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Behind the Cover: Q&A With Celebrity Chef Claudia Sandoval

We tapped the local chef to help us recreate San Diego Mag's June 1956 cover
Chef Claudia Sandoval

Each month in 2023, we’re asking a local artist to recreate one of our iconic covers from the past 75 years. For November, we tapped celebrity chef Claudia Sandoval and Shavone Charles, technology executive and multi-hyphenate creator, to help us recreate San Diego Mag‘s June 1956 cover with creative direction by SDM‘s Art Director Samantha Lacy and Alexandra Ott of Chrome City Creative. Check out the recreation here and learn more about chef Claudia in the Q&A below:

Tell us about how you found your distinguished style and honed your skills.

Everyone always thinks that my red hair was just inspired by my fiery latinidad, but the fact is, it’s actually because since I was a teenager in my punk days I have loved dying my hair and changing my look often. 

I have been buzzed, shaved head, bald, and [have had] long flowing locks of fire engine red. The red stayed as my signature look because I was asked by production at MasterChef to not change my color post auditioning. 

I go back and forth often on whether it should go, or should stay because I miss changing up my hair color, but people love the red. I would be lying if I didn’t share that once, without announcing it, I changed my hair color so much that it made me sad and didn’t feel like me. [So I] had to dye it back in a couple of days.

Celebrity chef Claudia Sandoval stands in a kitchen surrounded by fresh produce and kitchen utensils.
Courtesy of Chef Claudia Sandoval

What chefs do you admire or look up to? What makes their work so special to you?

My greatest idol is and has always been Dominique Crenn. Her ability to blend food and storytelling is something that speaks to my book nerd heart. I grew up reading novels like Like Water For Chocolate by Isabel Allende and have always found that food tells a story, whether it be of resourcefulness, heritage, or the journey of the chef or ingredients. 

Chef Crenn is not just an icon in the kitchen but a person who often gives back to her community and I try to do half of what she does to give back. 

How do you think your food reflects the southern California lifestyle? 

Having been born and raised in San Diego with a mom born in Tijuana, and family on both sides of the border, meant trips across the border often to visit abuelos, familia, and simply to get tacos and culture—rich food that couldn’t be found in the countless taco shops in San Diego. 

With more than 90,000 people crossing the border daily, it’s no secret that this border region is unique. My food embraces the deep traditions of Mexican gastronomy, with the richness of local ingredients of San Diego and Tijuana. The Cali-Baja style of cooking is innovative, exciting, but most of all, delicious.

What are some of the brands you have enjoyed working with the most and why 

I love working with brands that make a difference. Among them I have most enjoyed working with ChefWorks who gives back to the chef community often, especially in the realm of mental health. I love working with Sprouts Farmers Market who source from local small businesses and local regional farmers to supply their national brand. Every Sprout’s store has different purveyors, and that connectedness to the local community makes such a difference in what we put in our bodies, but also in the financial sustainability of our communities. 

What do you have on the horizon workwise? 

I am currently working as Host of La Mesa Mexa, a Bite Originals digital series that I developed with Gordon Ramsay productions and FOX. Additionally, I am in the process of writing a cookbook titled Taco Nation, exploring how the humble taco has been embraced by this great nation and all cultures as a vehicle to share amazing recipes. The book is set to come out in late 2024/early 2025. Who doesn’t love tacos?

Where do you like to go to get away and relax?

This might sound so silly, but when I need to relax I usually visit my mom’s house or family. Home is where the heart is, and where I feel like I get grounded. They make me laugh, feed me, and allow me to unplug from work, social media, and the public life—if just for an evening or a couple of hours.

This respite is super critical to me being able to keep doing what I do. At times even going to a store or dinner means I have to be “on” but being with family is private, cozy, and restorative. I can show up sans makeup in frumpy clothes and all of my family and friends know that no pictures are allowed. 

Where can people find your work to admire or hire you?

Facebook: Chef Claudia Sandoval
Instagram: @ChefClaudiaSandoval

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By SDM Staff

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