Aarón Sánchez On Bad Chef Tattoos And Anthony Bourdain’s Legacy

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If you’ve watched any Food Network in the last five years, chances are you’ve seen Aarón Sánchez, the El Paso-born Mexican food chef with the calming voice and penchant for over-pronouncing Spanish words. Sánchez is a regular Chopped judge, battled Morimoto to a draw on Iron Chef: America, and co-hosts Masterchef on Fox, among other TV gigs. If you’re particularly sharp-eyed, you may have even noticed the tattoos that cover his hands.

In fact, though he’s less well-known for his tats than, say, the frequently short-sleeved Michael Voltaggio, Sánchez, normally shot with long sleeves sitting behind a table, is almost totally covered, inked continuously, basically from the neck down. The artwork was easy to spot this past week at the Fire It Up! event at the Grand Wailea in Maui, which brought together a number of famous chefs for a big barbecue (which I also got to cover, not a bad life).

After the demonstration, I sidled up to ask him some questions and he was happy to talk. Which is another thing you notice pretty quickly about Aarón Sánchez: he’s happy to talk.

“I actually co-own a tattoo shop in New York called Daredevil,” Sánchez told me. “They had just re-legalized tattooing in New York. It was banned from 1961 to 1997, I believe. A lot of that had to do with, obviously, the AIDS epidemic, and drugs, and they wanted the tattoo artists to be certified on how to handle needles, which is good. Anyway, I opened my first restaurant in ’98, ’99, and they had a tattoo shop across the street. I befriended these tattooers, became dear friends with them, and we would barter food for tattoos. So, I was ahead of the curve. Now it’s cliché for a chef to be plastered with tattoos.”

I asked if he has any carrots or radishes on his forearms (no offense, Brooke, it was just the first thing I thought of). His arms are so ink-covered it would’ve taken me a few minutes to find a root vegetable, even if he had one.

“No, I don’t fall for that,” Sánchez said. “I’ve gone on record as saying ‘if I see an asparagus stalk I’m going to puke in my mouth.’ I try and tell cooks that it doesn’t make you cook better. I’m just throwing that out there.”

I pointed out that if nothing else, it shows you’re committed.

“Yeah. The only cliché thing I’ve done, I guess, is I have a knife here,” he said, pointing to a spot near his elbow. “But, that was way long ago, before everyone started getting a knife.”