Chef and TV personality Aaron Sanchez returns to his one-time home to open the second outpost of Johnny Sanchez (930 Poydras St.) — a Mexican taqueria — with partner John Besh. Sanchez spoke with Gambit about fusing regional Mexican cuisines, under-the- radar Mexican drinks and his favorite place in New Orleans for a nightcap.
Does the menu at Johnny Sanchez pull primarily from a single state in Mexico?
Sanchez: The idea of there being 32 states in Mexico and each having their own cultural identity and being known for certain things is something we wanted to recognize, like carnitas from Michoacan. Here, we have a funny amalgamation of it. We have the way you would cook carnitas traditionally — in its own lard and fat then crisped back up — but instead of doing it with a salsa, we're actually mixing in the influence of the Yucatan for the sauce; then serving it with a pineapple salsa, which is what you would serve traditionally with tacos al pastor. That's a really good example of a taco that we're pulling from three different states to create a new concept.
There are so many unique drinks in Mexico, like pulque. Will any of those be on the menu?
S: Pulque [fermented agave sap] is unique because it can be off-putting in texture and smell for Americans, but actually can make you kind of euphoric.
Each of the regions in Mexico have these interesting distilled spirits that are unique. In Chihuahua, where my family is from, we have this spirit called sotol [made from the dasylirion plant] and bacanora, which is like a moonshine with different kinds of herbs that Indians make in the mountains. There are regional specialties all over. I think eventually they'll make menus in the states, and I'd love to figure out how to get it in. The problem with a lot of that stuff is getting it made here in the U.S. by artisans.
We do have at [Johnny Sanchez] a really incredible mezcal selection. We actually have dried maguey worms that we puree and make a powder to serve as a garnish.
When you lived in New Orleans early on in your career, where was your favorite place for a night of drinking?
S: Lucky Pierre's, which is not even there any more — that's how old I am! It was this club on Bourbon Street we used to go to a lot. I also remember fondly going to the Absinthe House and drinking lots of absinthe. We went to Napoleon House a couple of times and drank enough Sazeracs to the point where we couldn't speak. I like the old-school places where I can get something like a Pimm's Cup. When I'm in New Orleans, my palate definitely changes and I want more bourbon and rye and all of that.