Cafe Society

Star chef Richard Sandoval on corn smut and why he isn't likely to come to your house for dinner

Richard Sandoval Al Lado, La Sandia, Tamayo, Zengo, Cima, Venga Venga www.richardsandoval.com

This is part one of my interview with chef Richard Sandoval, who owns and operates dozens of restaurants around the world, including seven in Colorado. Part two of my interview with Sandoval will run tomorrow.

There's the man of the hour," hollers an employee of Zengo, the Latin-Asian restaurant that New York-based chef/restaurateur Richard Sandoval opened in 2004 in the Riverfront Park neighborhood. Sandoval, who owns and operates seven restaurants in Colorado -- the most he's opened in any state, including Zengo, two outposts of La Sandia, Tamayo, Cima and Venga Venga, as well as his newest endeavor, a Latin lounge and wine bar called Al Lado, which opens Friday next door to Zengo -- has just popped in after a shopping jaunt to Park Meadows. He nods with approval. "It's looking good," he says.

Sandoval was born and raised in Mexico City, and while he didn't begin his culinary career until his mid-twenties, cooking was always an integral part of his everyday life. "Food was a really big deal when I was growing up," he recalls. "I spent a lot of time at my grandmother's house, and every Saturday and Sunday, she'd put together an amazing feast for the whole family."

And Sandoval would watch with wide eyes from his perch on the countertop. "I always migrated to the kitchen, and my grandmother would hoist me up on the kitchen counter, and I remember watching her cook and thinking how much fun it would be," he says. And his parents ― his father was in the restaurant industry ― entertained in their home regularly, he adds: "I was always exposed to new ingredients ― all sorts of different cheeses, meats, butters and even baby eels."

But Sandoval started out as a professional tennis player, traveling around the world and going up against greats like Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. Somewhere along the way, though, he realized that he wasn't going to make it on the satellite circuit, so he re-evaluated. "I needed to decide if I was going to teach tennis or find a different career," he says.

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Lori Midson
Contact: Lori Midson

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