In 1998 he began working at the Lima Country Club Hotel as head of gourmet cooking and spent time as the disciple of renowned Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio. At the end of a few years at the hotel, he was promoted to Executive Chef of the hotel and its restaurant “Perroquet.” They say that each time chef Gaston Acurio runs into Jacinto Sanchez, he always says: “If they treat him (meaning Sanchez) badly, he’s going to come and work with me.”
And so it is that Sanchez, who at age 54 is proud to have never had any formal cooking training, has been head of respected five star hotels such as the Hotel Monasterio in Cusco.
You are considered the model of success, an example of someone who has persevered on an exemplary path…did you ever imagine that one day those would be the words used to describe you?No. When I got to Lima, yes, but up in the sierra (the Peruvian Andes), no, not even.
When did you arrive in Lima?
You were born in Apurimac, where life is difficult. How did you decide to come to Lima? Did your family let you? Did you escape?
When I was 14 years old.
A cousin arrived at my village and said “I’m going to go back to Lima in a month.” I told myself, “I’ll follow her to Lima.” So I told my mother “I want to follow Elena” but my mother didn’t want me to, saying “You need to study.” I began to cry and cry, until I finally convinced her, and she also cried. She said “Since your brother is in Lima, you go be with him.” And she let me leave.
Sometimes when people come from the provinces their goal is to study.
I came from my village having completed fourth grade and I thought I would study in Lima but there was no opportunity. I came to Lima, to my brother’s, who was at the university. I didn’t want to bother him. I tried to study, but I couldn’t.
I saw what he did, how he did it; he studied until 2 a.m. and also worked. I decided I didn’t want to annoy him. I just asked him to recommend me at someplace where I could work. He didn’t want me to work; he said “you’re under age,” and didn’t want to.
So I ran away and went to the market where I saw a sign saying “Help wanted.”
I applied but I was told “you are too young; I need someone who can take care of my small children.” I said that it didn’t matter, that I had taken care of my younger brothers. The man's wife arrived and took me to their house in San Martín de Porres. There were little plots of land there at the time.
She had small children, and she left me there to take care of them.
My brother went looking for me but didn’t know where I had gone.
The wife mistreated me and hit me like she hit her children.
So one day I left and ran into a cousin, who took me back to my brother’s house.
Is that how you began working as a kitchen assistant? Did chance shape your life from that moment on?
When I left the woman's house and returned to my brother's, he spoke with a woman from Cerro de Pasco (a town in the Andes east of Lima) and the next day she took me to Restaurant 91 saying to me "I have a countryman there."
"What can you do?" I was asked. I remained silent because I spoke Quechua. The woman who took me knew Quechua. Mi brother said to her "He wants to be a dishwasher." "Start washing the pots and pans" they told me, and that's what I began doing.
So I stayed, I was quick, and I watched everything they were doing.
When I began working there, there were two chefs; I took in everything and...anything they asked me to do, "do this"...I did it quickly; I spoke Quechua but I understood what they said to me.
The chefs told me "You're going to be like me, all of a sudden you'll be like I am."
They worked like a unit...
Yes. Any event that we had, we'd go with the two chefs and I would always go along; I was fast.
Do you consider the people from Restaurant 91 your teachers?
You had passed the test...
Yes. After working for about two months, one time there was a soccer game, the two chefs had been drinking and that night they passed out, except for me and another helper. When customers arrived, we said to ourselves: "What are we going to do?" So I decided to do what I had learned.
Around 11 p.m. I awakened the chefs. They asked me "What did you do? Who took care of the food?"
So I told them "I prepared what I could."
The next day there were about 200 customers. When the chef arrived he hugged me and said "You saved me! What would have happened if you hadn't been here?" And from then on I had more confidence.
What would you tell young people is the most important characteristic of a chef?
The most important thing is to always serve our customers good quality food and to create new, good and tasty dishes.
The menu you plan here, how often do you change it?
Every six months.
Do you have a suggestion for a typically Peruvian menu?
Huatia, (a meal of seasonally fresh produce cooked in an earth "oven" similar to a luau), it is very Peruvian, and a risotto huancaina made with yellow aji (huancaina sauce is made from fresh cheese blended with aji pepper, milk, garlic, lemon and herbs).
What ingredients do you prefer, and which would you never use?
I never use MSG, nor bouillon cubes, nor salt or cumin.
You don’t use salt or cumin?
I only use a little cumin in cau cau (a tripe stew with potatoes and seasoning). I usually use rich stocks of meat or fish (for seasoning). Everything is based upon stocks.
Congratulations. After hearing about your career, it’s not surprising that the Summum Guide has chosen Restaurant Perroquet of the Country Club Hotel in Lima, as the best hotel restaurant in 2007 and 2008. What are you doing to keep that ranking?
Maintaining the quality we have. Our ingredients must be fresh, above all it is quality.
What do you think that we Peruvians can do to make our food better known throughout the world?
I think it is already recognized, that Peruvian food is known; and we need to use our own ingredients. From the Andean sierra there is oca (a sweet tuber), mashua (a tuber), muña (an herb), paico (an anti-flattulent herb also known as epazote). That way it will be better known and different from other cuisines.
If I were to invite you out to dinner, wherever you want...where would you go?
I don’t go out to eat, not to other restaurants; I would stay here. I don’t even go out for lunch.
Did you go to Mistura 2009 (a Lima food fair)?
Yes, there was a lot of people, there were good things, it was good.
Have you established a family here?
Yes, I have a family, I have children.
Did your mother live to witness your success?
No. We were 16 children, and I was the one who mainly prepared the food for my siblings. If we dind’t have food, I had to go out to gather corn and wheat. My mother and I prepared the food together.
Do you visit your village?
Yes, I was there four years ago.