After a successful culinary career, including major stints at Postrio and Joël Robuchon at The Mansion, Mark Sandoval found a passion for teaching and a new home at the UNLV Harrah Hotel College.
As the college’s new executive chef, Sandoval gets to share his love of cooking, tales of the industry, and strict work ethic with a new generation of aspiring hospitality professionals.
Time and fate. After 20 years in the food service industry, I really had achieved all of my culinary goals. Over the past few years, I’d been working with students at UNLVino, and I discovered that I loved teaching. When this opportunity at UNLV presented itself, it just seemed right. Of course, it helped that UNLV has the premier hospitality school in the world.
Where did you grow up?
Colorado Springs, Colorado.
What inspired you to get into your field?
When I was growing up, my family really came together at dinnertime. My dad was a great cook and always encouraged me to help make the meals. I loved the instant gratification I got when people enjoyed my food. The inspiration as a teacher comes from seeing the confidence students get when they prepare their own food.
What’s the biggest misconception about your field?
People think that being a chef is super creative. In reality, it’s about 10 percent creativity and 90 percent running a business, which means controlling costs, writing menus, placing orders, and working long hours.
What’s the biggest challenge in your field?
Being a chef means a lot of time away from your family. I spend many holidays away from my wife.
What is the best meal you have ever eaten?
That was at my good friend Darren Robey's house on his wedding night. The menu included: BBQ pork buns with hoisin sauce; homemade bao buns with glazed pork belly; haricot vert salad; glass noodle salad with mint, shrimp and lime; Vietnamese spring rolls with basil, shrimp, mango, sweet chili sauce and peanut sauce; and green curry with diver scallops, little neck clams, calamari and Thai basil. We had wines paired with each course .
What is the best meal you have ever prepared?
The best meal I ever prepared was a whole roasted pig at my house. Ironically, Darren (see answer above) and I cooked it. We had 140 people over for the Fourth of July in 2008. The party doubled as a family reunion; we had a 13-piece mariachi band to boot. Darren and I made: pork and chicken tamales,
roasted the whole pig with salsa verde, braised pork shoulder; Spanish rice and black beans, pozole with hatch green chili, and grilled corn with chipotle butter.
One tip for success?
Dedication. If you want to get ahead… be the first person in and the last person out.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I’m good at doing hair color. When my wife and I moved to Vegas, she couldn’t find a salon she liked, so I learned how to do it. My mother-in-law taught me.
Who was your favorite professor and why?
When I was the University of Colorado in Boulder, my mentor was my art professor, Albert Chong. He had great energy — very calm, very true.
Who is your hero?
My dad. He was a high school teacher for 35 years. He taught me how to cook and how to play all sports. He never missed a game.
Pastime or hobbies?
I love gardening… growing vegetables and herbs. I also love mowing the lawn. It’s my Zen activity — my time to figure out life.
Tell us about an object in your office that has significance for you and why.
My painting by the Cuban artist Hilberto Vargas representing the restaurant/bar culture of Cuba. Each person in the painting stands for something different. It has a spiritual quality.