When I was asked by the man himself if I could write a piece on his Facebook show called “Cooking With Sandro”, I welcomed the opportunity with open arms, having only until then been privy a mere few weeks to the infectious energy he infuses into his LIVE broadcasts. Indeed it is almost impossible not to be drawn into the passion Sandro exudes for the meals he so lovingly prepares for his life partner and “Cameraman Compatriote”, Natassa, daughter Senna, as well as his viewing audience. Little did I know that there was more than meets the eye when it comes to this Montreal-born creative.
During our interview, it became abundantly clear that Sandro’s drive is at the center of everything he does and that his career is as eclectic as his personality. From Formula 1 mechanic traveling around the world to entrepreneur and business owner and now home cook extraordinaire, nothing is unattainable for a man whose philosophy is simply to “have fun” and to live his best life.
His cooking is based on fresh ingredients, simplicity and quick execution, without sacrificing taste and healthy benefits. From his opening rallying cry to the final moment of plating, his spontaneous, unscripted approach is refreshing and bold, as he demonstrates his take on recipes that most definitely appeal to a wide range of palates.
Sandro’s culinary journey has gained traction steadily from the start, due to the legion of followers who tune in every weekday to catch his latest offering and is a constant reminder to all of us, that we never know when we can be on the cusp of something exciting.
So this whole cooking venture that you are on? How did this start? How did you come up with the idea?
Well it wasn’t an idea. My girlfriend came back from Spain in March. She works for Air Transat…and so that was her last flight and then everything got grounded. We were kind of bored at home at night and we wanted chocolate chip cookies. So I went to the [grocery store] and they didn’t have my chocolate chip cookies, they had another brand but I wasn’t happy. I wanted my Chips Ahoy. So we stopped at a gas station or a depanneur I think and they found it. So I walked out and we had both. So what ended up happening is she grabbed a camera and we did a LIVE video to do a cookie challenge taste test, kinda like the Pepsi Challenge. The next thing you know, we did How to Make Coffee in the Morning, How to Wash Your Windows. Then that first Saturday was the first night there was no hockey on television. They had stopped all the sports so I was upset. I put on a hockey jersey and started cooking. We called it the All American Burger. So that one there hit 22,000 views..From then on, we received a phone call from Maria Morella from Bellini Talent who loved what we were doing, and told us to continue. Then Andrew Johnson from AMJ Media contacted us and created the cooking page for us, and the Instagram page. Also said he loved what we were doing and that if we narrow it down to 10 minute [segments], then we would have a winner there. From then on, we got a number of sponsors and we became a complete package.
Would you say your passion for cooking developed young or is it something you fell into when you were bored [during the pandemic lockdown]?
Mainly, being away from home…from 18 and on, once I left Canada I was my on own so you gotta fend for yourself. Being in the racing environment, it’s a very professional bubble. We had trainers, chefs, constantly looking out for your health and your well-being. So you basically start to understand why you eat and what foods you eat. So we were very well taken care being in that environment and listening to our nutritionists and our chefs. You are on the road with them 11 months out of the year. They become family. You see them everyday.
You have a good ability in the kitchen. Did you learn that from watching those nutritionists and chefs when you were in the racing field?
Let me explain something. If you can build a Formula 1 car, dissassemble it in pieces and put it back together in 50 minutes and with a group of guys, which we were 27, there’s nothing you can’t do. And it’s a hard mindset to explain to people. I go shopping in the same way. I know where my products are. If I am not out of a store in 15 minutes, then I am doing something wrong. I don’t ponder around.
You’re not a browser!
I can’t stand that. I have no time for that. It’s part of my racing bubble that was instilled at a very young age and I still do that today.
You’re very intense when you are cooking. You’re loud and extroverted. You have a lot of passion. Where does that energy come from? Have you always been like that?
Well Italians, we are born loud and that’s again being part of the racing world. We were always on edge. There is an adrenaline rush…and not only that, this persona kind of worked its way in slowly. There’s nothing scripted here. Every day it’s different. I can have a down day but I guess the “opening act” …..it got created as we went on and on. I’m just excited to do something because everybody is in lockdown and when I was growing up, 6 o’clock was always dinner time. That hour also stayed within the racing community. For us it’s always been that way. It works.
What makes you different from others who try to launch cooking shows is you’re not boring and your energy is infectious. So people like to watch you and it is definitely your strength.
There’s nothing planned so we don’t know what we are going to cook during the week. For [Nat and I] it’s date night every night ever since March and when she came back from Spain. So we make the most of it since we can’t go out. We both go upstairs and get ready, put music on, light candles and get ready to go on a date but the date was here, in the kitchen. So you get accustomed to what this became. Date night became fun night and then became cooking night. From holding the phone straight we ended up going widescreen. She would ask me what I would think. I wanted to make that her own. I would not interfere as to how she would bring the show to life but we would discuss what we would eat. In the morning, we would decide. I would think “I know how to cook this” and sometimes I do a little research just to make sure about the ingredients to put together.
So it’s interesting that you don’t plan a week ahead what you are going to cook for the whole week for every cooking episode.
And that’s the fun part. Everything we cook is fresh. So my sponsors know if I call in the morning [I will tell them what meat, fish or vegetables I want]. We get ready in the morning, drop off my daughter at school, do my rounds, and do my pick-ups at each grocer. [Meat, fish and vegetables are all picked fresh. Nothing is frozen.] The flavors are fresh. The slogan became FRESH NICE DONE. FRESH because the ingredients are fresh. then NICE because the presentation is nice, and DONE since the dish is done. It became part of the vocabulary.
Who came up with the slogan?
My girlfriend, Nat, did. She is Cameraman Compatriote. You’re also building some kind of merch. Will it be t-shirts, caps…?
Everything. Mid-November is the launch date of the website http://www.CookingwithSandro.com. I don’t know if everything is going to be ready but slowly we will start launching it…the t-shirts will be ready, there will be cutting boards, cookware, knives from F. Dick so people can purchase all this stuff online. There will also be some organic food that you can purchase online and shipped directly to your house. We are working with a lot of suppliers for this but it’s gonna be different, it’s gonna be fun. We’re working with a coffee company…and there’s salad dressing and spices. This became kind of like a business and we’re having fun with it but we’re taking baby steps.
So you love cooking Italian and Asian-inspired.
Yes. Doesn’t make a difference to me. Mexican food is my favorite. If I can move to Cabo San Lucas I’d be there tomorrow.
Are you looking to expand your repertoire? Are you looking to go into Greek?
We did a couple of dishes that are Greek but the recipes take way too long to make…We won’t cook recipes that take too long.We don’t put things in the fridge here. The fridge is just there to put the ingredients that I need to cook with. No leftovers in this house. Small portions. And that pushes you to eat something different every single day.
Is there someone in cooking or in your personal life that has been your biggest inspiration?
No. I used to watch Hell’s Kitchen [with Gordon Ramsay]. Used to love the reality aspect of it. Loved the way it was filmed. It was fun to watch. Other than that, did I look up to or watch other chefs…absolutely not. I’m not inspired by that. If you look at my dishes, I am not going to do art on a dish before plating it. It’s a waste of my time. I am not that chef. I don’t want to be part of that world.
Have you thought of writing your own cookbook?
We were looking at it but I don’t think people will want to buy a cookbook per se. Everything can be found online today. There may be a printed version of it but the website will kind of be it. I’m not doing this to make money. I’m doing this to have fun. And that’s extremely important to mention. This became a fun project so during this whole pandemic …we’re having a blast….it hasn’t been hard on us. We found a perfect niche for us to have fun every day in this house. And that’s what keeps our spirits up, our morale up. Nat hasn’t flown in 7 months as much as it hurts me that she wants to be up in the air again. We have to deal with what it is but we’re having fun..and in this house, there is not one minute that is dull. We don’t have downtime.
Basically my philosophy in life is you gotta do what you wanna do. It will come to you. No matter what, it will come to you. 2 years ago, I wanted to learn how to fly planes and that’s it I went out, got my license and learned how to fly planes.
If you don’t try, you will never know. I live that every single day. That is my ambition. It’s the way I raise my daughter. I instill that into her every day. The words NO, CAN’T, WON’T, DON’T do not work in this family. They’re not part of our vocabulary. No one will ever tell you: “You can’t do this” because the minute that happens, that person can no longer be in your life because that is negative. You don’t want to be associated or be around people who are negative because all they’re gonna do is put you down. You gotta have fun in life.
So you’re not afraid of failure.
Failure is my best friend. The more I fail, the more I know.
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