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."