By NICHOLAS TRUJILLO
Growing up, Chef Mario Diaz De Sandy Jr. wanted to be an actor. He didn’t find his current passion for cooking until later.
He now pursues both passions. The certified executive chef has his own cooking show.
“Originally I went to school for acting, back in the day, like early ‘80s,” De Sandy said.
De Sandy, widely known as Chef Mario, stars in a cooking segment on Telemax network, which is broadcast all over Mexico. De Sandy cook dishes for a program that airs on Saturdays at 9 a.m.
“I’ve had a few people stop me at Food City and stuff like that,” he said. “I’m not really looking for fame and fortune, but it feels good to be recognized on TV as a chef.”
De Sandy’s native language is Spanish, but family members living in Mexico have called after seeing the show to give him points on how to speak Spanish in a more proper way.
“When you grow up on this side of town, you learn Spanglish and you learn words from the street,” De Sandy said. “I had six or seven words that I had to Google translate and practice saying.
One such word was “alcachofa,” which is the Spanish word for artichoke.
De Sandy films the TV segments at the Pima Community College Desert Vista Campus, where he works as a culinary instructor.
It usually takes De Sandy more than 45 minutes to demonstrate and cook the featured dish. After editing, those 45 minutes become a six- or seven-minute video.
Before filming his own show, De Sandy played an extra in 14 Tucson movies. He worked as a chef for one of the film crews, feeding them breakfast each morning.
At one point De Sandy spent six months in the Washington Mountains working as an assistant producer and then on the special effects team.
“It was a great experience for me,” he said.
In addition to his acting pursuits, De Sandy recently completed a milestone in his cooking career by completing all requirements to become a certified executive chef
There are four major keys to becoming certified.
The first step is completing classes that count as education-work experience.
“I just received a bachelor’s degree from Northern Arizona University and I took a bunch of classes at Pima, and when you bundle them all together, I qualify for that section,” De Sandy said.
Secondly, he obtained letters from previous employers that show he has leadership skills.
“I had to get letters stating that I actually supervised more than four employees,” De Sandy said.
During past work at University Medical Center, he supervised 110 employees.
Next came a cooking exam with multiple parts.
“You have to do an appetizer, a main entree and a salad,” De Sandy said. “It’s very expensive because you have to practice, so you have to buy food for practice. Then you have to buy food for the actual exam.”
Applicants must incorporate specific items and techniques into their creations.
De Sandy was required to include lobster, salmon, chicken and many other ingredients. He also had to demonstrate designated knife cuts such as julienne, paysanne and batonnet.
He spent 12 hours driving to the Phoenix location, setting up, taking the three-hour exam and cleaning up.
“You always want to leave the kitchen in a better condition than you found it,” he said.
Once he had the education, the letter and the practical exam out of the way, he had to complete a 100-question written exam in Nogales about kitchen management, sanitation and other topics.
De Sandy was one point short on his first try. “Unfortunately the passing grade was 300 and I got a 299,” he said.
He blamed a combination of not keeping track of time and not studying, and promised himself he would take the test again and ace it.
The results were better when he re-took the test 10 months later.
“I scored a 340,” he said.