What sparked your interest in the culinary world?
My love of cooking started by watching my grandmother cook in Mexico City when I was growing up. I would always gravitate into the kitchen and watch her cook. She would prepare these huge feasts for my whole family, I’ll never forget the authentic and fresh ingredients she used and how her food brought everyone together. My father was also a restaurateur in Acapulco who taught me how to run a business. Between the two, I was almost destined to have this profession.
How did you get started in the culinary business?
I actually started out as a professional tennis player and had the privilege of traveling around the world and playing – which would later play a huge role in my culinary career. Somewhere along the way, I realized that I wasn’t going to make it on the satellite circuit, so I needed to decide if I was going to teach tennis or find a different career. I thought about what I really enjoyed and kept going back to cooking. It was then I took the leap & enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America. After graduating, I moved to Acapulco to work at my father’s restaurant. After four years there, I set off to New York with the dream of opening my own restaurant.
What inspired the menu at Maya? What are some of the signature dishes?
My vision with Maya was to achieve “Modern Mexican” which is what I like to describe as simply old ways in new hands. Elevating Mexican food has been my goal from the start. When I began my career, I wanted to overcome the perception that Mexican food was just “Tex-Mex” cuisine: smothered burritos, chimichangas, and so on.
What is your favorite ingredient to work with?
Huitlacoche, or “corn smut.” It has a soft and velvety taste that is unlike any other ingredient. I also love working with all kinds of chiles, both fresh and dried; they add a flavor depth without added fat.
What have been some of your career highlights along the way?
The amazing restaurant teams I’ve created over the past twenty years, receiving Bon Appetit’s Restauranteur of the Year award & my James Beard nomination.
This is Maya’s second time participating in the Art of Food event at Sotheby’s. Any favorite memories?
The Art of Food does a wonderful job capturing the food scene in NYC. I loved getting to see some familiar faces of chefs that I started out with and chefs I look up to.
Your number one cooking tip?
Taste as you go!
See what Richard Sandoval is serving up for the art of food: www.artoffoodny.com