Aaron Sanchez takes on tacos in new TV gig 

We chatted with celebrity chef Aaron Sanchez, who visits Lolo-Cevicheria, Papalote and Tacolicous in San Francisco on the new Cooking Channel show “Taco Trip” – airing at 9:30 p.m. Jan. 6.

What makes a good taco?

Three components – tortilla, protein or filling, and salsa or garnishes – all need to be harmonious and rocking together. The tortilla is crucial; it has to be freshly made, and the right temperature. The salsa has to have the right, bright acidity, and meat has to be flavorfully cooked.

In your travels, are you finding regional differences?

Yes, absolutely. In New York City, the majority of Mexican nationals are from Puebla, so you see chiles en nogada and mole poblano. In Texas, there’s all that fresh corn.

What have you found in San Francisco?

I really like Papalote, to be honest. I like the fun, colorful spectrum in the California Mission-style burritos. I haven’t really had that. A Lolo has an incredible chef I know from Mexico – Jorge [Martinez] is amazing.

Do you have a favorite taco?

I really love carnitas – pork cooked in its own fat. I’m not big on additions like cola and orange and s---. A great place in Chicago, on the debut “Taco Trip,” was Carnitas Uruapan. It was one of the most ephemeral situations I’ve ever been in. It made me realize my how crappy my own are.

Can you talk a bit about being a judge on “Chopped,” the addictive Food Network show?

The judges love that families watch it together. And we don’t mind the weird basket ingredients, or items that aren’t necessarily fresh. In some places, frozen peas are all you can get. The only time the food is inedible is when the competitors don’t know what an ingredient is, or what to do with it.

As a TV food expert, do you have complaints?

I do get peeved when people call something that it’s not. You’re making a promise, and it’s a bummer for everybody if the dish isn’t what it’s called. And some people are getting caught up in catch phrasing – they don’t know what the hell umami is.

How do you balance doing appearances and being a chef – do you actually cook?

When I’m at my restaurants, I’m cooking. Now I’m at Paloma, in Stamford, Conn., and I’m cooking. It’s really important for me to be a my restaurants. I really work all the time.

How do you find time to do everything?

I have wondeful people on my side who help me be efficient.

What have you liked best on “Taco Trip”?

It celebrates people and their stories and their creativity. The taco is the perfect vehicle to have fun with – it’s like a pizza or a pita.

Rice or no rice in a burrito?

Uh, rice. It’s really just about leftovers. You make a big pot of rice and beans – it all goes into the caboodle.

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Leslie Katz

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