For a local kid who remembers his mother always being in the kitchen, Michael Sandoval now has a kitchen of his own. And what an impressive kitchen it is. The Las Vegas native is chef de cuisine at Chef Thomas Keller’s award-winning bistro Bouchon in California’s Napa Valley, Yountville to be exact.
How impressive is this? Sandoval is working for Keller who has won multiple awards from the James Beard Foundation and is the only American chef to have been awarded simultaneous three-star Michelin ratings for two different restaurants. Very simply, Sandoval, who graduated from Centennial High School in 2002 and began his culinary career at the College of Southern Nevada, is working for one of the most noted and celebrated chefs in the country.
“Maybe I always knew I would be a chef one day,” Sandoval said. “I remember my mother always being in the kitchen and how it was one of the most important rooms in the house. It was a meeting place. I think the desire for cooking was always there but I needed somebody or something to find it and bring it out of me. I found it at Area Technical Training Center and it was brought out of me at CSN. Now I’m nurturing it at Bouchon.”
At Bouchon, the 27-year-old Sandoval is responsible for the entire restaurant and its adjoining bakery with duties that include day-to-day food production, staff scheduling, budgeting and food costs. The food preparation keeps him especially busy as Bouchon is a seasonally changing, classic bistro that celebrates the diverse regional cuisines of France.
“Everything I’m doing now I studied in culinary classes at CSN when I was there from 2003-2006,” he said. “One of the main things I took away from my time at CSN was confidence. I knew I had skills but CSN professors defined and sharpened those skills and brought out some underlying skills that I didn’t even know were there in terms of cooking and understanding the kitchen. Even today I still thank John Metcalfe, Jill Mora and Levy Acosta for their encouragement, time and guidance.”
Sandoval has always been on the fast track but without a specific goal or vocation in mind. While at Centennial, he attended summer school and was ready to graduate by the time he was a junior. That’s when a counselor told him about culinary classes at the Area Technical Training Center.
“I chose culinary because I didn’t think it was that difficult,” Sandoval said. “Boy was I wrong. I had to learn about grams, ounces and pints and how foods interacted with each other and so much more. It caught my attention and that’s when I made a decision that I wanted to cook and be in the food and restaurant profession.
“I carried that over to CSN where my interest really grew. The professors worked with my schedule to help me get the education and experience in order to find my first job.”
Sandoval joined the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group in 2003 as chef de partie at Bouchon in The Venetian. After two years of demonstrating a solid work ethic, he was promoted to sous chef. In 2009 Sandoval relocated to Yountville to become executive sous chef for Bouchon and was in turn promoted to chef de cuisine in 2011.
“I’ve become more aware of local purveyors and what they have to offer,” said Sandoval. “In Las Vegas, I would order something and get it a day or two later. Here, I order wine forest mushrooms, collard greens, assorted cheeses, Sonoma duck or fresh fruits and it arrives within an hour or two. And the fact that I’m in Napa County, the wine scene is an entirely different story.”
Sandoval wants to take advantage of every opportunity that will establish him as a chef.
“I’m enjoying Northern California because diners here know their food and wine and it’s a real challenge,” he said. “Winery owners are always in the restaurant and I learn from them daily. I’m learning where ingredients come from and how each is related to a specific wine. There is always something new to learn when it comes to food and wine.”