Episode 249: Aaron Sanchez

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Because restaurants are so prolific across the United States, there are many, many jobs in kitchen service, but historically an under-representation of Latinos in chef and managerial positions. Out of the almost 150,000 chefs currently employed in the United States, 60% are white, followed by Latino chefs at 17%.

Chef Aarón Sánchez– who you may recognize as the award-winning chef/owner of Johnny Sánchez in New Orleans, or from culinary TV shows such as FOX’s MasterChef, Food Network’s Chopped, and Cooking Channel’s Taco Trip– knows this from personal experience. 

When Chef Aarón started in the restaurant industry 25 years ago, he saw the huge disparity between leadership roles of Latinos in kitchens and thought through what needed to change in order to remove barriers and excuses. In 2016, he founded the Aarón Sánchez Impact Fund to begin closing that diversity gap, offering impactful opportunities that allow Latino youth to move up and be taken seriously.

The Aarón Sánchez Impact Fund began with Chef Aarón and his friends hosting dinners and parties to raise money to fund scholarships for culinary education. The program grew and became more formalized, and in 2022 the Fund formed a partnership with the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, a nationwide program focused on developing and supporting youth; Jennifer Killian was brought on board as Director. As of 2023, the Aarón Sánchez Impact Fund has awarded almost $1 million in scholarships to 14 individuals. Its stated mission is to uplift the lives of Latino youth across America through food, doing so through three pillars: Culinary Arts Education, Mentorship, and Human Services. First, the Aarón Sánchez Impact Fund provides scholarships to send young Latinos to award-winning culinary arts education programs in New York City. After they’ve learned foundational skills and mastered the administrative portions of their curriculum, students spend time with food leaders within different sectors to better define what arena of the food service industry they want to go into, and internships are tailored to their strengths and interests. 

Chef Aarón is the primary mentor, but students are encouraged to make a list of people that they admire and would like to learn from. Chef Aarón and Jennifer then work to facilitate those mentoring relationships.  Human services work is the newest arm of the Aarón Sánchez Impact Fund, giving money through grant programs that improve food access, nutrition education, and crisis feeding initiatives. The first human services grant, in conjunction with Hispanic Heritage Month, supported a California school system with a large number of parents working in agriculture. They had been awarded a commercial refrigeration unit through a grant to help provide produce, dairy and meats to students, but lacked the funding to have it professionally installed. The Aarón Sánchez Impact Fund granted gap funding for the installation, helping to triple the amount of produce that these children will be able to access. 

“This is the type of work that we would like to do more of as we continue to grow. And of course, that’s all based on fundraising. The more we can bring in, the more we can give and the more lives we can change.” Jennifer Killian (22:03-22:14)

The Aarón Sánchez Impact Fund welcomes all donations to help support its mission, as well as opportunities to spread its message. No donation is without impact! You can find out more about the fund at aaronsanchezimpactfund.com, and learn more about Chef Aarón (including the podcast he hosts with his mother, Cooking In Mexican From A to Z) at chefaaronsanchez.com.

How to get involved

  • Join The Produce Moms Group on Facebook and continue the discussion every week! 
  • Reach out to us – we’d love to hear more about where you are in life and business! Find out more here


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About Lori

Lori Taylor is the Founder & CEO of The Produce Moms. For ten years she sold fresh produce to over 300 grocery stores throughout the United States, and today she is fully focused on working with the produce supply chain, media, and government to increase fresh produce access & consumption in the US and around the globe. Connect with Lori on LinkedIn.

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