photos by Jason Stilgebouer
There is an important new player at the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado! Kai Autenrieth, known affectionately as “Chef Kai” to his staff, is the new Executive Chef overseeing all food and beverage operations at the property. Autenrieth is also responsible for the complete overhaul of the Terra Restaurant’s menus.
Originally from Germany, Autenrieth transitioned to Santa Fe from a position at the Four Seasons Resort Nevis in the West Indies, but that’s only part of his story. His culinary resume would be the envy of any travel junkie, with previous stints in Australia, Saint Lucia, Tanzania, Bermuda, and the United Kingdom. This job is the first to bring Autenrieth to the United States.
Before Autenrieth began working on the resort’s new menu, he was on a quest to become an expert in the Northern New Mexican food culture. He spent months researching the local cuisine, visiting farmers markets, talking with local suppliers, eating at area restaurants, and collaborating with the Four Seasons Resort staff.
Autenrieth describes his culinary style as “diverse” and enjoys mixing Indian, Asian, and Caribbean flavors in his cooking. His new dinner menu features many eclectic dishes combining these influences with New Mexican cuisine, such as a jerk spiced prime rib with a Hatch chile steak sauce (only offered on Friday and Saturday evenings).
Also on the new menu is a delicate surf and turf carpaccio, made with octopus and beef tenderloin, combining Autenrieth’s island experiences and love of seafood. His favorite additions include a vibrantly colored and brightly seasoned farro and winter vegetable entrée and a bone-in beef short rib served with a green chile polenta.
Autenrieth says, “As far as New Mexican food, I play a lot with chiles on the menus…especially for breakfast. You see pretty much every dish has some kind of chile influence…everything has a little bit in it from the region but every dish is still very unique in its own way.”
Peter Falke, Director of Sales and Marketing, explained that the resort’s menus are seasonal, based largely on “…what is inspiring [Autenrieth], what we’re growing in the [resort] garden, what he’s seeing down at the farmers market…”
After visiting a traditional Pueblo feast day and tasting fry bread for the first time, Autenrieth was inspired to begin adding Native American influences to the Terra Restaurant’s upcoming lineup. He hopes to get cooking lessons from his Native American colleagues, looking to utilize the ingredients and techniques specific to their food culture.
For those seeking a truly special culinary adventure, the Resort currently offers the “Chef’s Table,” allowing guests a hands-on cooking and dining experience with Autenrieth at the helm in his kitchen. In the warmer months, the Chef’s Garden Table will offer the chance to eat outside and explore the resort’s garden. The Chef’s Garden Table, notes Falke, allows guests “…the ability to be in the garden, spend time with Chef, literally work with him picking out some of the ingredients that you’re going to be utilizing in your meal that evening.”
Visitors to the Resort can look forward to even more surprises as Autenrieth, always curious and passionate about food, continues to find new avenues of inspiration in his adopted home.