This stubborn chef wants you to rethink Latin cuisine

We talk to the chef behind new restaurant Toro Toro to find out why we should expand our culinary horizons

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Born and bred in Mexico City, it goes without saying that chef Richard Sandoval knows a thing or two about his native cuisine.

After a childhood full of family feasts and a brief stint in the professional tennis circuit – he even played Andre Agassi and still wants to play Federer – his roots took him out of the game to spawn a Latin American food empire.

As chef Sandoval launches pan-Latin restaurant Toro Toro at Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, we sit down with him to talk food memories, challenging misconceptions and what he’s serving up in Abu Dhabi.

As a child growing up in Mexico City, you must have been surrounded by a great food culture. Are there any dishes that remind you of that time?

In Latin culture, everything revolves around food. At the weekends, the whole family would get together at this long table with my grandmother sitting at the head.

We’d all pass around these huge platters – mole poblano is a perfect example of this; it’s a traditional dish served with plantains and coriander rice.

We’d always have chayote squash, and there’s this corn cake dessert we had that’s on my menu right now.

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To a lot of people, Mexican food is about fajitas, nachos and burritos. How does your food challenge the misconceptions of Mexican cuisine? 

When I opened Maya in New York 15 years ago, everybody thought Mexican was Tex-Mex, and it was really challenging.

People would say, ‘Why should we go there and spend $50 when I can go to Burritoville and get a meal with a drink and chips and guacamole for $10?’

Part of my goal was to tell people that Mexico has a culture, it’s not donkeys and sombreros.

Mexican food cannot always be fajitas, nachos and burritos. Culture is not static.

Toro Toro takes a cross-cultural approach to Latin American cuisine. Why did you go for a pan-Latin concept?

Everybody knows Mexican food, but not everybody knows about Colombian or Venezuelan cuisine.

It was important to integrate these foods into my menus so that people could see that Latin America has different cultures and ingredients.

For example, Peruvian food is really hot right now – but when you say Peruvian, you think ceviche. You don’t know that Peruvian cuisine has over 1,000 different types of potatoes.

We need someone out there at the forefront putting the food in people’s faces, getting
them to try it and understand it.

Through food, people will understand just how diverse Latin America is.

What can we expect from Toro Toro?

I almost look at Toro Toro as a cuisine without borders. It’s our goal to be able to redirect people through food, to get them to start trying new things.

I want Toro Toro in Abu Dhabi to be more relaxed – when Toro Toro was created, it was kind of a take on a Brazilian steak house.

[The brand] is five years old now, so we want to see it evolve and be more colourful.

Corniche West. Daily 7pm-3am. Contact: 02 811 5882, reservations@torotoro.ae, d2.fajridemo.com/torotoro

WORDS Camille Hogg

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