The Mexican Grill

Celebrity Chefs, Dinner, Heroes, In Season, Recipes, Summer
on June 23, 2011

Aarón Sánchez is the Hebrew-named, Mexican-blooded, Cajun-trained purveyor of Latin flavors on the all-American barbecue. He’s a one-man melting pot.

Sánchez sees grilling as a perfect fit for both Latin culture, which thrives on gatherings of family and friends, and Latin flavor, which starts with meats accented with marinades, rubs and salsas.

“When I was a kid, we had a 50-gallon drum dug into the backyard. We’d heat rocks and pit-cook big cuts of meat. We’d also grill thinly sliced meat marinated in garlic, pickled jalapeno and cilantro for tacos and carne asada,” says Sánchez.

His mother, Zarela Martinez, is a well-known chef who instilled in him a love of cooking and eating. She also put him to work; he started cooking in restaurant kitchens when he was 11. After training with Paul Prudhomme in New Orleans and studying at Johnson and Wales in Providence, R.I., he focused on bringing Mexican flavors to American diners.

As a Mexican food ambassador, he beats Taco Bell’s talking Chihuahua hands down. “I’m a culinary crusader,” says Sánchez, who runs  Tacombi Tacqueria in New York City and Mestizo in Kansas City. “My food comes from a cultural context. It’s rooted in tradition; it’s from an honest, sincere place.”

His mission reaches all the way to your patio. Sánchez wants to expand your barbecue horizons. Don’t worry—you won’t need a 50-gallon drum. To Latinize your pork, beef or chicken, you need just a few basic ingredients: chipotle peppers, fresh and dried chiles, and Mexican oregano.

“It’s as simple as processing a couple of these ingredients in a food processor with some olive oil and garlic, and you have a marinade,” says Sánchez. For something a little more complex, try one of the recipes here or in Sánchez’ book, La Comida Del Barrio (Clarkson Potter, 2003).

Even though he cooks for a living, he still grills at home. “Sunday is a precious day, and we grill at my mother’s house because she has the space, which is unusual in New York. My mom chooses the meats and makes the marinades, and I do the grilling. Even though I have my own restaurants now, I’m allowed to do only the grunt work at her house. She’s head chef.”

By Tamar Haspel, a food writer in New York City. Recipes courtesy of Aarón Sánchez.