Chef Richard Sandoval: Every day can be humbling
Rules of conduct in your kitchen: Our cooks are always required to taste their dishes throughout each shift. Ironically, one of the most common mistakes in the kitchen is that cooks forget to taste. I require both front- and back-of-house management to taste all of our sauces prior to service to make sure the flavors are consistent. Recipes are just guidelines, and ingredients change in flavor over time, so without tasting as you go along, you won't know what your guests are experiencing. There are no cell phones allowed in our kitchens -- we can't afford distractions on the line, although you can imagine how hard it is to enforce, especially in an environment where people are used to texting and talking all day long. Also: Be organized and be clean; clean dishes come from a clean kitchen.
What's never in your kitchen? Negativity and dirtiness. People's attitudes impact the quality of every dish. When my staff is positive, clean and proud, we all put out good products. It's just like in sports or any other team activity: You need team players with positive attitudes to get results.
What's always in your kitchen? Cooks who always taste their food and different kinds of salt. I always like experimenting with new salts; it's the key to bringing out good flavor.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given? Truffle salt. It's decadent.
What are your favorite wines and/or beers? Cuzqueña from Peru and sauvignon blancs from New Zealand.
Favorite dish on your menu: The daikon duck tacos at Zengo. The fresh, crisp daikon ÅgtacoÅh shells offset the rich, flavorful duck and add great texture. ItÅfs a perfectly balanced and incredibly flavorful dish.
Biggest menu bomb: We've had problems selling sopes, Mexican corn masa cakes with various toppings, in many of our restaurants. They're fantastically delicious, but Americans aren't all that familiar with sope or masa, so they're a tough sell. We keep pushing them, though, because we want to share them with our diners. We've also run into the same problem introducing Peruvian causa -- puréed potato cakes topped with things like fresh ceviche -- to the American market.
Favorite childhood food memory: Watching my grandmother cooking the traditional dishes of Mexico. My entire family would gather every Sunday to share her feasts and catch up...fantastic memories.