WHEN THE HERMITS PEAK/CALF CANYON FIRE erupted this spring, growing from a prescribed burn in the Santa Fe National Forest into the worst wildfire in New Mexico history, Sean Sinclair didn’t hesitate. With more than 15,000 evacuations, hundreds of homes in danger, and some 3,000 firefighters battling the blaze, the chef and owner of the Castañeda Hotel’s Bar Castañeda, in nearby Las Vegas, galvanized the restaurant crew to prepare free hot meals for first responders and evacuees.
At first, they thought they’d offer a buffet for three days. When more than 300 people showed up on the third day, Sinclair and his wife, Katey, reached out for more assistance. Helping hands pitched right in, raising $115,000 between a GoFundMe account and private donations. Bar Castañeda provided more than 10,000 meals over some 50 days, during the fire’s height.
“I exhausted myself entirely,” says Sinclair, a Tijeras native who’s cooked in revered restaurants, including the Michelin three-star Inn at Little Washington, in Washington, Virginia. (He’s also the chef and partner at Legal Tender Saloon & Eating House, in Lamy.) “I did as much every day as I could.”
Sinclair is quick to share credit with his wife, the Bar Castañeda team, and the community. “It wasn’t a thing that I did,” he says. “It’s a thing that we did.”
Almost every restaurant in town donated food and supplies and ran the buffet to give Sinclair and his crew a day off. If people couldn’t get to the hotel, volunteers took meals to them. “We were delivering to the airport, the fire stations, the water treatment plant, United World College, all over Las Vegas, and making runs out to the Glorieta Conference Center [where evacuees were temporarily housed],” says Sinclair.
His grandmother Dora Lorenzo inspired Sinclair’s joy of cooking. “I’d hang out in her kitchen and she’d let me carve the turkey and help cook enchiladas,” he says.
His commitment to community comes from his mom, Diana Lorenzo. “She always wants to help, always wants to fix things,” he says. “I’m the same way, especially when people need food. It’s not an acceptable thing to sit on the sidelines, not in situations like this.”
No one appreciated Sinclair’s food more than the first responders. “We saw how much Sean really appreciated what we were doing, and it just made us appreciate everything a little bit more, knowing there are people out there who care and support us,” says Daniel Atencio, fire captain with the City of Las Vegas Fire Department and fire chief with the San Miguel County Fire Department. “Every single day there was something new, and every meal was a comfort.”
Thankful evacuees tacked notes to the lobby walls. “There was one written on a napkin that had what looked like an ash thumbprint on it,” Sinclair says. “The handwriting was a little squiggly and hard to read, and this person really wanted us to know that they were grateful. The notes are truly treasures to me.”