x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Traditional recipes, modern interpretations

Food guru The Mexican-born chef has cracked New York with his contemporary take on traditional Mexican cuisine.

The chef Richard Sandoval grew up cooking traditional Mexican food with his grandmother.
The chef Richard Sandoval grew up cooking traditional Mexican food with his grandmother.

It's all work, work, work for Richard Sandoval. The Mexican-born chef has already cracked New York with his contemporary take on traditional Mexican cuisine. He spoke about his food, his passion and his grandmother.

Oh, it's just a holiday (laughs). I was in Hawaii on holiday before I came here. But no, now I'm working on some menu changes. I'm also working on another project here, at the new Grosvenor House tower.

(Laughs) Well, it's going to be bigger than Maya. It's going to be a lot more Latin American as opposed to just Mexican. That's all I can say at the moment.

No, this will be the first. It's very exciting.

Absolutely. When I look at the menu here, the ceviches didn't sell at the beginning. But now they are one of our best selling items. We've had the job of redirecting people away from the traditional stuff, towards tasting the new stuff. And now they're coming back and reordering it. We knew it was going to take some time but it's working.

I did add a couple more just to get people in. Things like enchiladas. But they're not selling that well - now we're actually selling more of our signature dishes. We're seeing people beginning to understand the difference between traditional Tex-Mex and the things that I do.

I'm doing a Pampano, which is my seafood restaurant. I have one in New York and one in Mexico City. And we're doing it in Doha at The Pearl. We were supposed to open this year, but it got delayed so we should open maybe in February or March next year.

Well, I look at how Maya has grown. It's only been two years, and now that people understand it, they're enjoying it. I think Maya brings more people from outside the hotel, so people are coming to experience it. That's very good.

For now we have the projects here and in Doha. But there was talk of doing something in Iran.

Like I always say, the food at Maya is like old ways in new hands. We take traditional recipes like the ones we had in Mexico, and we present them with my modern interpretation. They're street foods that I've modernised in terms of presentation and added a few other ingredients to alter the flavour profile a bit. Unfortunately, Mexican food never underwent an evolution process like, say, Italian or French food. So it's important for me to not just serve traditional Mexican food, but to transform it and have people accept it as a white-table-cloth concept. And I think it's happening, the way that people are accepting it.

Absolutely. I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, and in Mexican culture pretty much everything revolves around food. So there would be huge family reunions every Saturday or Sunday, and there would be course after course of traditional comfort food. That's where I began to appreciate the flavours and all the work that went into making them. They'd cook all day long.

She'd probably curl up in her grave! (Laughs) I think she would understand the flavours, but I don't think she'd understand the presentation or some of the ingredients I've added to the dishes. Hopefully she'd see what she did, and how I've taken it to another level.