Mexican-American chef Aarón Sánchez is one of the biggest names in the culinary world, let alone in the Latin American chef community. As a popular contemporary Latin chef, Aarón Sánchez has many feathers in his cap, as he is the co-star of two hit shows on the Food Network ("Chopped" and "Heat Seekers"), is affiliated with two restaurants (Crossroads at House of Blues and Tacombi Tacqueria), and is the author of several cookbooks, including: "La Comida del Barrio" and "Simple Food, Big Flavor: Unforgettable Mexican-Inspired Recipes from My Kitchen to Yours." Latin Times got an exclusive interview with the renowned chef, who shared his experience being a Mexican-American, the obstacles he faced and his favorite foods.

How did you get your start in the culinary field?

My mom (Zarela Martinez) was a pioneer Mexican chef in the country. She opened a restaurant in 1987 in New York -- Zarela -- which was the iconic staple place in New York for Mexican food. And then I grew up in an environment that formed my opinion and point of view on food. Cause it correlated to my family and wasn't something at the time that was a career move or a path I would take. And then it just became something that was natural for me. And then I started working for Chef Paul Prudhomme. And I think the underlying message for me, me personally, that food, the reason I enjoyed it so much is because it brought me back to my family and culture. And I love the idea of mentoring and that's what you get in a kitchen: structured discipline and mentoring, which all people need.

Were there any obstacles you had to overcome in becoming a chef?

There were two big obstacles: The idea of not having a personal life, sacrificing family and all that. That's one of the biggest obstacles any chef has to deal with. You work way too much holidays, weekends and the causality is your personal life and your family. The second obstacle is overcoming discrimination, to be very honest. I was told when I started out that people like me are dishwashers and prep cooks, and we would never be able to be chefs. So much has changed in 20 years.

In terms of discrimination, how have things changed?

It's even more exacerbated now because kitchens are dominated people of Hispanic descent now; especially in this country Mexicans really sort of dominate and are figure heads of a lot of restaurants. For me, the biggest thing I want to accomplish in life is to get every restaurant worker documented and give them the social services that they deserve and give their children recognition as fabric of this country and really give them a voice. What I try to do every day with my shows, outreach and philanthropy I try to do that and keep that in the forefront. Cause I'm not doing it because it's the fastest growing segment in the country. You have to be invested and I'm invested in it personally and culturally.

What was your experience like growing up as a Mexican-American?

For me, growing up as a Mexican-American, was very challenging because I had one foot in Mexico and one foot in the states. I spoke Spanish at home and spoke English. I ended up speaking more Spanish because I worked in kitchens my whole life. For me, it's been wonderful in the sense that I got to hold on to my language. There's a saying in Spanish, "Pierde su lengua, pierde su país," and that's very important-if you lose your tongue, you lose your country. And now, I've been able to have other opportunities -- I have a show in Spanish and Latin America for Fox Live -- and I'm able to continue to touch people all over the world. And if I didn't have my Spanish, I wouldn't be able to do that. That's so important and I'm very blessed for that. I thank my family and everyone around me for keeping that vibe alive.

What is the biggest misconception people have about Mexican cuisine?

That it is one thing; that it is a homogenized cuisine dealing with cheese and combo platters. Mexican food is diverse -- there are 32 regions in Mexico (31 states and the Federal District) and each area has their own nuances and specific cuisine, delicacies, traditional dishes and ingredients that they use. Like any other culinary superpower, there's a lot of variety in Mexican cuisine. That's one thing people need to understand that regional dishes only make up one segment of Mexican cuisine. So the next time you have Mexican food, ask the person, "Where does that dish come from?" If they can't tell you then it's not a good place.

What is your favorite food?

I love a lot of different foods, but I love Italian food. I love Mario's [Batali] food. He's probably my favorite chef to eat on a regular basis. I love Korean food--I really love things with acidity and tons of spice.

What is the best cooking tip you can give?

The best thing you can do is make sure you source the best quality of ingredients. You know, don't skimp out.