There was already a decent crowd gathered under the awnings outside of the H-E-B on Alabama by 11:30 a.m., all awaiting the noon arrival of Chef Aarón Sánchez. The crowd, primarily women, milled about, snacking on quesadillas and gently blotting sweat from their foreheads so as not to smudge their makeup. There was an electric excitement flowing through the group that I had not expected.
To be fair, I don't have cable. I knew who Aarón Sánchez was, of course, but I had no idea that he was such a ladies' man. When he walked up to the crowd, the women erupted in applause and schoolgirl giggles.
"I go to bed with you every night," said one woman while shaking the chef's hand. He laughed and said he was flattered, then continued to talk to the woman for a few minutes, even as other eager fans gathered around him.
And then I understood. Yes, he's clearly a great chef, as his success in business and on his two Food Network shows, Heat Seekers and Chopped, can attest. And yes, he's a good-looking fellow. But he also seems to be a genuine and kind guy, which is perhaps what led him to partner with the cheese company Cacique to raise money for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund.
Sánchez was in Houston this past week to sign autographs, chat with media and introduce some of his new recipes using Cacique products, part of a four-city tour celebrating the company's 40th anniversary. Houston was the final stop on Sánchez's tour, which also saw him wowing crowds in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Dallas. In each city, Sánchez recruited a local food truck to create and sell some of his recipes. All of the proceeds will go to the Hispanic Scholarship Fund.
"Any time we do any sort of publicity tour, I always try to tie it in with a local charity," Sánchez explains. "This being Hispanic heritage month, it coincided with that. So I thought, what's the most important thing we have? Our future, our youth. What's the most important thing to the youth? Education."
To raise money, Sánchez created four dishes that, here in Houston, were expedited and sold by the folks who run the Chi'Lantro food truck. At the event, fans and passersby munched on Sánchez's recipes for shrimp aguachile tostadas, three-cheese salad, cotija-crusted quesadillas, and tostadas with chorizo. All of the cheese, crema and chorizo were from Cacique.
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"I'm a big fan of the product," Sánchez says, explaining how he came to work with Cacique. "A lot of time when there's a product that's so awesome and such a mainstay in my food, I contact people and tell them how much I love their product. I felt like they had great products, I just felt like their recipes were a little outdated, and I wanted to give them some new ideas highlighting the products."
Sánchez used his background in Mexican home cooking to develop the recipes, which he says are simple enough that anyone can make them. He wants to make Mexican food easy for people to enjoy, and he also wants to ensure that people can find the ingredients they need to make his dishes, which is where Cacique comes in. Part of the reason the recipes can be kept easy and simple is that Sánchez believes in the quality of the company's offerings.
"The products are what guide any recipe," he explains. "I don't want to work that damn hard, to be honest."
That kind of tongue-in-cheek modesty is what makes Sánchez such a loveable guy, both onscreen and, apparently, off. And hopefully it's what will help him and Cacique cook lots of food and raise lots of money for a great cause.