Richard Sandoval is an award-winning chef and restaurateur with nearly 40 super successful restaurants spanning seven states and five countries! In 1997 he opened his flagship restaurant, Maya, in New York City and was quickly dubbed "The Father of Modern Mexican Cuisine." Seventeen years later, his culinary repertoire encompasses nearly all of Latin cuisine. Knowing Richard, he won't stop until EVERY type of Latin cuisine known to man is served at a Richard Sandoval restaurant! His mantra is "old ways, new hands," reflected in how he masterfully combines authentic Latin ingredients with international flavors to create amazing dishes. Richard is a humble leader and mentor most often directs the spotlight to the dedicated army of chefs under his command rather than himself. It's all about the food with this former professional tennis player turned rock star chef! Richard and I are very good friends and have collaborated on the “Latin Light” menu being dished out at his restaurants.
Let's get Richard's take on healthy cooking and eating
Diane: Do you see a trend with diners seeking better-for-you options on the menu?
Chef: Absolutely; as diners become better educated on the benefits of healthy eating, they are continuously seeking out healthier items while eating out. We have noticed this firsthand with the addition of our “Latin Light” menu at the La Sandia restaurants. We were honestly unsure of the response we would receive when adding the under-500-calorie section to the menu, but it has proven to be tremendously popular. In fact, the addition has been such a success that we have decided to keep the Latin Light options as a permanent fixture on the La Sandia menu.
Diane: What’s your definition of “healthy eating”?
Chef: In my line of work, counting calories or cutting out major food groups just isn’t an option. Part of being a chef is tasting the product to ensure that each item that comes out of the kitchen is delicious. I end up following the “everything in moderation” rule. I am continually tasting food and can easily overindulge if I’m not careful. I try to enjoy and evaluate each individual bite of food. When concentrating on each bite, it’s easier to keep from mindlessly eating. I also think it makes the food taste even better. In my eyes, healthy eating entails enjoying everything… just not all at once.
Diane: What is your secret to cooking healthier without sacrificing flavor?
Chef: Seasonings, rubs, and marinades are a great way to add flavor to meat, seafood and vegetables. In all honestly, Mexican food is traditionally very healthy. Traditional Mexican food is not slathered in cheese and sour cream. It’s naturally flavorful and light. I like using a variety of chili peppers, herbs, spices, and juices to add flavor and depth to a dish. Adding a hint of lime and some cilantro can really freshen up a dish, while using goat cheese instead of hard cheese is a lower calorie option to add a rich consistency. Avocado is also traditional to Mexican cooking and a great addition to add creaminess to various dishes. With the fruit being high in nutrients, amino acids and healthy fats, it’s the perfect healthy addition to add flavor.
Diane: What is your favorite dish on your own menu and why?
Chef: This is a tough one for me because I have a variety of menus and restaurants. Each menu has something that I would call “my favorite.” One dish that comes to mind is the “chicken for two” at Raymi in NYC. We marinate the chicken for 24 hours in adobo, then we cook it both sous vide and in the oven. We use the whole chicken too. The thighs are part of a Caesar Salad and the livers are used to make a pâté. It’s all served on a plank of wood and the entire dish comes together beautifully.
On the simpler side of the spectrum, I can never get enough of the guacamole at each of the restaurants. It’s a simple combination of avocado, salt, lime, tomato, cilantro, chile, and onion, but we are very particular when it comes to the quality of the avocados. Our chefs only use the best avocados and examine each one to ensure the fruit is ripe. Done properly, the simplest of ingredients make the most decadent guacamole.
Diane: How about an update on what’s new and exciting in your world?
Chef: I’ve been working on a cookbook called “New Latin Flavors: Hot Dishes, Cool Drinks.” The recipes are inspired by many of the dishes at the restaurants, but streamlined and simplified for the home cook. I’ve included signature recipes for traditional Latin cuisine like quesadillas, ceviches arepas and enchiladas and also items that will be new to many, like Mahi Mahi tacos and Beef Tiradito with wasabi dressing. I’ve also included a section featuring Latin spirits and the art of mixology. Tequila, mezcal, cachaca, rum and pisco are all used in a variety of creative cocktails. The art of science, cocktails and drink recipes is quickly gaining in popularity and Latin sprits have plenty to offer when it comes to this trend. The book offers an exciting new vision of contemporary Latin cooking and is scheduled to launch in October of this year.
Diane Henderiks is a personal chef and culinary nutritionist on a mission to teach America how to cook and eat well. Follow her on Twitter @dhenderiks, "Like" Diane on Facebook, or visit her website.