Written by Jackie Sloves for Anamaya
Name: Johanne Sancho
Favorite Food: Costa Rican food, especially Gallo Pinto.
Why do you love cooking? It is about creating what I like. As I said, I look for sparks, and try to spark flavor on the tongue. I love fusion, and mixing, and going against the rules. I was taught the rule don’t mix lime with milk, so I do it. I like to try a lot of different and new textures on the food. I love making local food created with international techniques, especially French and Italian. I also really love when my food looks rustic.
What is your motivation for becoming a chef? I like the name “chef” because what is involved behind that title is a full team of people. I really love to teach and help people improve and gain self-confidence in everything they do. Working in the kitchen is a really hard job, but I love at the end of the day when you have had a big event or difficult customers, just sitting down with the guys with a beer and giving feedback – what they did right and wrong. I love to help people develop themselves. Food is the way in which I am doing this, but my main motivation is to help people grow.
How long have you worked for Anamaya? 4 months.
What is your previous work experience? I opened my own restaurant when I was 20 years old, serving Mexican food in San Ramon (Central Valley of Costa Rica). After that I went to culinary school for 3 years at Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje (National Learning Institute in Costa Rica). I then worked for the Marriot Hotel for 2 years in San Jose. After that I helped open the Four Seasons Resort in Peninsula Papagayo. Then I became head chef at Villa Blanca in San Ramon for 12 months. After that, I went back to Four Seasons for 4 years. And then I came to Anamaya.
How do you cater to special diets such as vegetarian and vegan? We are always happy to accommodate these requests. Even if it is challenging we always have a solution. We try to prepare vegetables in many different ways so that people feel like they are having new foods, even if it is the same base ingredients. We enhance the flavors with salsas and local spices. Every day there are different flavors, and we never have the same dish twice. We always try to do something different and pick the best recipes with the freshest produce on the market, the most organic, exotic, and especially local.
What is the secret to your gourmet cooking? Take everyone’s opinion into consideration. Always listen to the people who are working with you, because everyone has a different point of view. The secret is that there is a whole team behind a meal, not just one person.
What is your favorite dish to cook? Haha, it is gallo pinto. It is because I have never had gallo pinto the same way. The base of gallo pinto is always rice and beans, but sometimes I will add different ingredients. For example if it is a hot day I will add fruit with cilantro. Gallo pinto is what I have had the most experience with because it is my favorite dish. I have cooked it with coconut milk, or strawberry juice, so it can be sweet or spicy. There are many combinations. Sometimes you can combine it with egg or plantain or with raw vegetables, it is really something you need to take as a side dish in every meal – breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
What are your favorite spices to cook with? Thyme, Rosemary, and Achiote. Achiote is a native plant to Central America and is what the native people used to paint their faces.
What makes Anamaya the best? We always think about being creative, healthy, high quality, and at the same time helping the local producers. There are a lot of secrets behind a successful restaurant. But I think that one of the most important things is to make the staff happy. If the staff is happy, then they will make happy guests. Our staff is happy here.