The restaurant scene in Albuquerque, N.M., long known for savory green chiles and superb chile rellenos, has taken on an even more local flair with several farm-to-fork establishments tilling new ground for regional cuisine.
Newer eateries, including the nearly year-old Farm & Table restaurant and La Merienda at the Los Poblanos Inn and Cultural Center, are growing some of their own products, as well as tapping into local producers. Los Poblanos calls it Rio Grande Valley cuisine, adopting the name of the upper reaches of that river.
“It’s a movement that is growing right now,” said Cherie Austin, owner of Farm & Table restaurant in Albuquerque. “We are situated on a 10-acre working farm. An acre and a half is dedicated to produce, and it yields about a third of what we use in total for the restaurant. We also work with a lot of farmers, growers, cheese makers and dairies in our area.”
Restaurants in New Mexico’s largest city are adopting the trend that has been seen nationally for several years. The National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot in 2013” forecast, released in December, found that chefs ranked locally sourced meats as No. 1 and local produce as No. 2 in their list of 20 top culinary trends.
“It’s not a new concept,” Austin said. “They’ve been doing this in California since the ’70s, with Chez Panisse. But right now there is an awakening, there’s a real conscientiousness among people who want to know where their food is coming from.”
She cited concerns such as genetically modified foods, pesticides and herbicides that led Austin to open Farm & Table in March 2012 and to tap into the farmland. Current best-sellers onJaye Wilkinson’s Farm & Table menu include a local pork belly small plate and a local lamb entrée, Austin said.
“It’s a desert out here, so it gets really cold in the winter and pretty warm in the summer,” Austin said. “But we do have more than 300 days of sunshine, which makes the conditions really right for greenhouse growing.” The other eight acres of the farm are preserved for alfalfa and grassland, she said, “which provides a great view for guests.”
Local guests have heartily embraced the concept. “They are really loving the idea that the food is grown nearby,” Austin said. “People are flocking to growers’ markets in cities all over.”
Also tapping into New Mexico’s long history of agriculture are the catering and restaurant options at Los Poblanos Inn and Cultural Center in Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, N.M.
“We call our cuisine Rio Grande River Valley cuisine,” said Matthew Rembe, executive director of the Inn. “That pretty much encompasses what grows well in the valley.”
The food at Los Poblanos event center and restaurant reflects the region’s railroad past, which brought influences like Italian, Middle Eastern, Native American, Spanish and Mexican foods. But, “it’s really the produce and the seasons that are driving the menus,” Rembe said.
Carrie Pearse, marketing director for Los Poblanos, said the locals are becoming as aware of the inn’s restaurant, La Merienda, overseen by chef Jonathan Perno, as they are of its catering options. She said the inn recently added a wine director, Adrian Cabral, and pastry chef, Sarah Ciccotello, to the dining staff.
La Merienda’s dinner menu includes such popular options as pappardelle with house-pickled tomatoes in cream, shelling bean ragu, wilted spinach, fresh basil from the greenhouse and grated pecorino for $14, and grass-fed beef short ribs with creamy polenta, roasted mirepoix and red-wine jus for $24.
To supply its foodservice options Los Poblanos uses its own organic farm, which is on a historic estate with buildings designed by noted New Mexico architect John Gaw Meem as well as, its own eggs and honey, as well as produce from elsewhere in the area, like chickpeas.
Rembe said the Rio Grande Valley cuisine name gives the culinary options a different platform, but, “to us, it’s New Mexican food, because it’s all grown on site.”