Vitals: Born in Acapulco, Mexico, Richard Sandoval is the son of an expert restaurateur and family of self-described foodies. Sandoval – who fondly recalls learning about authentic Mexican food at his grandmother’s side in her kitchen – is now based in Southern California but has made Mexican and Latin cuisines a mainstay the world over with dozens of restaurants. Restaurants belonging to Sandoval’s rapidly growing group of eateries ranges from traditional Mexican cuisine (at New York City’s Pampano, which he owns with opera star Placido Domingo) to Peruvian (Raymi, owned in partnership with Peruvian chef Jaime Pesaque), as well as Colombian and Latin-Asian concept hot spots
Experience: Educated at the Culinary Institute of America, Sandoval first began to make his mark on the New York City dining scene with his two contemporary French restaurants, Savann and Savann Est. But the call to return to the flavors and techniques he learned at his grandmother’s side was too strong to ignore, and Sandoval opened his first Mexican restaurant in New York in 1997. Now, more than 15 years later, Sandoval oversees more than 35 Mexican and Pan-Latin restaurants throughout the U.S., Dubai, Mexico, Serbia and Qatar; all of which have received numerous awards. A contestant on Bravo’s popular “Top Chef Masters,” Sandoval was named a James Beard semi-finalist for “Outstanding Restaurateur” in 2011.
On the best advice he’s ever received: “I don’t remember who originally told me this, but it was ‘to stay humble.’ It’s important to keep yourself grounded. In many ways, I’m still the same person today that I was 17 years ago when I first started in this business. I like to get to know the dishwashers, bartenders and cooks in all my restaurants. Those connections have helped me stay grounded; they help me keep learning. Once I stop learning, that’s my last day in the industry.”
Favorite indulgence: “Without a doubt, it’s queso fundido. I like it with mushrooms and chorizo and broiled until crispy on top. I pair it with a little pico de gallo and eat that with corn tortillas probably three or four times a week. I probably shouldn’t admit that.”
On his proudest achievement: “I’m very proud of the fact that I’ve had very little turnover in my company. I promote from within and to see the way some of my kids have gone from a dishwasher to the chefs they are today, makes me so proud. Many of them never imagined they’d go as far in this industry as they have and for me to have a small part in that makes me extremely proud. My staff makes me who I am and they are fantastic.”
On the one dish he can’t make as well as abuelita: “My grandmother would make the most amazing tamales. To this day, I cannot make the same porous, soft, moist tamales that she did – I’m not able to get it right.”
On his fantasy last meal: “I love tacos al pastor – I could eat that all day long. My favorite tacos are the ones made at the many taco stands in Mexico. There’s just something so special about the way the pork is carved and served with sweet pineapple and tomatillo salsa. Of course, if it’s my last meal I’d also have a cold beer and then some churros!”
An item on his bucket list, revealed: “One of my next goals is to take Mexican food to Europe; specifically in London where Mexican cuisine is pretty much non-existent. One of the most popular cuisines in the UK is Indian food, and I feel that there are enough similarities between Indian and Mexican cuisine that the British will love it. I think people will enjoy the different notes, boldness and the warm that’s characteristic of Mexican food.”