The Culinary Institute of America

Richard Sandoval '91

Spotlight On: Richard Sandoval

Chef Owner
Class of 1991

As chef and owner of Modern Mexican Restaurants, Richard Sandoval brings the vibrant flavors of Mexico to the world. The international restaurant group has more than a dozen locations in the United States, Mexico, and the United Arab Emirates.

Growing up in Mexico City, the young Richard and his family would gather at his grandmother’s table each Sunday for large, lively meals. He would often join his grandmother in the kitchen as she prepared authentic Mexican dishes from scratch, instilling early on his passion for authentic Mexican food. Meanwhile, his restaurateur father, owner of Madeiras and Villa Fiore in Mexico City, was imparting lessons on the business side of the hospitality industry.

After graduating from The Culinary Institute of America, Chef Sandoval first gained the attention of New Yorkers with his successful modern French restaurants, Savann and Savann Est. Soon, though, it was time to return to his first love—the Mexican food of his childhood. He channeled that passion first into Maya, his flagship restaurant in New York, which is still going strong after more than 10 years. Maya San Francisco, and Tamayo and Zengo in Denver, CO soon followed.

Chef Sandoval then partnered with famed opera tenor Maestro Plácido Domingo to create the coastal-Mexican cuisine restaurant Pampano in New York; later, the two paired to open a second Zengo in Washington, DC. Since then, they have been business partners in each new project. Through the years, Modern Mexican added more concepts, including Isla Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar in Las Vegas and La Sandia, which has locations in Colorado and Virginia.  Modern Mexican expanded internationally as well, adding Pampano locations in Mexico City and Acapulco and a Maya restaurant in Dubai. Chef Sandoval has also partnered with nightlife entrepreneurs Rande and Scott Gerber, principals of the Gerber Group. As part of the partnership, Chef Sandoval consulted on the menu for the Beach House, a sumptuous oceanfront restaurant at the ME Cancun Hotel in Mexico, and developed a hip nightlife menu for Mexx at The Whiskey in Chicago.

In addition to serving at the helm of Modern Mexican, Chef Sandoval is co-author of Modern Mexican Flavors and serves on the CIA’s Latin Cuisines Advisory Council, which has been instrumental in the development of education initiatives at the CIA, San Antonio—the college’s branch campus in Texas.

Over the years, Chef Sandoval has received numerous awards and honors, including being named Restaurateur of the Year by Bon Appétit in 2006, one of the Best Chefs of 2003 by New York magazine, and Mexican Chef of the Year by the National Toque d’Oro in 1992. In addition, Maya and Pampano are the only two Mexican restaurants to have been awarded two stars by The New York Times. Chef Sandoval was recently elected to serve on The Culinary Institute of America’s Board of Trustees.

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