The Untold Truth Of MasterChef's Aaron Sanchez

MasterChef fans have come to know Aarón Sánchez, who made his debut as judge in 2017 at the start of the show's eighth season. However, he was far from an unfamiliar face to fans of foodie television. Prior to joining MasterChef, Sánchez had appeared in numerous series on the Food Network and other outlets. According to his IMDb page, he's headlined such shows as Chefs vs. CityUnique EatsThe Best Thing I Ever Ate, Heat Seekers, Taco Trip, and Guilty Pleasures. Other series have included Chopped (and spinoffs Chopped Junior and Chopped After Hours), while he's also expanded his MasterChef role from the original to MasterChef Junior.

Of course, someone doesn't just wake up one morning and become a celebrity chef. The son of trailblazing chef Zarela Martinez, Sánchez trained under a legendary New Orleans' chef before he eventually opened New York City eatery Paladar (he sold his interest in that restaurant in 2010) and Mexican restaurant Johnny Sanchez in New Orleans.

Despite being a near-ubiquitous presence on television since the late 2000s, there's much that fans of this talented chef, entrepreneur, and TV personality may not know about him. Continue reading to discover the untold truth of MasterChef's Aarón Sánchez. 

How Aarón Sánchez overcame addiction in his family

In 2019, MasterChef's Aarón Sánchez visited The Dr. Oz Show and spoke about his relationship with his father, an alcoholic. "It's very challenging when you grow up as a young man thinking your dad's your hero, he's indestructible," Sánchez admitted. "When you start finding out all these dark aspects of his life and his behavior, it kind of disappoints you." Because Sánchez was just 13 years old when he lost his father, there was much left unsaid and many issues that remained unresolved. "I never had a chance to confront him as a man, and say, 'Why did you do those things and why did you suffer those sort of ailments that really hurt our family?'" he opined. 

Sánchez also opened up about his cousin, who died of an overdose at 25. As he explained, his cousin's untimely death led him to get his own life together. He realized that if he continued down the same path, he'd meet a similar fate. "It taught me a lot about who I am and what I need to do better and put my priorities in order," he said.

Gordon Ramsay is more than just Aarón Sánchez's costar on MasterChef

Aarón Sánchez not only works alongside Gordon Ramsay on MasterChef, he's also his biggest fan. In an interview with Yahoo's Build Series, Sánchez admitted that "there's only one person that's the OG, that guy you want to [grow] to be, and it's Gordon Ramsay." As Sánchez pointed out, Ramsay has "30 restaurants, he's maintained three Michelin stars for 15 years in England, [and] he backs up everything that he says."

Ramsay's commitment to excellence, Sánchez explained in an interview with Insider, extends beyond his restaurant empire and into MasterChef. "But what really makes the show so special, and what people don't realize, is that Gordon is an executive producer on the series," he said. "So you have one of the most decorated chefs anywhere in the world controlling the creative process on the show, and making sure it's authentic and as close to restaurant quality as we can get in a MasterChef kitchen capacity. Gordon curates challenges and makes sure we're going in the right direction ... I think that's really important."

Aarón Sánchez's mother and grandmother inspired the MasterChef judge's love of cooking

When Aarón Sánchez was just three years old, the MasterChef judge told Latin Trends, his mother, Zarela Martinez, divorced his father and opened her own catering business. That humble venture, he explained, led to her "becoming the most recognized Mexican chef in the country." She did this, he explained, by recreating the recipes she learned from her mother, Aida Gabilondo, whose cookbook, Mexican Family Cooking, was published in 1986.

In an interview with The Austin American-Statesman, Sánchez shared the most important piece of advice he received from his mom. "Develop your own style," he recalled her telling him. Advising him to not "regurgitate" what he'd learned, she encouraged him to work with "a bunch of different chefs that have different styles and cultural points of view, and then disseminate that to find your own culinary voice."

As Sánchez told Refinery Times, he feels like he's come full circle, finding himself returning to his mother's and grandmother's recipes after decades spent "trying to reinvent everything and make all my dishes new and unique." Moving away from more avant-garde cuisine and back toward traditional recipes, he explained, feels like "honoring my legacy through keeping these recipes alive."

Aarón Sánchez doesn't think people should be overly concerned with healthy eating

Chatting with New You Media at the 2016 Los Angeles Wine and Food Festival, Aarón Sánchez was asked to pinpoint a few of his healthiest go-to recipes. He suggested a variation on tacos, using a thinly sliced piece of jicama in place of a tortilla, which he would then stuff with shrimp, spicy salsa, and garnish with pickled cactus. While Sánchez admitted he's not averse to healthy eating, he also advised not to get too caught up in counting every single calorie. "Out here in L.A., people are concerned with two extra calories," he joked. "Let me tell you, you want to have fun, indulge, love life — don't stress that."

During the interview, Sánchez was also asked to share any health advice he'd recommend to a millennial. "Think about something that's just gonna be meaningful — and just get off the phone," he responded. He did, however, admit that health was becoming an increasingly important concern to him as he grew older. "You know, once you pass 40 you start thinking about energy a lot," he said with a laugh. 

The reason Aarón Sánchez wants second-generation Latin-Americans to keep speaking Spanish

Aarón Sánchez, who was born in Chihuahua, Mexico and grew up in Texas, spoke Spanish as his first language. As he explained in an interview with Latin Times, "I had one foot in Mexico and one foot in the states. I spoke Spanish at home and spoke English."

Even as an adult, he said during an interview with Yahoo's Build Series, he speaks Spanish "probably more than I speak English." He encouraged second-generation Latinx people to continue speaking Spanish and recommended finding some friends who predominantly speak the language. "If you're worried about holding onto it, surround yourself around people who are in touch with the culture," he added.

He referenced the Spanish saying "pierde su lengua, pierde su país," which translates to "when you lose your tongue, you lose your country," and that's an axiom he's kept close to heart throughout his entire life. "That's what I would tell somebody if they want to really hold onto their Latino roots, continue to speak," he explained.

MasterChef's Aarón Sánchez dubbed this food his "kryptonite"

Back in 2011, Aarón Sánchez teamed up with Canadian chef Roger Mooking for the Food Network series Heat Seekers, which reveled in the glory of all things spicy. Given that he was raised on traditional Mexican cuisine, Sánchez has a healthy tolerance for hot chili peppers — and yet he revealed there's one pepper that commands both respect and fear.

Comparing different types of chili peppers during an interview with Lossip, he mentioned a hybrid of the dreaded ghost pepper, dubbed the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T, which in 2013 was dubbed the world's hottest pepper on the planet by the Guinness Book of World Records. "You eat that and your lips puff up, man, you look like Mick Jagger," he joked.  He revealed that eating such spicy fare throughout his life had started to take a toll. "It's hard man, because that stuff's hard on your stomach, bro," he said. "As you get older it's a little rough."

In an interview with Channel Guide magazine, Sánchez admitted that the ghost pepper is essentially his "kryptonite." He continued, saying, "I always have trouble with it. Roger does a good job of eating it. But I have trouble eating that one, for some reason."

What Aarón Sánchez loves and hates about being a MasterChef judge

Judging the culinary creations of home cooks on MasterChef requires a different set of skills than running a restaurant or cooking for customers, yet there are some aspects of Aarón Sánchez's day job that overlap with his role on Gordon Ramsay's televised culinary competition. Just as he'll serve in an advisory role for up-and-coming chefs in his restaurants, he enjoys doing the same thing with the talented amateurs he guides through the show.

In an interview with Insider, Sánchez described the one aspect of the show that he enjoys the most. "I think, for me, getting a chance to mentor is what makes it amazing," he explained. "The fact that, whether you win the whole competition or not, this experience is what can give you that confidence to do this for a living. I love being a part of that. I love bringing people up."

His least favorite aspect of MasterChef, he added, was having to bid contestants farewell. "After you form a bond with them in a contestant/judge relationship ... you're endeared to them," he said. "They have a bad day, and then they have to go home. That's the hardest part."

Aarón Sánchez shared his journey in a memoir

In addition to his two cookbooks, 2003's La Comida del Bario: Latin American Cooking in the U.S.A. and 2011's Simple Food, Big Flavor: Unforgettable Mexican-Inspired Recipes From My Kitchen to Yours, Aarón Sánchez published a very different type of book, a memoir, in 2019.

In Where I Come From: Life Lessons from a Latino Chef, Sánchez candidly opened up about his personal life and the journey that took him to the top of the culinary world. As he explained in an interview with InsideHook, he felt it was of utmost importance to remain "100 percent transparent" while writing his memoir. However, he admitted the book became something of a balancing act as he had to remain "mindful that other people are involved in your life."

As one of the few celebrity chefs of Latinx heritage, Sánchez admitted that he embraces being a role model and takes the job very seriously. "The idea that having myself be an example and a source of inspiration is a big responsibility," he said. "It's very much on my mind."

How a trailblazing New Orleans chef inspired Aarón Sánchez's passion for food

One figure who loomed large in the life of Aarón Sánchez was legendary New Orleans chef Paul Prudhomme. A key figure in popularizing the distinctive cuisine of the Big Easy, Prudhomme was a mentor and father figure to the young Sánchez when he began pursuing a career as a professional chef.

As Sánchez told InsideHook, he had been hanging out with "a bad element" as a teenager when his mother, in "a sort of intervention," called on Prudhomme to take her son under his wing and guide him. The lessons he learned from Prudhomme — who passed away in 2015 — set the aspiring young chef on the path to success. "He was a big force in my life. I wouldn't be successful if he hadn't taught me to taste food properly," explained Sánchez, describing Prudhomme as "arguably the most recognized chef" of his time in America. "His whole thing was layering flavors and how seasoning affected food. He really taught me how to think, and develop my palate. He was a man of very few words but, boy, when he talked, you listened." 

MasterChef's Aarón Sánchez owns a tattoo parlor

Anyone who's ever seen Aarón Sánchez on MasterChef has undoubtedly noticed the multitude of tattoos lining the celebrity chef's hands and forearms. Not only is the chef a serious tattoo aficionado, he's also the co-owner of New York City's Daredevil Tattoo. His obsession with tattoos is not new. In fact, he told UpRoxx that he became friendly with the ink artists who worked at a tattoo parlor across the street from his first restaurant back in the late 1990s. "I befriended these tattooers, became dear friends with them, and we would barter food for tattoos," he explained. "So, I was ahead of the curve. Now it's cliché for a chef to be plastered with tattoos."

He elaborated in an interview with The Hattiesburg American, explaining that there's a natural affinity between "chefs and the tattoo world." Sánchez admitted he was drawn to the "anti-establishment way of life" that tattoos represent, which is ultimately what led him to go into business on a tattoo joint.

However, he also admitted that the trend of chefs sporting edgy tattoos has grown "out of control." He added, "If I see another young chef with a pig tattoo I'm going to puke in my mouth."

Aarón Sánchez believes his career cost him his marriage

Becoming as successful as Aarón Sánchez in the notoriously competitive restaurant field requires a single-minded devotion to excellence. While attaining that goal may result in rave reviews and Michelin stars, it's not always conducive to nurturing a relationship. 

In a candid interview with Entertainment Tonight, Sánchez confessed that placing such a strong focus on his career led to divorce. "It's extremely difficult. My career has cost me my marriage, it's cost me spending time with my family. It's been a hard road, it's not easy," he admitted. "There's been many moments of self-doubt and asking myself if I'm doing the right thing. You just try to put that aside and go forward."

As Sánchez told InsideHook, becoming a television personality was more of an accident than an aspiration, explaining that his ultimate goal "was to have my own restaurant, to be the captain of my own ship, so to speak." When he began appearing on the Food Network, it was simply "another tool to get people into the door of your restaurant." He continued, saying, "I guess I did a good enough job to have kept being invited back and it started to take off from there."

Aarón Sánchez's life inspired a sitcom produced by a Desperate Housewives star

There's no denying that Aarón Sánchez has lived an interesting life. In fact, actress and producer Eva Longoria found his family history so compelling that she decided to develop a television sitcom based on it. In November 2019, Deadline reported that the former Desperate Housewives star as well as Rob Sudduth and Ben Spector were working on transforming Sánchez's memoir, Where I Come From: Life Lessons from a Latino Chef, into a TV comedy. 

According to Deadline, the untitled project focuses on chef Zoila Sanchez, a character loosely based on Sánchez's mother, Zarela Martinez, "who has always told stories through her food." The plot was said to involve Zoila pulling up roots in El Paso so she and her sons —  fraternal twins Rafael and Alex — can move to New York City, where she dreams of one day opening up her own restaurant. "As they all struggle to make sense of their odd new world, they must lean on each other like never before and use the family business to forge a new community — one meal at a time," noted Deadline.

Anthony Bourdain's death pushed Aarón Sánchez to advocate for chefs' mental health

When renowned chef Anthony Bourdain took his own life in 2018, it was devastating for many, including Aarón Sánchez. This wasn't just because he both looked up to and was influenced by him, but because they'd been friends for nearly 20 years. "I've known Tony," he told UpRoxx, before correcting himself. "I knew Tony for ... he wrote the book [Kitchen Confidential] in 2000. We were hanging out three years before that."

Bourdain's death, said Sánchez, came as "a big wakeup call to all of us to have balance in our lives." He added, "I think most chefs nowadays that are starting out want to fast track it and that's the biggest part of it." Sánchez expressed his hope that other chefs who suffer setbacks in their professional and personal lives don't decide "to go that route." As a result, he declared, "I really want to do what I can to address the mental health issue of chefs. I think it's a big problem that they need to be more conscious of."

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Aarón Sánchez is an avocado "purist"

Learning to cook from mother Zarela Martinez and grandmother Aida Gabilondo — both pioneers in popularizing Mexican cuisine in the United States — it's safe to say that Aarón Sánchez knows his way around an avocado. And when it comes to preparing one, his key message is that getting too fancy and using too much heat is simply wrong.

"The magic of avocado is that it should be eaten fresh," he told Taste of Home, insisting he's "more of a purist" when it comes to avocados. According to Sánchez, the worst thing you can do to avocados is to bake them, as the heat will turn them from firm and green to a sickly brown mush.  

He is, however, not averse to lightly grilling an avocado or even dipping a chunk in tempura batter and lightly frying it. However, a favorite technique is "simply taking an avocado, scooping out the flesh and serving a crab salad over it."