The Top 10 Chefs You Need To Know In Santa Fe, New Mexico
New York may be a culinary mecca, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of food talent. As such, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to highlight celebrity, notable, or otherwise up-and-coming chefs you should know about across the country.
Okay, okay, we’ll freely admit that we had New Mexico on our minds after a few too many
Breaking Bad marathons, but we’ll fast-forward through the obligatory “real cooks > meth cooks” joke, because we were highly impressed by the caliber of chefs we found in the Land of Enchantment. The capital of this culinary state, of course, is Santa Fe. The epicenter of the Southwest Cuisine movement, the city’s attracted chefs from around the country (and even the world) to offer up their own variations on the region’s cuisine. The results: one of the most competitive restaurant scenes we’ve seen in a small city yet.
1.Mark Miller, Coyote Cafe
Any discussion of Santa Fe cuisine must begin, rightfully, with
Mark Miller and the Coyote Cafe. Decades ago, he introduced New Mexico's native chiles to the world through his cuisine and turned Santa Fe into an official food destination. Though Miller is now retired and his Coyote Cafes are franchised nationwide, his influence not only remains present in the cuisine of the chefs who followed him, but also paved the way for other culinary movements to flourish.
[ Coyote Cafe]
2.Brian Knox, Aqua Santa
Take, for instance,
Brian Knox at Aqua Santa. He's a staunch advocate of the Slow Food movement, a worshipper of Chez Panisse, and a regional virtuoso in New American/Mediterranean cuisine, making everything from scratch (if he can.) He's actually one of many chefs who specifically moved to Santa Fe to break into the restaurant scene Miller fostered: "There are numerous incredible restaurants, and a great selection of really talented chefs," he said of the city to the . "On the other hand it’s really challenging because there are so many restaurants. There are too many seats in the market." Santa Fe Reporter
3.Eric DiStefano, Multiple Locations
Though he's the current chef at the Coyote Cafe,
Eric DiStefano's talent could not be restrained by simply maintaining Mark Miller's flagship. He not only updated the Southwest menu with Asian and French influences, he also opened a second restaurant, Geronimo, focusing on his own signature style. He's even expanded to Dallas recently, collaborating with Dallas restaurateurs for a restaurant and bar in Texas, and has enough of a name cachet to freak out foodies throughout the Southwest.
Geronimo, Coyote Cafe]
4.Martin Rios, Restaurant Martin
Funny story about Geronimo:
Martin Rios, a former Iron Chef America contestant and a mainstay of the Santa Fe dining scene, used to run the kitchen there before he abdicated it to DiStefano, citing the need to "look for [his] future." He soon found it in his self-named restaurant, a slightly more casual take on the high-end progressive American cuisine he'd been serving throughout his career, and quickly became showered in accolades (including, notably, a semifinalist nomination for the James Beard Best Chef Southwest Award in 2011.) Hooray for following your heart!
5.James Campbell Caruso, La Boca and Taberna La Boca
No city is complete without a tapas bar, and luckily Santa Fe has two run by a chef who actually cares about authentic Spanish flavor profiles. (
James Campbell Caruso also happens to be an acclaimed, experienced chef who's been nominated for a James Beard Award five times, but that's obviously tangential.)
[ La Boca]
6.Joseph Wrede, Tomme
Twelve years ago,
Joseph Wrede was named one of Food & Wine's Best New Chefs for his work in Taos at Joseph's Table. (We personally like him because his earliest food memory was "Snails and 7-Up." Winning.) Last year, however, he left his legendary restaurant to move to Santa Fe and take over the historic Palace Restaurant and Saloon, then moved to smaller but vibrant Tomme.
7.Charles Dale, Formerly of the Terra at the Encantado Resort
Back in Aspen in 1995,
Charles Dale was one of Food & Wine's Best New Chefs, thanks to years training in the world's best kitchens and close mentoring from Daniel Boulud and Jacques Pepin. Years later, he moved to Santa Fe when he was tapped to run the restaurant in the newly-opened Encantado Resort, and brought his modern-rustic style with him -- as well as his cool stories about the days of being a jetsetting chef in the 80's.
UPDATE: Sadly, Dale left the Terra in September ( this press release from the Four Seasons announcing his replacement confirms it), disappearing into the Santa Fe deserts, where we've lost track of him. Anyone know where he is? He sounds too cool to have disappear.
Terra at Encantado Resort]
8.Katharine Kagel, Cafe Pasqual's
One of the original chefs behind the early Santa Fe Boom in the 80's,
Katharine Kagel and her pan-Pacific culinary background somehow translated into the creation of the city's signature Mexican restaurants. Don't ask us how that mashup happened, but it works -- much like how her restaurant happens to be the hub of the city's food bank and an art museum. (And the food, obviously, is top-notch.)
[ Cafe Pasqual's]
9.Nelli Maltezos, Trattoria Nostrani
For a chef of one of New Mexico's best restaurants -- heck,
it made Gourmet's list back in 2006 -- Nelli Maltezos keeps a low profile. All we know is that she was one of Charlie Trotter's former assistant sous chefs, she became a partner of provocative restaurateur Eric Stapleman in Manhattan during the 90's, then moved with him to Santa Fe to open the award-winning Rocaicia, then Nostrani. And to be honest, we don't mind -- it allows her to focus on the cooking, and that's always a good thing.
10.Xavier Grenet, Ristra
A prime example of how Santa Fe's restaurant scene blends the Southwest with the rest of the world, Grenet's background allows him to cook a sort of elegant, French-inspired menu of regional cuisine. And it's a starred background, too: Originally from Paris, Grenet was the head chef of
Joel Robuchon's Jamin, which boasted three Michelin stars under his leadership. The fact that he's now in New Mexico, blowing people's minds every night with "one of the splashiest desserts in Santa Fe" only attests to how freakishly good the restaurant scene is, if it can attract this caliber of talent.