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?



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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