‘Top Chef’ and D.C. restaurateur talks Latin flavors, offers favorite recipes

Richard Sandoval owns and operates several D.C. restaurants. And now, he's bringing the flavors of his hotspots to the home cook with his new cookbook. (Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Richard Sandoval, chef and founder of Richard Sandoval Restaurants, has had a busy year.

In addition to opening two new D.C. restaurants — Mango Tree and Toro Toro — and keeping his veteran hotspots (Masa 14, Zengo and El Centro DF) running, the former “Top Chef Masters” contestant recently released his new cookbook, “New Latin Flavors: Hot Dishes, Cool Drinks.”

Most of Sandoval’s restaurants place a heavy emphasis on Latin fusion, and this cookbook is no different.  Sandoval says when he started in New York about 15 years ago, “Latin food” was often thought of as a fast-casual, Tex-Mex cuisine. It wasn’t going through a fine-dining revolution like Italian food, he says.

Sandoval, originally from Mexico City, decided he wanted to change this misrepresentation. Instead of sticking with traditional Mexican fare, he started incorporating flavors from Central and South America in his dishes — and diners ate it right up. Now, fusion is a common approach at many restaurants.

“Globalization has made the world a lot smaller, and people have access — not only physically, but visually — to a lot more things. So people understand cuisines from all over the world,” he says.

Sandoval’s cookbook compiles his favorite flavors and foods from countries such as Peru, Argentina, Brazil and Colombia. But more importantly, the book is designed to be accessible to the everyday home cook. The recipes — from carnitas sliders with Sriracha mayonnaise to Thai chicken empanadas with mango-red curry sauce — are not cluttered with complicated steps, and the required ingredients can be found at most grocery stores.

“I think 15 years ago, people would look at a cookbook from a chef and say, ‘Oh, I can’t do that.’ But I think in today’s world, everybody has access to these TV shows and the Internet. When you see what people are cooking today, it’s completely different from what you saw 20 years ago,” Sandoval says. “People have become comfortable with [cooking] and have not gotten scared from it.”

Sandoval’s book doesn’t stop with his bold and spicy dishes. He gives a nod to another evolution he’s witnessed in the restaurant industry: the booze renaissance.

“Mixology has become a very important part of what restaurants are today. You know, I don’t think you go to restaurants today just for the food,” Sandoval says.

Utilizing Latin spirits — such as Mexican tequila and mescal, Brazilian cachaca, Peruvian pisco and Caribbean rum – Sandoval offers instruction on how to craft cocktails like a tequila-ginger fizz, a classic mojito and a Pisco sour. A handful of non-alcoholic beverages, such as horchata, fresco and a rosa colada, are also included.

What to give his Latin fusion food a try? Sandoval offers a few of his favorite recipes online — including his Grilled Lamb Chops with Salsa VerdeDuck Carnitas Daikon Tacos, Chicken Enchiladas, Brisket Tacos, Mexico City Style Corn on the Cob, and Spicy Crab Guacamole.  

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