|Therealjohnleach with the real Chef Aaron Sanchez |
(not the winner of the Mestizo anniversary look-alike contest)
I had completely geeked out and typed out all of the questions that I wanted to ask Chef Aaron, but when he came over and sat down with me at the table we began to have a conversation like old friends just shooting the breeze. After I thanked him for taking the time to sit down with me and apologized for being slightly (okay, maybe a little more than slightly) star struck, he thanked ME for coming in and asked me about my blog.
My biggest question for Aaron: Having multiple restaurants in New York City, what brought him to KC? It turns out that one of his business partners is from Wichita and told him that KC's culinary scene was where it was at. They put together a "kickass" team, and now they are celebrating their first anniversary at Mestizo. We then went on to talk about everything from our favorite places in Mexico (check out Chef Aaron's new show, that he just finished taping, where he visits multiple destinations in Mexico) to the awesomeness of the tongue tacos at Mestizo.
Chef Aaron is far from an absent owner that simply puts his name on a sign and cashes a check. He is in KC for about a week each month. The menu is comprised of many items that will be familiar to anyone who has read his most recent cookbook. He even went on to say that he enjoys the Food Network shows that he is on, but that he is a chef and restaurateur first and a Food Network star second. If you met him on the street, and did not know who he was, you would never guess that he is a celebrity (or even a professional chef with his apparent lack of stereotypical chef ego).
It was such an awesome experience getting to sit down and talk with Chef Aaron, although I had much more that I wanted to ask him, I am very thankful that he took time out of his busy day for me (just some schmuck with a keyboard and internet access). And to be fair, I could probably spend a whole day with the man and still not have time to ask all of the questions that I would like to ask. All of that being said, here is the reason for the meeting, the food.
The chips and salsa are fresh (and as you know, I don't judge Mexican restaurants on chips and salsa, but will make note of it if it is really good). The table salsa has a very distinct (but not at all overpowering) taste of garlic that is undoubtedly cooked as described in the Garlic-Chipotle Love recipe in Aaron's book Simple Food, Big Flavor. Mestizo serves 6 different salsas, that can all be purchased in to-go containers (if you just can't get enough), ranging from mild to sweet to spicy.
The Corn Chowder is perfect on a cold fall day, it warms your insides and is like Mexican comfort food. The sopa (yes, we are doing Spanglish for this post) is creamy (but not too thick) with crunchy corn, small chunks of potato, and poblano chiles, garnished with ultra fresh cilantro. As you can tell from the before and after pictures, I didn't really like it.