Aarón Sánchez can whip up a joke about his Latino heritage as masterfully as he does one of his famed dishes.
“Talking about how we live as Latinos,” the chef said, before delivering a punchline like a well-seasoned comedian: “I live with my 63-year-old uncle who does the laundry with Suavitel. We clean our floor with Fabuloso. You know what I mean?”
While the laughs in the room proved the audience appreciated Sánchez’s penchant for the lighthearted, when it comes to the importance of preserving his family’s legacy through food, and inspiring and supporting young Latino talent in the culinary world, he turns to the serious and the heartfelt.
“One of the things I get really charged about is our youth,” he said. “They are our most valuable commodity. How we treat our youth and how we influence them is so important. This industry has given me so much, I felt I had to give back.”
The award-winning chef, author and philanthropist was a guest speaker for T-Mobile’s most recent Talking with Trailblazers event, hosted by Jorge Martel, the company’s Vice President & General Manager, Puerto Rico, in front of fifty employees at its signature store in Miami.
Talking with Trailblazers invites diverse speakers on a number of culturally significant topics to inspire, educate and share, and this particular event was a special celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. Throughout the month (Sept. 15 to Oct. 15), T-Mobile employees are able to donate to the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and get a 2:1 employee match, thanks to the T-Mobile Foundation. The event also encouraged any of the 1,800 remote viewers to join its Magenta Latinx Network employee resource group, which is already 3,500 members strong.
Sánchez discussed his cooking career as the current chef/owner of Johnny Sánchez in New Orleans, a judge on FOX’s hit culinary competition series MasterChef and MasterChef Junior, and an author of two cookbooks, La Comida del Barrio and Simple Food, Big Flavor, as well as a memoir, Where I Come From: Life Lessons From a Latino Chef.
He also discussed how he is supporting other Latino chefs as the partner/creative director of Cocina, the first online content platform dedicated to celebrating the Latin lifestyle through its vibrant culinary culture.
“I think we're living in a really exciting time where second generation Latinos especially are trying to get back to roots and I think it's real exciting,” he said. “And I think technology helps do that. Whether you’re capturing ingredients at a farmer’s market, whether you’re interviewing your abuela and having her tell you about her stories and her upbringing — that’s how you use the technology. That’s really powerful, I think.”
Sánchez also acknowledged how technology during this particular time has helped fuel people’s curiosity of what’s beyond the home environment, where many were isolated during the pandemic, and that’s in turn created a space for Latinos to do more research into their own heritage through home-cooked meals.
“People’s knowledge of the food has grown so much,” he explained. “And the pandemic has helped with that, actually. I think people have cooked a lot more at home. I think people are researching their food more. They're using the technology from T-Mobile. We were already in the foodie era, now I think we just got more food-ier. I think it's exciting time for the home cook.”
And an exciting time for those looking to become professional chefs, too, which is the idea behind the Aarón Sánchez Scholarship Fund (ASSF), an initiative empowering aspiring chefs from the Latin community. ASSF provides recipients with full culinary scholarships to the International Culinary Center (ICC) in New York City and ongoing mentorship.
“I know it’s important to give back,” he said, citing his own mentors over the years, like chefs Douglas Rodriguez, Paul Prudhomme, Jonathan Waxman — and most of all, his mother, a chef who risked it all to follow her culinary dreams in New York City and sparked his initial interest in cuisine. “My industry has afforded me a beautiful life, and I would never imagine the things that I've seen and done. So, in order for me to do that, I have to thank my mentors and I have to make sure that I’m planting seeds for the next generation.”
Sánchez says his journey hasn’t been an easy road to success, but he acknowledges those who helped him, while also recognizing the unfair obstacles that he can now help remove for those next in line.
“It’s just this really exciting time right now,” he said optimistically. “Because when I started 25 years ago, I felt there was a huge discrepancy between Latinos getting executive positions in kitchens. We were dishwashers, we were prep people. We never got those big jobs. Our time has come.”
Have room for seconds? Well, you’re in luck! Also in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, check out this story about a cookbook of recipes from employees from T‑Mobile’s Consumer Group team: “Food Is Our Love Language.”