“Cooking is a connection to someone’s soul,” Master Chef Aaron Sanchez explained to Culinary Arts students in their first master class since the launch of NOCCA’s newest discipline in August. Cooking is clearly how Chef Aaron shares his heritage, his passion for life’s flavors, and his dedication to helping young people find their paths.
Mentoring reaches deep into Chef Aaron’s core, a role he learned from Chef Paul Prudhomme when he began an apprenticeship at age 16 with Louisiana’s legendary chef. Today, Sanchez co-stars on The Food Network’s Heat Seekers, Chopped, Chefs vs. City, and The Best Thing I Ever Ate. His restaurants Centrico in New York City and Mestizo in Kansas City earn rave reviews, and he was nominated by the James Beard Foundation as Rising Star Chef of the Year in 2005. His latest book, Simple Food, Big Flavor: Unforgettable Mexican-Inspired Recipes from My Kitchen to Yours, was just released.
In New Orleans in October to unveil his new menu and signature dishes for Crossroads at the House of Blues, Chef Aaron and House of Blues staff offered to come by NOCCA for a cooking demonstration. It was filled with artistry and technique, but also constantly connected to science – a tenet of NOCCA’s new Academic Studio. Students were grilled on seasoning methods, how to cook garlic without turning it bitter, releasing liquid at just the right time, buying spices whole and grinding yourself, toasting spices to wake them up, never boiling spices; and adding fresh herbs last to keep the chlorophyll from oxidating and turning drab.
“It is the difference between good and exceptional,” Chef Aaron urged students.
Culinary Arts centers on “structure, discipline and mentoring; and you have all of that right here,” he told students. “Concentrate on the basics and ask for help.”
“How did you know this was your destiny?” one student asked. “Work with mentors,” Chef Aaron advised in his reply. “See if you like it. Get as much education as you can. You will see cooks try to emulate their mentors, but somewhere along the way, you have to develop your own stamp. And when you do find out who you are, share it.”