Santa Fe is a world-renowned destination for many things including art, culture, history, shopping and yes, food. But how does a small town with only 68,000 residents high in the mountains of Northern New Mexico match up to such culinary icons as New York, Santa Francisco, and Paris?
Incredible culinary talent seems to be the special ingredient when added to the tranquil, yet vibrant surroundings of the City Different. Bringing flavors from around the world and fusing them with indigenous ingredients, Santa Fe Chefs are making a mark on the international food scene through not only the stomach, but also the soul.
One such local Santa Fean cooking up magic is noted chef Martin Rios. For Martin, Santa Fe isn’t just his home; it’s his passion. From the moment I sat down with this James Beard Recognized Chef I could feel his enthusiasm. Martin is warm and inviting, yet surprisingly, a bit of an introvert whose cuisine is anything but shy. He’s known for dishes that blend contrasting flavors perfectly on the palate. Having dined in his signature restaurant many times, I was admittedly eager to put a face to the name and plate. But given the remarkable story of Chef Martin, I wanted to know more than ingredients and techniques; what I really wanted to know was his recipe for life.
Born in Guadalajara, Mexico Martin moved to Santa Fe just before middle school, and didn’t speak English until he was 14. Determination is what he possessed; knowledge and experience is what he desired. As a teenager, armed with his culinary “Bibles,” Martin immersed himself in all things cooking
Starting as a dishwasher at age 17, he quickly moved up the kitchen ranks from potato peeler to prep-cook and so on, steadily realizing his dreams. Then one day, as luck should have it, a line cook was out sick. Martin jumped to the line proving his skills…with that his career really started to sizzle.
Within a few years Martin Rios advanced to the coveted position of Executive Chef at the Eldorado Hotel, earning the restaurant AAA Four-Diamond and Mobil Four-Star ratings. Though very busy pursuing culinary greatness at the Eldorado, he also found the time to pursue and marry his wife and business partner, Jennifer.
From immigrant, to dishwasher, to award winning chef, Martin Rios embodies the true meaning of hard work. This determination and fervor for fine dining lead the already accomplished professional to leave his noted position at the Eldorado for a new challenge. “I already had become an executive chef. I was running a four star restaurant. I could run a banquet from ten people to two thousand. But, it came to a point where it was just a job, I wasn’t learning anymore,” states Martin. So, that’s why at age thirty Martin and Jennifer made the decision to move to Hyde Park, New York where he would hone his skills at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). The experience at CIA not only reaffirmed Martins’ beliefs in his talents, but also provided him the refinement to advance his career.
New York may have given him the confidence to peruse his dreams, but Santa Fe continues to give him the vision to see it through. Like so many creative souls that make Santa Fe home, Martin Rios is a true artist, and his medium is food. It was no surprise upon completion of the CIA program Martin and Jennifer returned home to their creative nest in Santa Fe, NM, and begin planning the launch of Restaurant Martin.
Santa Fe not only offers Martin the opportunity to work one-on-one with local purveyors and farmers to source the best ingredients, but also the space to cultivate his own garden and the quality of life to raise a family (including two daughters and four dogs).
Chef Martin Rios and Jennifer bring their love of food to the hearts and bellies of Santa Fe diners at Restaurant Martin. Housed in a charming old adobe on Paseo de Peralta Street, the restaurant encompasses a laid back vibe complete with intimate seating, an inviting patio, and organic garden. But don’t let the tranquil ambience of this unassuming restaurant fool you; the award winning cuisine of Chef Rios is anything but humble. Dishes like Cinnamon Glazed Quail and Butternut and Green Apple Bisque are sure to have you boasting.
Featuring local produce and organic meats combined with Southwestern and Asian flare, as well as French techniques, the menu at Restaurant Martin is so unique that Chef Rios earned the runner up position for the prestigious James Beard Award “Best Chef of the Southwest” in 2011. The accolades don’t stop there, Martin Rios has showcased his skills on Iron Chef America, is the only New Mexico Chef to have won the Robert Mondavi Culinary Award of Excellence, and has twice been named ‘Chef of the Year’ by the state of New Mexico.
When I asked how he enjoys all this success, his answer is, of course, modest. “When I look at what I have accomplished, with the help of my wife, I feel humble. Starting as an immigrant with very little, it was a hard road to achieve these things, but as long as I have the willingness and desire, I know there is more out there. We have accomplished a lot, but we are always looking for ways to improve,” words of wisdom from a great chef whose forte is always fresh and imaginative.
They say an artist communicates through their medium, so I of course couldn’t resist asking Martin to sum up in one word what he wants patrons of his restaurant to take away from their experience. He poignantly answers “Satisfaction,” as Jennifer lovingly adds “Passion.”
For a truly satisfying culinary adventure, make plans to experience the passionate and innovative cuisine of Chef Rios at the acclaimed Restaurant Martin.
Dishes not to miss:
Butternut and Green Apple Bisque: Poached Maine Lobster, Gingerbread-Coffee Toast Butternut-Hazelnut Toffee, Cranberries, Pumpkin Seed Oil
Cinnamon Glazed Boneless Quail: Toasted Farro, Marcona Almond Butter, Citrus Marmalade, Kabocha Squash
Maple Leaf Farm Duck Breast : Sweet Potato-Pine Nut Purée, White Wine Poached Pears Celery Root, Pepper-Cinnamon Duck Jus
Diver Sea Scallops : Butternut Squash, Tokyo Turnips, Leeks Potato-Goat Cheese Dumplings, Smoked Garlic-Shellfish Emulsion
Visit www.santafe.org to plan your recipe for adventure!