Richard Sandoval would like to make Denver his home. The international chef and restaurateur, who has over forty restaurants around the globe, still thinks Colorado is one of the best places in the U.S., which is why there are more Sandoval restaurants in this state than anywhere else, with five in the Denver metro area alone. Right now, he lives in California, but his corporate headquarters are here. So it makes sense that Sandoval would launch his new cookbook, New Latin Flavors: Hot Dishes, Cool Drinks, at La Biblioteca, his Riverfront Park homage to tequila and small plates with that typical Sandoval Latin-Asian flair.
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Sandoval grew up in Mexico City, learning about cooking from his grandmother and about the restaurant industry from his father, who owned eateries in Acapulco. Those influences are the main force behind New Latin Flavors. "I thought it was important to go retro -- the foods I grew up with," says Sandoval. And so the cookbook offers "10 Basics" -- meat preparations and sauces based on traditional cooking that can be used for many of the recipes in the book.
"When you're making an adobo or mole, make a big batch," he continues, adding that many of the sauces actually get better after the flavors are allowed to mingle for a few days.
Sandoval was an international traveler before he opened his first restaurant, falling in love with Asian cuisine while touring the world as a professional tennis player in his younger days. Those influences are obvious at his restaurants, particularly Zengo, one of the pioneering restaurants in the Riverfront neighborhood that's next door to La Biblioteca. "The spiciness of the food, the rices," he adds, "are similar to Mexican flavors. The curries are similar to moles."
So while the focus of the book is primarily on Mexican cuisine and ingredients, Asian flourishes -- along with other Latin American influences -- give some of the recipes a modern twist. There are Venezuelan egg rolls -- a take on that country's tequeños -- with fresh ginger, pork and shrimp, and mini won ton bowls filled with togarashi tuna and sushi rice.
Mexican and Mexican-American dishes like enchiladas divorciadas and nachos with smoked brisket are some of the easiest and most satisfying recipes. "My food is very simple -- balanced, not sophisticated," Sandoval states. "I just modernize the presentation. People think chefs make complicated food."
Ultimately, Sandoval wants readers to have fun with his book. "Recipes are guidelines," he says, "ideas from someone else that you take ownership of. You taste and adapt accordingly."
For a chef in a restaurant, it may be a little different. "If you're going to make a taco, make sure it's the best one," he insists, speaking of his own desire for perfection. But at home -- whether you're making classic chicken tinga tacos or a Peruvian-inspired ceviche, enjoying the cooking experience is a primary goal: "Iwant to make it very approachable, very fun," he says.
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