"Amavi is closed until further notice," Megan Tucker, the restaurant's petite, auburn-haired former executive chef, announces upon sitting down. We're in a corner of the former Corazón space, now Swiss Bakery Pastries & Bistro, and I've just asked her about the future of the intimate, delectable Amavi—since 2007, a Santa Fe staple for locally sourced, reasonably priced fine dining.
"We just weren't busy enough. It's the same story with everyone," Tucker shrugs. "We can't help the fact that tourism was way down due to the fires. That and the economy—it's just like, what are you going to do?"
So if the Las Conchas wildfire, the largest in New Mexico's history (and not the only fire to threaten Santa Fe in 2011), hadn't happened, would Amavi still be in business?
"Potentially, yeah," she says.
Sad face.
"Everyone got hurt by that in one way or another," Tucker says evenly. Despite having lost her job as executive chef, she quickly shifts the focus to the restaurant's lower-paid employees—the servers and line cooks who will have to compete for already scarce restaurant jobs.
"Those are the people I'm worried about," Tucker says. "And ultimately, those are the people that wind up leaving and moving someplace else."
This is the bigger concern, the one I've been needling city council candidates and friends and colleagues about with annoying regularity: What are we doing to ensure a stable future for Santa Fe? How will we keep young people here? What's the economic end game?
Tucker is 30—a talented chef whom Santa Fe, if it knew what was good for it, would do well to keep around. She moved here in 2006, after graduating with honors from the Culinary Institute of America, and helped former Amavi executive chef David Sellers open the restaurant in 2007. After Sellers left, Tucker became executive chef. At Amavi, she spearheaded a commitment to locally sourced ingredients. She was known for accommodating diet quirks with style and grace—a rarity among head chefs. (On my last visit to Amavi, in December, our server suggested that my vegetarian mother try a custom-made dish, promising that Tucker would in fact enjoy
making up something new on the fly.)
But "Santa Fe has its favorites," Tucker points out, and young restaurants often have trouble establishing themselves. As do young people: Tucker moved here with two culinary school classmates; both returned to the East Coast within 18 months because, she says, "There weren't enough young people, and there wasn't enough nightlife." They weren't even from big cities, she notes; "There's something missing here for people our age."
This is a serious concern, and one made all the more poignant by our environs—once a lively, inviting nightclub; now an admittedly lovely, but daytime-only, bakery.
Tucker has ideas for making Santa Fe better—an activity bar, Dave & Busters-style, "where there's more to do than just drink"; "a real nightclub"; laws that make it less of a DWI-related risk to run a venue. Given a blank check, she'd open a cooking school dedicated toward helping locals eat better. She's also recasting her own career, via freelance catering and a blog dedicated to helping people cook with local, seasonal produce (chefmegan
So I ask Tucker the big question, the one I ask everyone: Will she stay in Santa Fe?
"I love it here," she says emphatically. "I don't want to [leave], but ultimately, at some point, I need to be working again. I have been enjoying doing catering; I have I maybe six or so gigs in the next three months…which is nice, but that's not really enough income." She pauses. "So we'll see."