Star chef Richard Sandoval on corn smut and why he isn't likely to come to your house for dinner

He let the ball bounce away. "I thought about what I really enjoyed, and I kept going back to cooking," explains Sandoval, who then enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. He graduated, moved to Acapulco ― his father owned a restaurant there ― and learned how to command the line. After four years of burning his knuckles and wielding a knife, he returned to New York City. "It's a great restaurant city, and a former classmate of mine was living there ― plus I wanted to open my own restaurant, and New York seemed like the perfect place to do it," says Sandoval.

His first restaurant, Savann, was a French-American-Latin bistro -- but it didn't come easy. "I couldn't find a landlord who would give us a space, so we got a 1,000-square-foot shoe store and built a restaurant, buying pretty much everything from auctions," Sandoval remembers. He sold the restaurant four years later to focus on Latin-American cuisine, and his second restaurant, Maya, of which there are still two today -- one in New York and one in Dubai -- generated two stars from the New York Times.

After that, there was no stopping the Mexico City chef, who went on to open more than dozen restaurants -- and he's showing no signs of slowing down. "Most of the growth has taken place over the last four years, and we have three more in the works," he reveals.

While it's easy to think that this kind of success would go to his head, Sandoval insists that it hasn't. "I'm still the same person I was when I opened my first restaurant," he says. "I haven't changed, and to be honest, I still get very nervous when I open a new restaurant. I still look at all the numbers from the night before, and in my mind, I really don't think I'm that successful."

With a staggering number of accomplished restaurants attached to his name, that's difficult to believe, but Sandoval says he's having too much fun opening new concepts, traveling more than 200,000 miles a year, to think about fame -- or, for that matter, fortune. "It's not about the number of restaurants I open; it's about creating great food and great staffs," he says. "If we start putting shit on the plate, then I'm done, but for the first time in a long time -- and maybe age has something to do with this -- I'm content and more relaxed, and I've built a team of people who have allowed me to step back a bit."

Still, he allows that he's nowhere near ready to stop the momentum. "There's a rush in creating a concept, and I love the flow of start to finish, of designing the spaces and creating menus, of staffing and opening," he says, adding that "a kitchen on a busy night is like playing in a tennis tournament. The adrenaline rush is amazing."

Location Info

Al Lado - CLOSED

1610 Little Raven St., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant

La Sandia

8419 Park Meadows Center Drive, Littleton, CO

Category: Restaurant

Tamayo

1400 Larimer St., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant

Zengo

1610 Little Raven St., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant

Cima

126 Riverfront Lane, Avon, CO

Category: Restaurant


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3 comments
notgood
notgood

"It's not about the number of restaurants I open; it's about creating great food and great staffs," he says. "If we start putting shit on the plate, then I'm done, but for the first time in a long time -- and maybe age has something to do with this -- I'm content and more relaxed, and I've built a team of people who have allowed me to step back a bit."

 

FAIL. Sandoval needs to rethink his entire approach.  B/c what is going on now is subpar.   The first time I went to La Sandia, it was fantastic, from the caipirinha to the dessert.  The next time I went, it was awful.  Completely inattentive wait staff (there were only 2 other tables at the time, so no excuse), horrible, watered down drinks, and ingredients left out of the main course and dessert.  And the exact same issues at the VA location of La Sandia, as well as other outposts of his other restaurants.  And it seems no one in the front office cares, much less in the actual restuarants.

 

I saw a review of a Sandoval restaurant once that stated his restaurants start out great, but then within months slide into - at best - mediocrity.  An excellent description for his restaurants.  I no longer patronize any of them.

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

 @notgood I think I read this review too, or a similar one, where the observation was that his restaurants start out great but devolve into singles hook-up places where the nobody cares about the food. 

 

Denver Dave
Denver Dave topcommenter

 @notgood Agreed - not to mention the prices are crazy expensive.

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