Star chef Richard Sandoval on corn smut and why he isn't likely to come to your house for dinner
Most underrated ingredient: Huitlacoche isn't very well understood outside of Mexico, yet the mild, earthy flavors of the huitlacoche blend nicely with fats like chorizo, plus they bond to mellow out the heat from the peppers and salsa. We use it at almost every one of our restaurants. It's technically corn smut, but what huitlacoche lacks in looks and glamour is more than compensated for by its rich, earthy flavor. We like to think of huitlacoche as Mexican truffles. It has a beautiful dark color, depth of earthy flavor, and itÅfs great for vinaigrettes.
Favorite local ingredient and where you get it: Porcini mushrooms from the Vail Valley. Who knew you could go mushroom foraging in the mountains?
Favorite spice: Star anise has an incredible depth of flavor. I love Zengo's tomatoes marinated in star anise vinaigrette. It's a crisp and refreshing spice that adds surprising nuances to the flavor profile.
One food you detest: Molecular food. I prefer perfectly balanced dishes that showcase the natural flavors of the ingredients. While arguably creative, molecular food is just too far of a departure from my preferred cuisine.
One food you can't live without: I grew up eating rice and beans as a small child in Mexico, and both are part of my culture. Rice is incredibly versatile and can be infused with so many flavors, and I also love the combination of textures. Rice absorbs sauce and flavor, making each bite more delicious; beans are also very versatile -- charro, puréed, as a spread, or starch on a dish -- with comforting flavors and textures.
Weirdest customer request: One of our loyal customers once asked me to come to dinner...and then fed me a meal served out of cans. It was a lovely gesture, but I rarely accept requests for home visits anymore.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten: Guinea pig, in Peru.
Last meal before you die: Mexican food. I was born with it. Why not die with it?