By Liz Lopez
Sources: MasterChef, SXSW, Fox Television
MasterChef returns for Season 9 with the premiere today, Wednesday, May 30th on Fox. This is the first season that judges will serve as mentors for contestants.
Aarón Sánchez (Judge, MasterChef) is an award-winning chef, TV personality, cookbook author and philanthropist. This is the second season that Aaron will serve as a permanent judge on the show.
He is the chef/owner of the Mexican restaurant Johnny Sánchez, with locations in New Orleans and Baltimore. He co-starred on Food Network’s “Chopped” and “Chopped Junior,” and is the author of two cookbooks. An active philanthropist, Sánchez launched the Aarón Sánchez Scholarship Fund, an initiative empowering aspiring chefs from the Latin community to follow their dreams and attend culinary school.
You can let everyone know what team you’re rooting for by using your judge’s hashtag — tonight at 8/7c! You can use the hashtag for Aarón Sánchez #MasterTeamAarón
Sánchez is Texas born and proud of it when we spoke. I was able to converse with this judge/chef in time for the Season 9 premiere and you can read more about him below:
- What does the change from guest to permanent judge mean to you personally?
I feel incredibly honored to be a full time judge and I take my role in the contestant’s journey very seriously. It feels good to be on full time so I can really dive in and impart as much knowledge as I possibly can.
- Now that judges will serve as mentors this season, can you tell us how that has impacted the dynamic between judges/contestants?
It adds a whole extra layer of education and mentorship, because we are invested in our contestants learning and succeeding. It just takes the competition one step further.
- I read about how you grew up in a family who cooked, had a restaurant, etc. and can you share one thing that has stayed with you from what you learned back then?
Take your time, my Abuela’s food was always amazing because she was never in a rush and let all the flavors come out by cooking things low and slow. My Mom also always told me to find my voice and style, someone should be able to taste my food with their eyes closed and know it’s mine.
- If there is a challenge that you can mention as you work with an amateur chef who wants to be a professional, what would it be?
A lot of time aspiring chefs feel overwhelmed by the pressure, or they feel they are losing their way and I love being able to push someone to be their best self and persevere while staying true to who they really are.
- What has been the best take away for you from this experience as a judge?
I feel so lucky to be in a place in my life where I now get to pass down knowledge, lessons and mantras. It’s exciting to be a teacher and to see my students succeed and feel proud of their work and who they are.
- Since the launch of the Aarón Sánchez Scholarship Fund (ASSF), can you provide details about the outreach for people to apply, the criteria, etc. and how many people have participated in this educational opportunity?
Yes, the new website has just launched and applications are available. We sent our first recipient to ICC last year and he has just graduated. We are excited to expand and this year we will be sending two students. I am very passionate about this and can’t wait to continue to send more and more deserving young Latinos to get the education they need to empower them to be the next generation of culinary leaders.
- There are times that we go long periods of time without eating and suddenly you get a craving for a certain food you grew up with. What would one of those foods be?
Quesadillas is one of those things for me, it’s a total comfort food and it’s the first dish I remember making with my Abuela when I was a little kid.
- Have you ever attended The South by Southwest® (SXSW®) Conference and Festivals in Austin?
Yes, I’ve gone a couple times and it’s so much fun. It’s incredible to see so many mediums all intertwined and all the deep, meaningful discussions that are happening there, it’s all really inspiring.
- Would you consider attending the conference/festival, especially since there is a FOOD track now with keynotes and featured speakers?
Yes, I’m always open to the changes and I believe that we as culinary professionals can have so much impact and should share as much as we can.
MasterChef is produced by Endemol Shine North America and One Potato Two Potato, and is based on a format created by Franc Roddam and Endemol Shine. Robin Ashbrook, Elisabeth Murdoch, Eden Gaha, Georgie Hurford-Jones, Gordon Ramsay, Yasmin Shackleton, Patricia Llewellyn and Ben Adler serve as executive producers.
For more details about MasterChef and all the judges, visit https://www.fox.com/masterchef