In last week's Chef Chat, Café Pasqual's chef Katharine Kagel mentioned Aqua Santa as one of her favorite restaurants in Santa Fe. So this week, we decided to ask Aqua Santa chef Brian Knox to open up about his penchant for roast meats, his alter ego as a rancher and his strategy for dealing with stress.---
Originally from Minneapolis, Minn., Knox moved to Santa Fe 25 years ago specifically to break into the restaurant scene. While he credits numerous contemporaries, such as
co-chef David Tanis, as inspiration for his own craft, Knox says he owes much of his love for cooking to his mother.
His restaurant, Aqua Santa, is a one room adobe number with an open kitchen. When he's not stepping out from behind the line to greet guests, Knox is putting his signature touch on simple, seasonal dishes with a tendency toward clean flavors and Mediterranean influences.
A die-hard advocate of the slow food movement, Knox likes to make everything from scratch if he can help it.
SFR: In one word, how would you describe the Santa Fe food scene?
BK: Vibrant. There are numerous incredible restaurants, and a great selection of really talented chefs. On the other hand it's really challenging because there are so many restaurants. There are too many seats in the market.
What's the weirdest thing in your refrigerator at home?
Roasted goat that I did last week. I smoked and braised a baby kid that I purchased locally through SunStar Herbs.
Do you have an aversion to any particular foods?
I eat everything. There's nothing I would ever turn down. I like to think you operate like Buddha. He was a vegetarian, but he would never turn down an offering of food.
What's the coolest thing you've ever made?
This summer, for a friend's birthday party, I roasted a whole 120 pound lamb on the open fire outside. I was up at six in the morning to make the fire, and pulled the lamb out at three in the afternoon. I seasoned it with this rub I'm really into lately: cinnamon, cocoa, ginger, cumin, a little bit of curry, salt, pepper and a little bit of chile.
What's the worst thing someone can do in your kitchen?
The worst thing they can do is put out a plate of food to be served that is not the best example of the dish. We're always constantly asking ourselves if this is the best thing we've ever tasted. Also, no negativity. If there's poison in the kitchen, there's poison in the food. Oh, and overcooking food. Then you've killed the animal twice.
Have you ever totally freaked out and/or lost your temper during service?
Absolutely. I do my best to contain and regroup, and work through it. It really requires just an incredible amount of breathing. In the end I'm the customers' advocate. I'm the last line of defense when something goes out of the kitchen. When standards aren't met or when something's sloppy, which causes me to become unhinged, it's my responsibility to deal with it. I don't yell, but everyone understands the look and the attitude.
What takes the edge off after service?
Probably the ride home more than anything else, just that decompression. I don't have any substance or tool. For chefs, especially in my case where we have an open kitchen, there's so much to think about that it consumes me for four to five hours. So mainly I've just got to stop the noise, the banging and the clanging.
What's your death row meal?
A green chile cheeseburger. With fries, a triple chocolate milk shake and a bottle of Domaine Tempier Bandol.
What would you be doing if you weren't a chef?
I'd be a rancher, a cowboy. I ride horses. That's my three to four day a week thing. I'd raise cows, chickens, goats—the menagerie.
What's your second favorite restaurant in Santa Fe?
Café Pasqual's. There's no one more dedicated in a quiet way to sustainable food, agriculture and systems.
451 W Alameda St.