Armando Sandoval, Executive Chef · Bassett Street Brunch Club
Most professional chefs learn to cook at culinary school. Armando Sandoval learned by preparing the foods he raised himself. Armando moved to Madison in 2001 from Acambay, Mexico, a bit of a crossroads between Mexico City, Michoacán and Puebla. "I'm from the country," says Armando, who has a degree as a technical agronomist. "We planted rice, corn, yeast. One teacher wanted me to be a vet since my dad had a farm. So, they taught us to cultivate fish, to one day have a fish farm. I learned how to slaughter rabbits and pigs. I learned the cuts of meat. My father slaughtered sheep. I've done it here in Madison." "At home, my father would barbecue in a hole in the ground," says Armando. "One day of the week we would eat meat, all other days we ate veggies. If you wanted to eat chicken, you had to go grab the chicken. When I was nine years old, I cooked for my father when he was working in the mausoleum. I would go buy squash and cook it in a little four legged grill with charcoal. He taught me how to cook meat." Armando grew up enjoying the food at little fast-food joints in the city called fondas. "Fondas serve fast, simple food." recalls Armando. "You pay ten pesos and you get soup, entrée, water and tortillas. The water could be horchata, which is like rice milk or hibiscus water, made with dried hibiscus flowers. My father would give me some money and I would buy from the fonda." Hanging out at the fonda, combined with the techniques he learned at home, taught Armando what he need to learn to be successful. After coming to the States, he and his brother cooked at a small place called Eight Seasons. "They put on a cooking competition like Iron Chef for the customers," says Armando, who entered it a number of times with his brother. "They used secret ingredients and everything in an open kitchen. We always won!" Turns out this is like beating the boss at golf; Armando and his brother were no longer invited to compete, as the owners also sometimes wanted to win. Luckily for Armando, being "too good" is not a problem at Food Fight. "I like that there are many opportunities. I think that here it doesn't matter how long you've been working. If you think big, there are big things waiting for you." And despite the success Armando has found here in Madison, the country has never left the boy. "I love brats! I took a class to make sausages. If you bring me milk, I'll make cheese. I can cure meat, make beef jerky. We buy meat only once a week in Mexico. So when you eat it, it tastes so good. Sometimes here my garage is filled with meat hanging to cure. My little dachshunds go crazy."