Celebrity chef Aaron Sanchez gives to students
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — About 20 culinary students at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts stepped Tuesday into the world of celebrity chef Aaron Sanchez, who showed them how to make his flavor-filled version of shrimp and grits. He interspersed his demonstration with cooking tips and encouragement to stay in school, find a mentor and develop a signature cooking style.
Sanchez, one of the judges on the Food Network's "Chopped" and co-star of the show "Heat Seekers," was in New Orleans helping to launch the House of Blues' new restaurant "Crossroads," which features a menu he created. "It's my take on American classics redone," he said of the food that will include the dish he cooked for the students as well as short rib meatball sliders, hand stretched grilled flatbreads, street tacos, jambalaya, lobster mac and cheese and buttermilk fried chicken.
Sanchez told the budding chefs to take advantage of their time with their instructor Dana D'Anzi Tuohy, a chef whose experience includes 17 years working with Emeril Lagasse. D'Anzi Tuohy runs the school's new culinary arts program, which gives students a look at every aspect of the industry from safety and sanitation to knife skills to food costs, catering and the basics of cooking. The students in the program spend a half day at their home schools for academics and the rest of the day in their arts discipline at NOCCA.
"You can't put a premium on education," Sanchez told them. "It gives you a real opportunity to build upon a foundation and ultimately make a statement."
"Our goal is to get them acclimated with cooking," D'Anzi Tuohy said. "We want them to learn to work as a team and understand what it's going to take to be a chef or run a kitchen in this industry."
As the aroma of sauteed shrimp wafted through the school's kitchen, Sanchez discussed flavor and how he learned from New Orleans' renowned chef Paul Prudhomme.
"He taught me the ability to taste," said Sanchez, who at age 16 earned a place in a master class with Prudhomme. "He taught me how layers of flavor occur."
Sanchez said he also learned to develop his own style after working with Prudhomme. "I see a lot of chefs who try to emulate their mentors, which is great," he said. "But you have to make your own style. My cooking embodies my time spent here (in New Orleans). It's great to pay homage to our mentors but I've got to put my own stamp on it."
Sanchez said mentoring young chefs, especially those of ethnic backgrounds, is something he's very passionate about. He told the group it was their job as students to "extract information" from mentors. "You have to get it from them," he said. "Ask the questions. Ask for help."
One tip he gave the students: rub a bit of oil into the protein before seasoning it to help the spices stick to it. Another tip: Buy whole spices, then toast and grind them yourself. That way, he said, you'll know how fresh the product is unlike those that are sold already ground.
"When you find your culinary voice and find out who you are, share that with someone," he said. "That's what cooking is about."
Sanchez said he hoped the students were in the program because they actually like cooking. "Otherwise, there's no reason to do it," he said. "We work horrible hours. There's not much money in it. You've got to love what you do."
He said the celebrity status he's earned through the years is the result of his love for food. "It's the by-product, in my opinion, of being a great chef," he said.
Alexandra Stadler, a junior at Haynes Academy, said she hoped to open a restaurant in the future and Tuesday's visit by Sanchez was informative. "Now I understand why you should put flavors, seasonings, on last," she said.
Keirsten Garnett, a senior at Warren Easton High School, said the visit "was a good opportunity for us to broaden our horizon and not focus just on American cooking." She also said seeing a celebrity chef in person helps put the industry in perspective.
"He's not intimidating and it's a comfort to know that you can be good at what you do while still being down home and humble. It was real decent of him to come speak to us as young chefs in training," said Garnett, who wants to be a private chef and own her own restaurant.
Sanchez is the chef and owner of Centrico Restaurant and Tacombi in New York City, and Mestizo Restaurant in Kansas City. His latest cookbook, "Simple Food, Big Flavor: Unforgettable Mexican-Inspired Recipes From My Kitchen to Yours," hit store shelves earlier this month.
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