THE COURSES GLEAMED: torch-charred salmon with black rice and a sunchoke salad; duck confit with glazed turnips in a bourbon reduction; Wagyu beef short ribs with a chorizo demi-glace and duck-fat-whipped root vegetables. In Santa Fe—also known as the City Different—this special dinner in March showed the startling range of New Mexico’s ambitious chefs. And me? I was just one of 200 hungry foodies gathered at the iconic Coyote Cafe, where the James Beard Foundation chose to hold one of its Taste America events.
The March dinner was one of the foundation’s nationwide stops celebrating the tenacity of local chefs throughout the pandemic and served as a prelude to the June announcements of the James Beard Award winners. The night’s stars were Coyote’s own executive chef, Dakota Weiss, and Martín Rios of Santa Fe’s Restaurant Martín and a nominee for one of this year’s awards.
“We were given complete creative freedom,” Rios says of the event. “I love dinners like this because you have the opportunity to learn from another chef, and it is so rare that we get to work together like this.”
The pair alternated courses, with Rios polishing off the evening by presenting an over-the-top chocolate-caramel crémeux with bourbon-citrus custard, an almond-honey financier, and a clementine-verbena granita. Each course was paired with wine or whiskey. But there was one ingredient they simply could not leave off the menu. “How could I not incorporate chiles into the dishes?” says Weiss, a Santa Fe High School graduate. “Not to mention I am fully addicted to both red and green.”
Weiss began her career at Coyote Cafe before helming the chef-driven Sweetfin Poke restaurants in Los Angeles and competing on the Bravo network’s Top Chef. She returned to Santa Fe this past fall, eager to take the reins at Coyote.
“I am more than humbled to be here again after all these years and bring some new life and ideas to both the restaurant and Santa Fe cuisine,” says Weiss, who appreciated the opportunity to collaborate with Rios. “He is a true culinary god! He has an affinity for Asian ingredients, so I knew we could really make a beautiful menu.”
Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, but raised in Santa Fe, Rios worked his way up the local food chain before opening Restaurant Martín in 2009. During the pandemic, he pivoted to offering build-a-bowl takeout meals that turned into a craze—and neatly fit into the James Beard Foundation’s Open for Good campaign to help independent restaurants survive the health crisis, rebuild better, and thrive in the long term.
In addition to Rios, New Mexico’s James Beard Awards semifinalists for Best Chef in the Southwest include Sazón’s Fernando Olea and Jambo Café’s Ahmed Obo, both in Santa Fe; as well as Bocadillos’s Marie Yniguez and La Guelaguetza’s Salazar brothers, both in Albuquerque. Nobutoshi “Nobu” Mizushima and Yuko Kawashiwo of Albuquerque’s Ihatov Bread and Coffee were nominated for Outstanding Baker. And Zacatlán Restaurant, in Santa Fe, earned a spot in the Best New Restaurant category.
The awards acknowledge excellence in an industry that is both competitive and supportive, a calling out of chefs and restaurants that raise the bar to new culinary heights. The foundation was conceived in 1986 and named for the prolific food writer, teacher, and cookbook author who’d become the father of American cooking (he passed in 1985). New Mexico soon began appearing on the list of nominees and winners, cementing our state as a culinary destination, with cuisine that ranges from the classic moles at La Guelaguetza to the black truffle gnocchi at Restaurant Martín.
“Our industry has been through so much over the past couple of years,” Rios says. “It is a wonder so many restaurants have survived. The foundation’s Open for Good campaign has offered Zoom meetings and presentations for industry professionals, ranging from Covid protocols to mental health workshops to just camaraderie. They were helpful to network and educate us through this period.”
For those of you who couldn’t be there, the chefs generously shared two of their recipes. You can also peruse their menu and the wine pairings at left. ¡Buen provecho!
Dakota Weiss was born in Los Angeles but spent her high school years in Santa Fe and went on to study international business at New Mexico State University, so she understands the nuances of green chile. She has cooked throughout the country and in China, which gives her a special appreciation for Asian ingredients, as demonstrated in this delicious appetizer featuring aburi, a flame-torched sushi.
Chef Martín Rios is known for multi-element desserts that keep his bakers busy incorporating sweet and tart, creamy and crunchy, and, in this case, citrus and chocolate on the same plate. Rios uses the financier, a delicate almond butter cake, and custard as garnishes in this next-level dessert, but you can freeform the recipe. Instead of making the financier, for example, you could use a fancy store-bought cookie. Rios served his with a clementine-verbena granita, but you might substitute lemon sorbet. Other garnish substitutions follow the recipe.
A MEMORABLE MEAL
On behalf of the James Beard Foundation, chefs Dakota Weiss and Martín Rios dreamed up this menu.
Course 1: Dakota Weiss
- Skuna Bay salmon aburi, Hatch green chile ponzu, forbidden rice, and sunchoke salad
- Wine: Paul Anheuser blanc de noir pinot noir Qualitatswein, Nahe 2019
Course 2, Martín Rios
- Pan-Seared Maple Leaf Farm duck breast/leg confit with koji turnips, Anjou pears, toasted grains, and Lapsang souchong infused with Rabbit Hole Heigold Kentucky Straight Bourbon reduction
- Wine: Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair Les Deux Terres Bourgogne 2016
Course 3: Dakota Weiss
- Wagyu beef short ribs, duck-fat-whipped root vegetables, snow pea and wild mushroom escabeche, and Iberico chorizo demi
- Wine: Biale Royal Punishers Petit Syrah, Napa Valley 2019
Course 4: Martín Rios
- Chocolate-caramel crémeux, bourbon-citrus custard, almond-honey financier, bourbon syrup, clementine-verbena granita
- Flight of Rabbit Hole whiskey