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Mentoring in every sense of the word: Highlights from Class of 2022’s trip to New Orleans

The word mentor is both a noun and a verb. A mentor can be a trusted advisor, but it also can mean actively training, supporting, and nurturing.

Mentoring in both senses is a vital part of the Aarón Sánchez Scholarship Fund program.

Our award recipients not only receive a multi-faceted culinary arts education, but they also benefit from Chef Aarón’s mentorship, as well as focused attention from other industry leaders.

Our four Class of 2022 students in school at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York came to New Orleans for just three days, a whirlwind mentorship trip sandwiched between finishing classroom studies and starting externships in prominent restaurants such as Jean-Georges and Le Pavillon.

As the newest member of Team Aarón, this was my first chance to meet these students face to face. We set the bar high, both in our expectations that they measure up to the standard of excellence and investment from our end, as well as delivering an over-the-top experience for them.

We hosted Aimy Sato, Alan Verdugo, Jasmine Martinez, and Michael Facio for their first time ever in one of the culinary capitals of the world – New Orleans.

Who did they meet? Where did they go? What did they learn?


We started with lunch at The Blue Crab overlooking Lake Pontchartrain. They got to taste a bounty of Gulf seafood including boiled shrimp, crab cakes, and their first po-boys.

We then moved on to a one-on-one mentorship meeting and kitchen tour at Emeril’s restaurant with Chef David Slater, Emeril’s corporate director of culinary development. The students were given a tour of the back-of-house and a front row seat to watch the team prep for dinner service. Stocks were on the stovetop, ingredients were being prepped, bread was being baked; it was an amazing experience. As lagniappe, Chef Slater prepared and served them each a bowl of Emeril’s New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp, with amazing rosemary biscuits!

Then we were on to Johnny Sánchez, the restaurant owned by Chef Aarón Sánchez, for their first encounter with their scholarship sponsor and mentor, along with his business partners Drew Mire and Chef Miles Landrem. Chef Aarón led a demo and discussion on cooking with Mexican herbs and spices as a way to connect to Latin roots, with plenty of Q&A following. He discussed menu development, the importance of understanding your customer base, pros and cons of entrepreneurship, and the various employment opportunities across the culinary industry. Besides being treated to tastings from the kitchen, the students met Camila Arias, a 2020 scholarship recipient from New Orleans who is thriving as a sous chef in training and who continues to receive mentorship from Chef Aarón.


We started with a professional photo and video shoot. Each student will receive a portfolio of professional photos to help with their career development, and video was also captured for future storytelling about Chef Aarón’s philanthropic work.

The eating adventure continued at Café Reconcile, a non-profit daytime restaurant serving Southern staples cooked by at-risk youth receiving job training. Besides digging into iconic dishes like turkey necks, crispy okra, and fried catfish, the students were inspired by the non-profit’s mission and the impact it has on youth and the local community.

A field trip to New Orleans Fish House brought the seafood business into clear focus. Sales manager Phil de Gruy took the group on a tour, showcasing various fish caught by coastal fishermen, seasonal soft-shell crabs, and explained the need for round-the-clock processing to support restaurant customers across the coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.

We met Kelly Cusimano, third generation owner of Louisiana Fresh, a regional produce supplier. After another lagniappe tasting of fresh watermelon slices, he took the students on a warehouse tour, with its temperature-controlled produce rooms.

What’s a hot New Orleans day without sno-balls? We stopped at the James Beard award-winning Hansen’s Sno Bliz, where third generation owner Ashley Hansen’s team demonstrated the equipment that her grandfather invented to create Hansen’s legendary fine shaved ice and we tasted flavors like nectar, spearmint, and anise (Aimy’s favorite).

Then, time to work. The students assisted the Johnny Sánchez catering team in prepping food for a private event that we hosted that evening announcing the Aarón Sánchez Impact Fund, a new program of the Emeril Lagasse Foundation. We hosted about 50 guests from across the New Orleans business community to celebrate and meet these amazing students.

Then it was time to say a bittersweet goodbye, as they headed back to New York to start their externships. Team Aarón is so proud of each of these hard-working students and thrilled at the chance to mentor and support them as they continue their professional paths. This trip created memories they will cherish forever, and relationships to help them as they reach their goals every step of the way.

Do you know a talented Latin American individual interested in a culinary career?

Our commitment to mentoring is ongoing. Scholarship applications are open through Friday, September 16, 2022. Read more about the scholarship program eligibility at

We can’t wait to meet our next class!

Jen Killian

Director, Aarón Sánchez Philanthropies

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