James Sanchez is the Executive Chef at Acenar restaurant in San Antonio where he has run the kitchen since it opened its doors on the River Walk in 2004. He continues to tantalize palates with his unique menu selections some of which include duck chalupas, crepes de Huitlacoche, savory empanadas filled with chorizo and potato, poblano rajas and spicy picadillo, alambres drizzled with chimi churri salsa and cabrito en chile ancho.
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde, Park, NY and a 20-year veteran of the kitchen, Chef Sanchez is a master at melding classical techniques with modern Mexican food concepts, skills he honed under the tutelage of some of San Antonio's best chefs, his work at hotels and Central Market and as head of Acenar's kitchen for the past five years.
For inspiration, he often heads south to explore Mexico's Old World cuisine, picking up ideas from master street vendors and native cocineras along the way. He also culls from his years traveling the world as a young chef's apprentice, and is greatly influenced by his childhood memories of his grandfather Joe L. Sanchez, or "Papa" as he called him, who would often take him to the farmer's market at the Old Market Square he once managed in the 70s. They would move from vendor to vendor exploring the flavor of peaches, plums and figs.
"What was so amazing about my grandfather was that in his back yard he grew so many different fruits, vegetables and herbs," Sanchez recalls. "Later in his life, he lost his vision so I helped him maintain his garden. As a young cook, I began to appreciate all the work and effort involved in growing and cultivating your own fruits and vegetables. I now try to emulate how he worked and related to the farmers, and as I create recipes in the kitchen, I still imagine that he is right there with me."
Chef Sanchez is part of local efforts to revive the farmer's markets and is a featured chef at events organized by the Main Plaza conservancy and Pearl Brewery.
At the forefront of emerging Latin American cuisine, he serves on the CIA's Latin Advisory Committee and sees the CIA's arrival to the Alamo City as fueling an exciting culinary evolution, one that is bringing classical skills and contemporary approaches to the study of Latin American cuisine.
He recently served as a guest chef/presenter at the "Worlds of Healthy Flavors & Produce First" conference held at the CIA's campus at Greystone in St. Helena, CA. A sought-after Latin foods specialist, he held food demonstrations to educate food service professionals how Mexican food cuisine, ingredients and techniques can play a role in American food service operations.
A passionate chef and mentor to aspiring young cooks, Chef Sanchez serves as the education chair for the local American Culinary Federation and is an adjunct faculty garde manger instructor for St. Philip's College culinary program.
Chef Sanchez grew up in San Antonio on the city's South Side, married his high school sweetheart and still lives in his old neighborhood. To relax, he spends quality time with his wife and two lovely daughters, or enjoys touring the Texas Hill Country on his bicycle.