A Conversation With Chef Aaron Sanchez About Community and Representation

Chef Aaron Sanchez BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of wearecocina.com

Being a first-gen in a Colombian household in the 90s was not an easy feat. At first, everything seemed foreign; television programs, toys, food — nothing made sense. 

However, one thing that made me feel like I was back in my home country — and I know most of you will agree with me — was the food. Sure, the flavor was lacking in unprocessed items, but it got the job done. So,  eating meals filled with flavor, whether Colombian, Cuban, Mexican, Honduran or any Latin American cuisine — became my comfort zone. 

Inevitably, I became enthralled with cooking and learning everything around the kitchen. My fascination moved into a (slight but healthy) obsession with cooking shows. But Latino chefs were seldom featured on regular series (and it’s not to say that I’m discrediting the mastery of Bobby Flay and others because they are great too) — I just always craved representation. 

So, as the years passed by and everything started to progressively get more inclusive, I got excited at any Latino representation. This is why when I started seeing Chef Aaron Sanchez be a regular on these cooking networks, I could not contain my excitement. 

“Sanchez,” I read off the screen, a Latino who didn’t butcher the names of our beloved Latin dishes on TV. Somehow that gave me (and I’m hoping many others) the pride in our Latino identity. 

It was great to know that our people were making it big — that, of course, boosted my confidence to heights I am still trying to reach. 

His voice has continued to vibrate throughout our culture and beyond. And it hasn’t gone unnoticed how much Chef Aaron Sanchez has used his platform to advocate for our community. In fact, he recently joined #PepsiJuntosCrecemos to allow Latino small businesses and owners to thrive. 

Chef Aaron Sanchez has led a bicultural upbringing. His influence derives from Sonora. Mexico to El Paso, Texas to New York. His family’s last stop was New York when his mother decided to go after her dream of owning a restaurant. 

In a recent conversation with the esteemed chef, he told us what it meant to uplift the Latino community. 

Aaron Sanchez 02 BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of insider.com

Interview Highlights

This interview has been slightly edited for clarity.

On his journey to becoming a chef

So, we went along for the ride to New York City and were exposed to many different kinds of Latino cultures. It really started from there. As I matured into my teens, I started figuring out that the kitchen was where I wanted to be. At that moment, I realized that some of the lessons I obtained and the discipline and mentoring I had access to were extremely important. I also knew it was a way to honor my roots and cultural background. 

On how everyone can support Latino-owned businesses

One of the things that everyone should do is recognize the different Latino neighborhoods and document them.  You should then use your social media platform — take videos and talk to the señoras and señores that have been doing this for generations and put that out into the world. Celebrate these unbelievable figures of the Latino community and how they’ve continued to celebrate their culture and make sure that it’s preserved. And again, help them learn about the $50 million that Juntos Crecemos has dedicated to them over the next five years to help these small and outstanding businesses. 

On funding (or the lack thereof) for Latino businesses

Well, funding, and that’s why I’m super excited to be working with this initiative — it is truly special.

After all, Latino-owned businesses often need resources or monetary resources, and that support is necessary. This program dedicates $50 million to strengthening Hispanic or Latino-owned small businesses, and it’s not necessarily only restaurants. We are talking about bodegas and carnicerias (or butcher shops.)

On how he can help with your dreams

Go into the campaign, and then you’re more than welcome to reach out to me at chefaaronsanchez.com. I’d be happy to impart my advice and leadership with my consejos and anything I can do to help anyone realize their dreams.

On his advice on how others can become business owners

My biggest piece of advice is to understand your product, what you want to portray, and what you are selling. There’s nothing wrong with having a family perspective. So, if it’s heartfelt, if there’s emotion behind it, develop it with your own style and grow what you want to provide for your community —  just make sure that it speaks to you, and it speaks to your identity. Don’t try to do something huge, and don’t try to take someone else’s idea and make it your own. Instead, try to find your voice.

There’s so much pride in knowing that one of the most prominent businesses in the United States is taking notice of the influence of a Latino, Chef Aaron Sanchez, and his culture (our culture.) 

Not that we need validation, but having companies work alongside our people lets the world know that our impact on so many aspects of the country’s economy is astronomical.