Patricio Sandoval is a lively, gregarious guy. You can’t help but smile and laugh with him even if he’s trying to be serious – that is RARE! I’m a big fan of Mercadito and its tacos. I argue with Patricio each time to give me 3 tacos for a couple dollars less so I can order a third variety when I go with a friend…I eat a lot! His food is spiced accordingly and rather consistent considering the amounts the restaurant puts out on a daily basis - addictive.
The modern take of the art work reminds you of a late night taqueria but it is anything but a hole in the wall type of place. The classes Patricio hosts monthly are more party then learning experience and you’ll leave very full unlike a lot of other demonstration classes.
But Patricio is an anomaly to the Chicago Chef world because this isn’t his only restaurant. He’s a chef with restaurants in many cities and none really that close considering Miami, Mexico City and NYC are also in the Mercadito portfolio. He’s a product of his environment having grown up in restaurants and still works with his family. If you google Chef Sandoval, you may just get his brother – who, oh ya, has a bunch of restaurants to, nothing like some family competition.
It was with this in mind, I sat down with him a couple weeks back. I caught him while he was in town to play…20 Questions.
Name Patricio Sandoval
From Acapulco, Mexico
Culinary School The French Culinary Institute
Twitter Handle @chefpsandoval
1. What did you have for breakfast yesterday?
I had two breakfast tacos that were for family meal – scrambled eggs with some salsa.
2. Place you eat most often on days off?
Patricio: My friends restaurants – Laughs.
CFS: Do You have a favorite?
P: I like Public House a lot.
3. Favorite ingredient to work with?
4. If I gave you $10,000, how would you spend it?
P: Traveling to the Yucatan peninsula
P: Ya, no I’ve never been.
5. Last weekend on earth – what city are you eating in?
6. If you weren’t cooking, what would you do for a living?
7. What did you want to be when you were growing up?
P: I wanted to be a doctor or veterinarian.
CFS: Did you have a choice growing up considering your family business?
P: I always told my father I don’t want to do the restaurant business. Till I started cooking, I said that.
8. Most exotic vacation destination?
9. If you left Chicago, Miami and NYC to cook somewhere else, where would you go?
Puerto Escondido – Pacific Coast of Oaxaca
10. Person you would most like to cook for?
11. What are you most excited about right now?
Opening of Tavernita with Ryan Poli
12. Do you have any pet peeves?
P: I like things very clean in the kitchen but not at home.
CFS: Home is chaos.
13. Who has better hair you or Ryan Poli?
I would say me - laughing
14. You opened Mercadito very close to the “godfather of Chicago Mexican cuisine” Rick Bayless. How do your restaurants compare or differ?
Ah, I think they only compare in that we both have Mexican food. I think our atmosphere and style of food is very different.
15. How does opening a restaurant in Chicago differ from NYC and Miami?
For the one thing, it’s a lot bigger than NYC for size. You have more space to work with.
16. Restaurants are a family business for you…was it easier working with your father or brothers?
CFS: Who’s really in charge?
P: (Answering quickly and if it has been told to him a few times) My Brother Alfredo Sandoval
CFS: Seems like a canned answer.
17. Your brother Richard also has a number of restaurants in the US. At family holidays, who’s in charge in the kitchen?
Me, because Richard is hardly around during holidays.
18. Running more than one restaurant can be hard. How do you oversee 5 in 3 cities?
Have a great staff, chef in each location whose worked with me 4-5 years. You can’t be in all places at once you have to depend on people. Trust your staff.
19. You went to culinary school…having grown up in restaurants and working for your brother. How did this help you when it comes to cooking your food today?
P: I cooked with my brother for 2 years. It gave me a tremendous base. Learning to make a vinaigrette and the ratio’s.
CFS: Did you know them before that?
P: No, Having worked in restaurants but not cooking, more customer service.
CFS: When you worked with your brother is when you went in to the kitchen?
P: Exactly, When I left working with him. I went to a French restaurant and I didn’t know much. I didn’t know the language. I didn’t know what a vinaigrette was. I knew Mexican food with my brother. I learned the flavors quickly but never really learned the proper way until I went to culinary school.
20. Is there a secret to making a great taco?
P: Yes, first the food has to be fresh and marinate all of the proteins. I think one of the key ingredients is to marinate onion and cilantro with salt and lemon or lime juice. To put on all the tacos 90% of all my tacos have it on.
CFS: I didn’t know that.
P: I used to eat tacos here and I would think something’s missing. I was in Acapulco and noticed that all tacos have onions and cilantro, that’s the key. It brings acidity, breaks everything down. I like going to Big Star for their tacos.
21. Will Mexico win the World Cup?
P: We’re praying they will. We won the sub-17.
CFS: We’re they really 17 or 19?
P: Laughs – 17 but we’ll have to check on that.
Thanks for the laughs and the great food chef.
If you liked these 20 questions, check out the how Ryan Poli, Francis Brenna, Giuseppe Tentori, Charlie McKenna, Chris Pandel , Michael Muser, Curtis Duffy , Rob Katz/Kevin Boehm, Michael Taus, and Chris Curren answered.
Joe Campagna is the Chicago Food Snob. A former restaurant General Manager, Server and Chef you can find him on twitter @chifoodsnob. You can reach him through email at email@example.com. Joe is retained as a compensated blogger by Pei Wei Asian Diner.