Following the trail of hyper-local seasonal ingredients
This week's blog post introduces a new series that will appear every so often in Gourmet Girl, devoted to an inside look at a day in the life of a Santa Fe chef.
Chef Colin Shane is standing on the two-acre farm just outside the kitchen of Arroyo Vino on the first Saturday of fall, breaking down a towering crop of crimson amaranth into ingredients for his acclaimed cuisine. He cooks the tiny grains the same way quinoa is prepared, and boils the bright purple leaves into glazes and stews or wraps them around Tesuque Pueblo corn masa for a tamale-like roulade served with venison, a new seasonal special Puffed amaranth joins blackberries and roasted peaches in his Sweet Corn Semifreddo, featured on the current Chef's Tasting Menu.
Meanwhile, locals are lining up at the weekly on-site farmer's market to purchase micro-greens, tomatoes, turnips, radishes, butternut and acorn squash, all freshly plucked from the farm just a few feet away. Some produce, such as Albino cucumbers, pears and raspberries, are from Tesuque Pueblo Farms just down the road. The intoxicating scent of strawberries perfumes the air, until Shane's fresh out-of-the-oven pastries arrive, with the aroma of zucchini walnut muffins, sticky buns, and the best coffee cake I've ever had. This farm, The Rooted Leaf, is run by Shane's fiancée Lauren Kendall, and supplies Arroyo Vino's kitchen with hyper-local seasonal ingredients. It's a symbiotic relationship all the way around, and Shane is grateful to be part of it.
“What we do at Arroyo Vino is incredibly artisanal,” he says. “Everything is handcrafted. We're keeping a focus on what's available in the season and using what's available to us. The farm allows us to have these unique items that no one else has, that you can't buy in stores or even at other farmer's markets, and that truly can make a statement on their own, without us doing a whole lot to them. Not only is this farm on site at the restaurant but my fiancée is the one who tends to everything. She's out there planting, harvesting and putting as much work into the farm as I do in the kitchen. And I can explain to the servers and the guests that I literally was there when we purchased the seed, put it in the ground and watched it come out and ripen, and now this is what we've done with it. The only thing I can compare this to is a cheesemaker who raises his own sheep, makes his own cheese and then gets to cook with it.”
And what spectacular cooking Shane does with his seasonal ingredients. This semifinalist for the 2017 James Beard Rising Star Chef award is an artist in the kitchen, using violas, sunflowers, chamomile, pea tendrils and other ingredients the way a painter uses a palette of colors. His tasting menu also features Ice Lettuce Gazpacho with smoked oysters, green strawberries, coriander and purslane, which most likely grows wild in your garden after this year's summer rains. The Garden Sunflowers dish includes foraged matsutake mushrooms, Chinese barley, sunflower petal emulsion and sunflower heart barigoule.
Arroyo Vino's current dinner menu also features the farm's seasonal ingredients. Small plates such as ratatouille are made with with eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, roasted red peppers, cherry tomato, fennel and garden herbs. First course offerings include Sunchoke & Pears with radicchio, endive, spicy garden greens, Valdeón queso azul, hazelnuts and pomegranate. The Late Summer Garden Stir-Fry entrée features Thai red curry, lotus root, smoked cherry tomatoes, kaffir lime, jasmine rice and cashews. Cheese plates and desserts often feature honey from Kendall's top-bar beehives—single-story frameless hives with combs hanging from removable bars, a beekeeping practice that originated in West Africa. Even the restaurant's flower arrangements are created by Kendall with blooms from the farm.
Shane describes his cuisine as “a more socially conscious approach to cooking that's still elegant and refined but giving the same attention to a carrot as you would to a scallop or steak. There's still an obligation to be creative and think outside the box.”
Before becoming a chef, Shane—who was born in Santa Fe—expressed his creativity as a musician, playing guitar and singing with the punk-rock band Spanish Gamble. In between international tours, he worked as a line cook at Mildred’s Big City Food in Gainesville, Florida. In 2012, he came back to New Mexico and worked for lauded chef Martín Rios of Restaurant Martín. He joined Arroyo Vino as sous chef in 2013, shortly after the restaurant opened. A year later, he became chef, distinguishing himself with innovation in the kitchen, deftly using every portion of his produce from the root to the leaves and petals.
He and Kendall expand their knowledge of working with food by traveling to places such as Copenhagen's Amass, where Shane apprenticed with Matthew Orlando—former head chef of the revered Noma—and Kendall apprenticed in the restaurant's urban garden. Shane also apprenticed at Quince, the three-star Michelin restaurant in San Francisco. These travels not only keep Shane in touch with what's happening in the restaurant world, they keep him on his toes in the kitchen.
“I want to feel challenged and to challenge my employees in the kitchen and, to a certain extent, the guests, who may never have tasted an ingredient like sunflowers,” he says. “We have a variety of customers who come to Arroyo Vino—some for the wine, some for the creative food and some for the whole package.What we're going for here is to create a curated experience, a higher experience than you would have somewhere else in Santa Fe. We're trying to reach a standard of restaurants that Lauren, myself and the other staff at Arroyo Vino have dined at and been inspired by.”
Those restaurants include two epicurean meccas—Rene Redzepi's Noma in Copenhagen and Dan Barber's Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y. Both have played a big role in shaping Shane's approach to food. “Once I sort of got over my initial fascination with modern fine-dining cuisine, I wanted depth and a story to the plate and that comes more from the artistic side of the craft” he says.
Shane's cuisine at Arroyo Vino has evolved greatly over the last three years. "“At first, I was so used to the standard restaurant scenario of ordering ingredients in from wherever we wanted,” he says “In this day and age we can get ingredients shipped to us overnight from anywhere in the world. But then, as the garden grew and we based our cuisine more and more around its produce, we switched to the mindset of putting ourselves in a kind of literal box by using what's coming in from the farm first and foremost and letting the daily harvest dictate the menu to us. This is not a new concept. The chefs at Chez Panisse were inspired by French chefs who cooked this way and helped pioneer this style of cuisine of taking classic dishes, recipes and cooking styles and replacing them with what's fresh and local to them.
“Chefs all over the world continue to build on and refine that approach to food,” Shane continues. “As time has gone on, being put in that figurative box turned from a challenge into something that is now a blessing. There's a great benefit to being able to pluck things at the right size and shape and ripeness that you want. We have our own micro-system that we roll with—it's in season when it's ripe on the vine, even if that means heirloom tomatoes in October. You can't demand a plant to grow or a fruit to ripen. It takes a lot of patience, flexibility and thinking on your feet to cook like we do. We try to follow the trail of the ingredients and see where it takes us. I'd it call instinctual cooking. After the past few seasons of doing this, I don't think I could go back to the old way we used to operate.”
Once you've tasted Shane's food at Arroyo Vino, you can't help but agree. His unique combination of flavors highlight ingredients grown just outside the restaurant's dining room. You can't get much fresher than that. And each dish is so innovatively delicious, you'll find yourself coming back for more.