Nicolas “Nico” Sanchez
Of the 200-plus recipes for which Executive Chef Nicolas “Nico” Sanchez has become regionally renowned at Stockton (Calif.) Country Club, no kitchen concoction can match his recipe for adaptation, passion and perseverance in the United States.
Sanchez, 33, is a native of El Salvador, the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America. On the advice of his parents, Sanchez fled to the U.S. at age 14 with his brother to escape a rebel uprising and political unrest that threatened his father’s large farm and the livelihood of his family. When he came to the U.S., Sanchez’s language was Spanish and his sporting passion was rooted in soccer. Today, he speaks fluent English, enjoys golf nearly as much as soccer, and has become a highly respected figure in the Stockton community.
The Salvadoran organizes the annual Ultimate Chef’s Challenge to raise funds for Charterhouse, a non-profit organization that assists families in registering for health care, helps them in education and job training, and helps community members find careers. He also raises funds for the prevention of child abuse, and coaches 12- to 14-year-olds in a soccer league while supporting his son, 13-year-old Steve Anthony, in baseball, golf and soccer. Oh, and Sanchez can really cook, passionately elevating food preparation to equal parts art and science at Stockton.
“Growing up, my parents and grandma used to cook for a lot of people. They would cook for all the employees at my father’s farm and for everyone in the family, so cooking has always been in my blood,” relates Sanchez. “When my father sent me and my brother to the United States for a better life, my older brother (Juan Sanchez) began working at a country club and became involved with golf. Eventually, that’s how I met a lot of golfers, good chefs and club general managers.”
Sanchez, who attended culinary college in Oakland, began working as a line chef at Ruby Hill Golf Club in Pleasanton, Calif., 45 miles east of San Francisco. Six years ago, he moved to Stockton Golf & Country Club, initially as an assistant chef. When the executive chef and his chief chef left to start their own business, Sanchez was prepared for the multiple challenges associated with serving 600 club members and a 44,000-square-foot clubhouse while preparing food for a smorgasbord of club and community functions.
“There isn’t a week that goes by that we don’t have one or more major banquets, community dinners, meetings, weddings, or special member events, so Nico stays very busy and faces many different challenges,” explains Bob Young, PGA general manager at Stockton Country Club. “I admire Nico’s passion for cooking and his work ethic. Since the day he stepped up as the club’s executive chef, he has met every challenge with enthusiasm and passion.
“Basically, he runs the kitchen. And at this club, that is very important. We do $2 million per year in food and beverage business.” As a longtime PGA member and past president of the Northern California PGA Section, Young knows how important a reliable, creative executive chef is to the success of any large, private facility. “The thing I really admire about Nico is he works well with our food and beverage manager (Ron Boehm), and he comes out of the kitchen to talk to our members,” continues Young. “He has a wonderful personality and contagious smile. He has become a highly respected part of club operations and of the community.”
Sanchez — who maintains an 18 handicap but admits “I don’t have enough time to play as much golf as I would like” — has cooked for Jack Nicklaus, former Vice President Dick Cheney, the Stockton Chamber of Commerce, the Northern California PGA Section board and members, and for virtually every community and charity organization in the Stockton area. But, day in and day out, he says there is nothing more gratifying than cooking for the members at Stockton Country Club. “I have learned to never say ‘no’ to our members and guests,” says Sanchez, who occasionally prepares pupusas (stuffed masa flatbread filled with fried pork, mozzarella and jack cheese and spices) for club members, a specialty in El Salvador. “I have picked up some very good menu ideas by talking to the club members, and I like to find recipes for whatever type of entrée they may like to try.
“We change our menu every three months, but some things are always on there. I like to try new recipes and new dishes, and the members seem to appreciate that variety, too.”
Source: PGA Magazine