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Chef Martin Rios and his wife Jennifer.
Joy Godfrey

Martín Rios Doesn’t Like Kale

But he is literally one of the region’s best chefs

May 17, 2017, 12:00 am

On May 1, the James Beard Foundation met in Chicago to hand out its annual awards. Hosted by actor and Albuquerque native Jesse Tyler Ferguson (of Modern Family), the awards are to American food what the Oscars are to film. That night, sitting in the audience at the Lyric Opera, was Santa Fe’s own Martin Rios of Restaurant Martín (526 Galisteo St., 820-0919). He didn’t take home the prize, but this is his seventh nomination for the foundation’s Best Chef award for the Southwest region, and second time as a finalist. Just after it opened, Restaurant Martín itself was also nominated as Best New Restaurant. The New American fine dining mainstay is celebrating its eighth year. In honor of these achievements, I decided to check in and see what it takes to be a nationally recognized chef from the City Different.

SFR: How difficult is it to establish and maintain a successful restaurant in Santa Fe?
Chef Rios:
Very! It takes a tremendous amount of dedication, understanding customers’ needs, comprehension of this seasonal market and working nonstop.

You have been nominated for several JBF awards. What do you think you do that sets you apart from other chefs in the region?
Since we opened Restaurant Martín in 2009, we have had eight James Beard nominations. The first was for Best New Restaurant in the US and the next seven have been for the Best Chef of the Southwest. What sets me apart is how much I focus on growing and trying to be better each day than the day before. I never rest on my laurels and I never feel like my work is done. Every day I spend hours researching my field and improving myself and my restaurant.

Being from Santa Fe, what obligations do you feel you have to this region’s culture and heritage in your cooking?
The only obligations with my food are to classic techniques at the core of my cuisine. I enjoy using native ingredients, but not in classical ways, per se. For example, I recently had blue corn crepes as part of my venison appetizer. I feel if you know the basics of cooking, you can go anywhere with your cuisine.

You sponsor the Horse Shelter and give back in many other ways to the community. What is the importance of giving back?
The importance of giving back is to be good citizens and contributing members of our community. These are important traits to us in raising our children and we can’t imagine not living this way. The Horse Shelter was started by my wife’s mother, and when she passed away prematurely, Jennifer became president of the board. Restaurant Martín donates a tremendous amount to the shelter and is very pleased to be partnered with such a worthwhile organization. Check out the upcoming fundraiser on Sunday May 21—we will be doing the luncheon for with our friends from The Ranch House. Tickets are available at

What trends and themes do you see happening that excite you in cuisine today?
The simplification of dishes. Some chefs are using fewer ingredients in every plate they design, kind of a back-to-basics approach. I find this exciting because it is actually more challenging to make an impressive dish with fewer ingredients than with many ingredients.

Are there ingredients you won’t work with? Flavors you don’t like but others do?
I don’t work with foie gras or veal anymore. I have tried to incorporate an ethical approach to my ingredient selection into my menu. I don’t like kale—the flavor or the texture—so you won’t find it on my menus despite its current popularity.

Being a chef has become a high-profile occupation. What do you make of celebrity chefs? Does it make the industry harder to navigate? Change customer expectations?
I think the trend of celebrity chefs has been good for the culinary field because it has raised the level of respect for the profession and the field in general. I don’t think it has made the industry harder to navigate, but it has put a lot of people in the field who are looking for instant fame and don’t really know how to work as hard as you have to [in order] to be successful.

It has changed customer expectations. People think of chefs as celebrities and have raised the bar on what they expect to receive each time they dine in a chef-driven restaurant.

Culinary arts seem to get ignored in education. Why do you think this is?
I’ve been a chef with the local Cooking with Kids program since it began, so I do see culinary arts being introduced at the lower grade level. I do, however, think that for young children, cooking at home is a great introduction, but school should be focused on learning and education. Career options can be introduced later.

What are you passionate about outside of the kitchen? Does this bring anything to your plates?
I’m passionate about gardening and growing edibles. Obviously the edibles bring something to my plates as I use them in almost every dish I create.

What is your guilty-pleasure food?
Nachos, tortilla chips and salsa, and butter pecan ice cream (not all together!).

Restaurant Martín
Wednesday-Friday lunch 11:30 am-2 pm
Wednesday-Sunday dinner 5:30 pm-close
Sunday brunch 11:30am-2 pm


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