "Taco Trip," do you think the taco is the number one food revolutionizing American food right now?

I think the time of the taco has arrived. You can interpret it in so many ways, and it's a utilitarian thing; anytime you're eating anything with your hands, you're humbled. And it's not just about tacos on the show – we focus on other iconic Mexican dishes five to 10 percent of the time, so we'll do an enchilada, we'll do chilaquiles... we'll do tamale every now and then.

What is the one misconception you would like to teach people about Latin American food?

First of all, not everything has mango and pineapple. Not everything is a "red bell pepper fiesta mélange"... bell peppers are not Latin food. And it's not like speaking about Italy... Italy is a country.  Spain is a country. Latin America is several countries. You're dealing with influences from all over the world, so that's the biggest misconception.                                                                                        

While you're a chef, you're also very keen on inspiring people. What's your intended legacy?

My goal is to be that man, or that chef, where every young cook, Latino or otherwise, understands the narrative. When I travel the country, when I go to the restaurants, they're Latin guys. Immigrants come to me and say, "I can do it." And that's what makes me feel fulfilled and rewarded... that I can be an example for these young women and men that love to cook, and hopefully they'll pursue this dream and supersede anything that I've done.