Q&A: Richard Sandoval

This year marks the 15th anniversary of Maya, which introduced Chef Richard Sandoval and his take on contemporary Mexican cuisine. He now has 30 restaurants and counting­­ (look for a Peruvian spot in New York and wine and tequila bars in Denver this spring; a pan-Latin rodizio restaurant in Miami; and a Washington D.C. Latin/Asian outpost). Chef Sandoval talked with us about his grandmother's kitchen, culinary mash-ups and his in-flight style.

You began your career with French cuisine at Savaan. Why the shift to Latin, and specifically Mexican, cuisine?

I craved the cooking of my childhood in Mexico City and my grandmother's kitchen. She taught me to respect fresh, authentic ingredients and the vibrant flavors that turned family dinners into events. I also felt that there was an opportunity to reintroduce authentic Mexican to American diners, who mistakenly thought that all Mexican food was fast food or Tex-Mex.

Are you experimenting with other cultural/fusion influences?

I am constantly exploring pan-Latin cuisine, from Peruvian to Columbian to Venezuelan to Brazilian dishes. I've been experimenting with Colombian cachapa sandwiches—fantastic flavor and texture.

Do you approach a menu in your Qatar restaurant any differently than one in California?

Absolutely. While I stay true to my signature Latin flavor profile, tastes and preferences vary from market to market. I always listen to local diners, and I am constantly adjusting menus based on their feedback.

What's your signature dish to win over diners in any part of the world?

My style emphasizes fresh, vibrant and balanced flavors, and ceviche captures all of these elements. Many diners that mistakenly think that of Latin cuisine as heavy, so this light, flavorful dish surprises them.

As your restaurants branch out you must travel quite a bit. What gets you through a flight?

Ipod, in-flight wi-fi and a fully reclining seat.

Chef Sandoval has recently collaborated on new in-flight menus from American Airlines.