Speaking with a Broad: Chef Patricio Sandoval at Villas Carrizalillo

Mention the name Sandoval in the restaurant world and the first thing that comes to mind is Ricardo Sandoval. With 28 modern Mexican restaurants under his belt, spanning North America and even Dubai, it’s no wonder. He’s in the news a lot. But following in his corporate footsteps comes his younger brother Patricio. As owner of Mercadito with four locations spread between New York, Miami and Chicago, he is carving out his own niche of Mexican flavours with a more casual vibe.
I recently caught up with Patricio at Villas Carrizalillo where he was setting up a new menu at the Villas new restaurant, Espadin. The new palapa restaurant overlooking beautiful Carrizalillo Bay with ringside sunset views is not part of his corporate portfolio, but as a side hobby to cook and enjoy the ingredients of the region. Living the dream, as some would say.

Can you describe your approach to cooking?
Well, I went to French culinary school, so I love French food, I love Mediterranean food. I worked at French and Mediterranean restaurants while in culinary school. And prior to that I cooked Mexican food with my brother, Ricardo. And that’s when I started to discover my style of cooking. I realize now that a lot of my cooking goes back to the things that I learned at those French and Mediterranean restaurants: marinating the meats, using different herbs, different layering. roasted garlic, acidic elements, the spices. Instead of making it two dimensional, I like to make it three or four dimensional. Then I take the traditional flavours of Mexico with the chiles, things that I grew up eating.
A few years ago, I had a chance to travel to Oaxaca and Veracruz, all the way down to the Pacific Coast so I’m still learning. I still haven’t been down to the Yucatan Peninsula yet. So, I’m still learning Mexican food, as I left Mexico when I was eleven. Back then I never thought about cooking.
What is your first food memory?
Growing up in Acapulco and always being surrounded by food. My father opened his restaurant when I was five years old. I remember going out to eat with my brother every Sunday at fancy restaurants and being treated like adults.
Is there an ingredient you can’t live without?
Ingredient that’s overrated?
Tuna. I usually don’t work with tuna. For one thing it’s overfished and the flavour is so difficult to use with different ingredients and not overpower the flavour of it. I think the best way to eat tuna is sashimi-style.
What’s your go-to comfort food?
I love burgers. Every time I go to New York, I have to have a burger at this place I’ve been going to for 12 years.
(The burger at Espadin)
Corner Bistro on the westside. A divey bar. They only serve burgers. When I started going there they were $4.75, now they’re $6.75.
Can you describe it?
Sesame seed bun. They do their meat on a salamander. They don’t grill it or put it on a flat top. Cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mayo, pickles. That’s it.
Who are your mentors and why?
My brother Richard who discovered me as far as seeing that I had the capabilities of working in a kitchen. He had just opened a Mexican restaurant (Maya) in New York, and said why don’t you come and work and learn the restaurant business from the bottom until you become a general manager. So I said great. Right at the beginning part of the training was to be three months in the kitchen, and he noticed that I caught on to the flavours pretty quickly as someone who never cooked before. And he asked me if I would rather stay in the kitchen. I really enjoyed the pace of it. I always knew when I was growing up that I would never be in an office. And then when I found cooking – that’s what I love about it – the fast pace. I love the adrenaline of it, the rush, you’re always doing something and you’re always surrounded by people.
And a year and half later, my brother tells me, I think you need to start coming up with your own ideas, your own specials. So, I’d go home at the end of the night and always came back to things that were on his menu that I would redo, but I would never come up with anything and I’d think, am I ever going to create something that’s my own, that this is my own dish. And of course, I realize that now, the reason why I didn’t know what to do was because you need to have an array, like a library in your head, of ingredients, different cuisines to create what’s your own style. So I realize that, back then I couldn’t have done anything, I had no idea what are all the ingredients that are out there, and what was possible. I had only seen techniques of his food that I couldn’t expand my knowledge any farther than what I was seeing everyday. So six or seven years later after culinary school and cooking at all these restaurants, I came up with my food. That’s why they say, the chef’s jacket doesn’t make you a chef. And school doesn’t make you a chef. It’s the experience that gives you the knowledge to become a chef, to be able to run a kitchen, create food, that’s your own food. That’s what a chef is.
When you came to Puerto Escondido and Villas Carrizalillo did you have an idea right away what direction the menu was to take?
I said I would definitely do Mexican, and give people what they want. I don’t think people that come here want Italian, it’s funny but that’s what every place serves. It’s the mentality, oh, they want pasta. No, they don’t. Traditional Mexican food, if it’s done well, they’re going to eat it. So that was my whole idea.
Did you take popular items from your restaurant?
I try not to do the same things that I do over there. Same style of course. The tacos are the same, some of the ideas are the same, but none of the flavour combinations are the same.
First time in Puerto Escondido?
I lived in Oaxaca City back in ’07 for six months but this is the first time in Puerto.
How do you like the market?
I love it. I go there almost every day. I love to see the product that comes in.
How do you find the ingredients here?
Very inspiring. Just to be able to work with a lot of ingredients that you never get to see in the States. That was one of my biggest attractions. For me, one of the things was not to make money from this place, I wanted to come to the market and make whatever I want, something you don’t get to do in the States very much. That was a big thing for me, to come here, go to the market and be a part of this. Just to be in the culture and come back here four or fives times a year, and just do cooking.
Where there any ingredients in the market that really stood out for you?
I always like to see the huitlacoche. You see it the States frozen, fresh frozen, but to see it here on the corn. And also the cheese: the quesillo, the queso fresco.
A kitchen tool that you can’t live without?
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
I wanted to be a doctor when I was growing up, but I knew it was going to be too much homework!
Guilty pleasure?
Tequila or Mezcal?
Straight or mixed?
Straight. Blanco. Always.
What is your most prized possession?
A spoon that we’ve had in New York since we opened the restaurant seven years ago, and we still use it for service. It’s a serving spoon. Stainless steel with a big handle and we still have it. Which is rare for it not to get lost.
Why did you chose the cities you chose for opening up Mercadito?
New York because my brother and I lived in New York when I had the opportunity for the location. Then, we chose Chicago because we already had three in New York before we opened in Chicago, then my brother Alfredo worked in Chicago for a long time at Sushi Samba and he knew a lot of people, and knew someone with a building that had a lot of different restaurants that never worked out. People were saying this place is cursed, nothing ever going to work. So we went in there, and we’ve been doing amazing. Then just a natural progression from New York, Chicago and then Miami, and there’s plans in doing Vegas next.
Any advise for budding cooks that want to learn Mexican cuisine?
I think one of the things is to be able to use the chiles, how to control the spiciness, but also be able to get the flavour and also to get to enhance the food. You know I always say that in order to have spice you got to have something to kind of cover up the spice a little bit. Like a balance of acidic, saltiness, sweet. I use honey in my cooking because that balances out the spikiness of the chile. It gives you the spice but it doesn’t give you the burn. And in a lot of my sauces I use a lot of sweet butter. It just rounds out the all the ingredients together, makes it creamy, richer, so you don’t have that spiciness in your mouth the whole time.
What would be your desert island dish?
Shrimp tacos. Roasted garlic shrimp with lime, butter and chile and tortillas.
And mezcal?
100 percent.
*The interview was edited for clarity and brevity.

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