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7 Southwestern Chefs We Love

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Our corner of the country is home to some of the country’s most innovative chefs. These are a few of the people who make the food that keeps us happy
7 Southwestern Chefs We Love
Photo by Evan Sung.
Nephi Craig, The Summit Restaurant at Sunrise Park Resort in Whiteriver, Arizona

As a member of the White Mountain Apache and Navajo tribes, Craig grew up immersed in his culture — and food played a major role in that. When he ventured off to Scottsdale Culinary College in Arizona, there was hardly a mention of native foods, so he set out to change that. In 2000, he launched the Native American Culinary Association and went on to become the chef at The Summit Restaurant, where, if you dine at the Chef’s Table, you get to nosh on Craig’s interpretation of traditional Apache dishes. sunriseskiparkaz.com

7 Southwestern Chefs We Love
Photo by Ace Kvale.
Blake Spalding and Jen Castle, Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm in Boulder, Utah

You won’t find an ATM or even a stoplight in Boulder, Utah, but you will find a pioneering farm-to-table restaurant that serves some of the most delicious organic meals in America. The remoteness is what initially drew Blake Spalding and Jen Castle, the owners of Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm, to this town of just 200 people. Both women had been Grand Canyon river cooks. “We knew the power of wilderness, scenic beauty and a good meal,” Spalding says. When the women opened the restaurant in 1999 farm-to-table was still an anomaly in America. But whispers of insanely good blue corn pancakes with whipped cinnamon butter and Spicy Green Chile Juniper Lamb Posole prepared in middle-of-nowhere Utah started to bring the restaurant-farm into the spotlight. Even though the restaurant now attracts the attention of the food world, Spalding and Castle still run the place on the same principles they started with 16 years ago. >>Read more about Hell’s Backbone

7 Southwestern Chefs We Love
Photo by Douglas Merriam.
Rob Connoley, Curious Kumquat in Silver City, New Mexico

Deep in the New Mexican desert, a dusty four-hour drive from Albuquerque, Rob Connoley riffs on global dishes like Doro Wat, an Ethiopian chicken stew, and the Vietnamese noodle soup, pho. He forages for acorns that he turns into financiers and uses hydrocolloids to create caviar-sized balloons of flavors like elderflower and pomegranate. His restaurant, the Curious Kumquat, has put the tiny town of Silver City, New Mexico, on foodie bucket lists alongside destinations like San Sebastián, Copenhagen and Chicago. Connoley, a lanky blue-eyed man of 47, never set out to be a famous chef or even to own a restaurant. But when he moved to Silver City 12 years ago to take a job in nonprofit management, he refused to live in a food wasteland. “My partner, Tyler, and I started to ask locals what they thought the town needed,” recalls Connoley. The resounding consensus was good food, so the Curious Kumquat was born. >>Read more about the Curious Kumquat

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Bryce Gilmore, Barley Swine in Austin

You’d think that being included on Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs list five years ago would have been Gilmore’s peak. But the Austin born-and-bred chef continues to bring his A-game, and the awards and recognition continue to roll on in. But we don’t love him for his fame — it’s his food (pig skin noodles with hot sauce, almond and shrimp dumplings; smoked duck wing with egg yolk, porridge, spring onion and celery) that keeps us coming back. barleyswine.com

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Photo via Jambo Café’s Facebook page.
Ahmed Obo, Jambo Café in Santa Fe

There’s no shortage of good food in Santa Fe, but if you’re looking for something a little, well, different in The City Different, Obo’s Jambo Café should be on your list. A native of Kenya, Obo fuses traditional Kenyan dishes with Caribbean flavors for food that you likely haven’t had before. The low-key, vibrant setting has a “come as you are” vibe, and the food is the real star of the show here — think dishes like Kenyan-style beef kabobs served with pomegranate red onion sauce, Caribbean goat stew and east African coconut lentil stew. jambocafe.net

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Photo courtesy of Narrative Media.
Erin Wade, Vinaigrette and Modern General in Albuquerque and Santa Fe

Sometimes you just need a big salad. And thanks to Erin Wade, it’s a whole lot easier to get a really good, really big salad in New Mexico. As a farmer/chef/restaurateur, Wade is committed to offering healthy food that still feels satisfying. Right after college, Wade paid a visit to her family’s 10 acres in nearby Nambé, New Mexico — and never left. Today, she sources vegetables for her restaurants from her 3-acre operational farm there, which grows hundreds of pounds of produce per week. And because a salad is really only as good as it’s dressing, she’s also perfected the art of the vinaigrette — hence the namesake. >>Read more about Wade’s latest venture

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Photo by Jennifer Olson.
Steve Redzikowski, Oak at Fourteenth and Acorn in Boulder, Colorado

>>Try Chef Redzikowski’s Pork Shoulder with Farm Vegetables and Cilantro Jalapeño Vinaigrette

With a resume that includes stints at fine-dining establishments Le Cirque, Jean-Georges and the Little Nell, it’s no surprise that Redzikowski is a James Beard nominee this year. But in true Boulder fashion, his restaurants are far from stuffy — shared plates like crispy fried pickles and roasted bone marrow let the ingredients shine without being overly complicated. And Redzikowski is just as comfortable in a fine-dining kitchen as he is out in the field, as evidenced by his killer spread at a recent traveling pop-up feast, known as Outstanding in the Fieldoakatfourteenth.com

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