Lisa Freedman (writer),
Justin Borucki (photographer)
The story behind the start of chef Aarón Sánchez’s career is not all that unfamiliar: “I started cooking because I was an undisciplined teenager—coming home late, hanging out with the wrong group of people, not going to school on time—and the kitchen was a logical place to get discipline.” Even though he’s now the executive chef and owner of two well-known New York City restaurants (Centrico and Paladar), Sánchez still possesses his streetwise attitude. After a few guest appearances on the Food Network (he’s been a judge on Chopped and a talking head on The Best Thing I Ever Ate), Sánchez landed his own series on the channel. “It’s called Chef vs. City and it’s like Throwdown slash Amazing Race slash Treasure Hunt,” he explains. “My partner Chris Cosentino, who’s a chef in San Francisco, and I run around to different cities taking on local foodies.” Finally, a food show that’s not hosted by pretty boys like Bobby Flay and Tom Colicchio.
In fact, Sánchez is what a chef is supposed to be. He talks fast, he’s chill with his staff (“I’m on the phone, bro,” he tells an interrupter during our interview) and his entire torso is covered in tattoos. “I have two sleeves, a chest piece, a full back piece, two stomach tattoos and my shoulders done.” His first tattoo is in Spanish and translates to “my heart is in your hand.” Others include a tribute to his grandmother, an eagle biting a serpent (part of the Mexican flag), the yellow roses of Texas, an Aztec sacrifice scene, an Aztec god holding fruits and vegetables, a bullfighter, two doodles of his fiancée’s name, and more—all done by Michelle Myles or one of the other employees at New York City’s Daredevil Tattoo. “I’ve been loyal to one shop and one shop only,” Sánchez says. He believes in loyalty but also wanted the consistency of their work, as he lets the artist create each piece.
Over the years, Myles and Sánchez have become close outside of the shop (“She’ll be at my wedding,” he says). And with Sánchez’s growing family—and his entire lower body still inkless—they’ll probably do business together a few more times. “I’m hoping to put my kids’ names on me somewhere. Maybe my legs.”