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Celebrity chef Aarón Sanchez inspires El Paso ISD CTE teachers

(STARLIGHT EVENT CENTER – June 15, 2023) – Award-winning chef and Food Network celebrity Aarón Sanchez inspired more than 100 Career and Technical Education teachers from El Paso ISD on Wednesday at the Starlight Event Center with tales of his upbringing and his commitment to mentoring future chefs.  

The celebrity chef who briefly attended the former Johnson Elementary School headlined the Preparing the Workforce of Tomorrow Conference on Wednesday before hundreds of teachers and administrators from school districts throughout Region 19.  

Sanchez spoke about his El Paso roots, sharing his love for borderland food and how it has evolved throughout the years from the traditional machaca and chile verde plates to more creative offerings and culinary fusions to tempt the palate. But he admits Chicos Tacos is still his favorite hometown fast-food guilty pleasure. 

“I try to explain what it is to people who don’t live here. People don’t understand it,” Sanchez said, describing the El Paso delicacy. “There’s nothing culinary interesting about it. It’s awesome.” 

He spoke about how culinary arts students now have more opportunities to explore cuisines from around the world instead of the traditional French cuisine taught “back in the day.” Another change from his formative chef days is a focus on a better work-life balance where chefs aren’t working up to 90 hours a week in the kitchen.  

“You have to appreciate your value and speak up as a chef,” he said.  

Sanchez, who mentioned launching an El Paso restaurant, is the founder of the Aarón Sanchez Impact Fund, a nonprofit program whose mission is to uplift the lives of Latino youths through food. His organization provides mentoring and scholarship opportunities for the next generation of culinary artists. 

“I think, as a young person, you should write a list of people you admire and engage them. Write them hand-written letters and tell them ‘I want to be able to work with you and I’ll do whatever it takes,” he said. “A lot of times people do the bare minimum – clock in, do their prep list and then leave. But if you come early, stay late and engage the chef, you’re going to get recognized and you’re going to move up fast. I know that’s what I do with my team.” 

His remarks hit home with Center for Career and Technology Education teacher and chef Suzanne Holcomb. Inspired by his message and his passion for culinary arts, Holcomb plans to strengthen mentorship opportunities for her students by partnering with El Paso Community College and other potential industry experts. 

“He said the core tenet of being a successful chef is to provide discipline, structure and mentoring,” Holcomb said. “I believe these are very important for students in our program and already is something that we follow very closely. I will be reaching out to our partners at EPCC to have them begin a closer mentorship with us.” 

Holcomb also made sure to get a photo with the famous chef, who autographed one of her aprons.  

“It was very humbling to see his success and all he’s doing for kids. I’m touched by the way he’s so drawn to El Paso because it was his home and wanting to get students involved and give scholarships. I’m impressed by how down to Earth he is. I wasn’t going to miss his talk.” 

CTE facilitator Denise Galvez and Leticia Arce-Miranda, CTE student support coordinator, were among the presenters for this year’s conference. They offered ideas and guidance on developing and promoting Career and Technology Student Organizations.  

“Our CTSO’s are not your average club,” Galvez said. “Students in CTSOs take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to the real world.” 

Other breakout sessions featured industry experts in a variety of areas including diesel technology, financial literacy, hospitality and tourism industries and connecting with higher education. The conference also had booths featuring a variety of industry partners and area post-secondary institutions.  

“This has been a great opportunity for our teachers and administrators to network with industry partners and pick up new trends and ways of doing business,” said Fernando Marquez, CTE director. “They’re able to learn the latest and greatest in career and tech to see what’s the next steps considering high school is not the finish line. In career and tech, we pride on taking the kids beyond high school especially in the area of college and career readiness which is critical for our community and future workforce.”