Hanging Out With Aaron Sanchez
House of Blues menu revamping. Bud Light spokesman. Chopped judge. Aaron Sanchez keeps a hectic schedule, but that didn't stop him from sitting down with us at Downtown Disney's House of Blues patio to chat about guacamole, his TV obsession and rock 'n roll.
So what brought you to House of Blues?
The food here, I thought, was a little dated, to be honest. When you have a venue that has a reputation for one thing, it's very easy to chalk up the food and do something marginal. It really happened with the new CEO. He knew my business and business partners. They told him, "I've got this guy. He's a chef. He's tattooed. He loves music. I think it'd be a good fit." I met with Ron, and that is the genesis of why I'm here.
The word chef means teacher, and I feel like I need to teach people how to do a lot of the basics. Somewhere down the line, someone told them it was easier to do "this", and it ended up sacrificing flavor. So I came in and really wanted to design a menu that was all-encompassing. My version of American food, keeping a couple of things from the original menu, like jambalaya and voodoo shrimp. The most important job was to evaluate what was here and see whether it was really worth keeping.
It's a brand that, despite having 11 locations, manages to keep it private. They haven't sold out. The overhaul isn't just the kitchen at House of Blues, it's also getting better acts, finding the new talent and up-and-coming bands. Everything is working in synergy. I appreciate that.
We didn't know you have a line of products coming out.
I have a new line of home goods in stores like Marshall's, TJ Maxx and TJ Maxx Homegoods. For me to be able to get into people's homes tangibly, it's different. I can affect people on television and touch them, but unless they buy my book, they really don't have something that's tangible. That's what's beautiful about home goods. Designing items for everyday use is something they can judge me on for better or for worse. I think stores like those help me to do that. We've got some units out in the stores now. We'd like to introduce new items as the seasons require it. What's exciting is that these companies are massive and have multiple outlets; they see the value in my career and how I've been able to grow, and they want to be a part of that.
You know what people are looking for? Authenticity. Whether it's a story or a restaurant, we want authenticity. And that's what's important. For example, in Mexico, you can get baskets that aren't generic. I go to them with ideas, and they come back to me with color palates. There's no sense in me telling them how to do their business. They know what sells.
Can we talk about your tattoos?
Tattoos are for myself and not for other people. I love the extremeness and art behind it, but I love the anxiety and fear you have. I've become friends with tattoo artists, and it was a part of how we hung out socially. It's also a way of telling a story. It's a very interesting path I've taken, and this is how it's documented. It's cool. I've been doing it for about 20 years. I've got all the tough spots out of the way.
One food you can't live without.
Chiles. Chipotle/adobo is such a versatile product. I've pureed it. I've made butters with it. It's an essential flavor of heat that I think rounds out food and makes it harmonious. Some feel that way with acid. Some feel that way with salt. I think every great food culture has chile in some form. Whether it's Thai or habanero. Now I think it's essential, and now I think they are expanding the variety of it. It's about flavor. It's always about flavor. And not the ones who want to burn their face off.
We learned that you're a Sons of Anarchy fan.
I'm a huge fan. I flew out last month to do The Talk, and had no idea Katey Segal was going to be on the show. She's so cool. Brooke Shields was hosting that day. It was cool meeting Brooke; she was like my first crush. But I was like, "Oh, my god. There's Katey Segal!" She was leaving, and I didn't have a chance to see her. I literally ran up to her and said, "I'm a huge fan."
I love the idea of the show being able to grow. The acting is great, and they bring the right characters. Last season, it was Jimmy Smits. They had Henry Rollins this season. I really want to be on the show. I already pitched it. When they have the Mexican gang, let me be at one of their safe houses. I'll be the chef. I just want to get whacked on their show.
So what's going on with Bud Light? We saw your billboard.
It's been a couple of years now. I'm the carne asada master for bringing this part of Mexican culture to the masses. The common denominator is Bud Light. It's a recognizable brand made with quality. I think their beer is a good product.
What was the ingredient when you had a draw in Iron Chef?
Black bass. Having black bass with Morimoto is like me having masa or tortillas. "Damn! You got to give the guy fish! Come on, man." It's better to tie, to be honest. It's memorable, and it's always living with, "Did I win, or did I not?" It's so ambiguous.
How about a rematch?
I've been asking for a rematch. Sucka lost my phone number! You can't find my phone number, Morimoto? I'm easy to find. Call me! I'll pay for your ticket. Let's do it.
It's all good. We're old friends. And we have a lot of respect for each other. To me, that's key.
Weirdest thing you've eaten:
I've eaten whale, which I didn't really like. I had it in a sushi restaurant. It was sashimi. It tasted like horse of the sea. I can't really describe it. It was very tough, and didn't have a lot of flavor. It was very gamey, with a distinct flavor.
You're pretty active on social media. Are you really online that much?
When I shoot, for instance, there's a lot of down time. When there's down time, all of us are on our phones. If you're updating, you're current. If you're saying things that are relevant, people are gonna pay attention. My goal is not to tell people how fabulous my life is. It's like "Here's what's up." I follow Kurt (Sutter) with Sons of Anarchy. I wanna know what's up with him.
Discover any new ingredients you haven't worked with before?
Blue hubbard squash. It's this big, gnarly gourd. I can puree it and make great soup. It looked like such a pain in the ass to peel, so I always stayed away from it. But then I hacked it up and roasted it. Damn, it was tasty! It has a very nutty flavor. It's also very fleshy. You know how butternut squash has a lot of water? This does not.
Do you eat breakfast?
When I do eat breakfast, I do like eggs. I'm the kind of guy that likes to sleep half an hour before he has to go somewhere. I just need minimum time to clean up, and then get out the door. I don't leave time for breakfast.
You judged Iron Chef not too long ago. How did that differ from your Chopped duties?
Each one has a way of doing things, and each one thinks that their show is the best. I liked judging Iron Chef. I felt like the cooking is elevated. They have more time and more hands. They have a cooler kitchen. The food tends to be really insane, so that's why I like doing that.
One of these guys starts off by saying, "I've been to Mexico a lot. Let me get a guacamole with no onion, no jalapeno, no cilantro, no tomato." You want mashed avocado with lime and salt? And he says it's the worst guacamole he's ever had. That's not guacamole, sir. That's baby food. You had something you can throw on your skin for a facial. Don't give me this guacamole crap.
The funny thing about Mexican food is that it's one of those things people think they know the most about, for some reason, because it's so popular. I think the quality of Mexican food has gotten a lot better. People have an understanding of the originality, the differences, the nuances. I'm happy to see it.
I have the dream job. I go to House of Blues. I watch shows for free. I cook for this groovy crowd. I get to meet all these wacky people. And I get to do it in 11 different markets across the country. Each has their challenges and benefits.
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