An Interview with Jose “Kiko” Rodriguez, izanami executive chef
Edible recognizes this group of amazing individuals and organizations for their work to create healthy, sustainable food systems in New Mexico. We determine these awards through reader nominations and a reader poll. The local food movement is a grassroots effort that often involves late nights, backbreaking work, dirty fingernails, and being a generally good sport. In an effort to showcase these individuals, organizations, and businesses for their work to build a stronger local economy and a robust local food system, each issue this year spotlights several of the winners with interviews about the work they do.
Izanami is an izakaya (a type of of informal Japanese gastropub) serving upscale Japanese bar food. The restaurant specializes in small plates meant for sharing; creatively prepared, locally sourced meat and produce with an emphasis on seasonality; and unique libations. Don’t expect the usual. There is no sushi (Santa Fe is a thousand miles from the ocean), no soggy tempura, and definitely none of the sickly sweet hot sake that has given sake a bad rap. Instead, izanami boasts the best selection of chilled artisanal sake to be found between the coasts; green teas from Shizuoka; locally roasted coffee drinks; ten different Japanese craft beers; and house-made spritzers.
What do you love most about local food?
The diversity within the culture of food here in New Mexico is very inspiring, but what I like most about local food is supporting the farmers.
Do you have a favorite menu item and why?
No. Every item I create is unique and special in its own right.
What are some of your favorite places to eat and why?
I really respect a lot of the chefs here in Santa Fe, so I can’t say I have a favorite spot. But because I have kids, when I go out, the place needs to be family friendly.
What’s your favorite way to spend a day off?
I love to cook for friends and family—grilling in the backyard in the summer most especially. I love taking my family to explore the state and those surrounding New Mexico.
What’s the backstory, and what was the moment that brought you to your current work?
I started out as a dishwasher at the Inn of the Anasazi and worked and trained for the last twelve years to get to where I am today. I have much gratitude for the chefs that inspired and believed in me.
If you could have lunch with anyone, who would it be, where would you eat, and what would you ask them?
I would have lunch with Martin Rios [of Restaurant Martin] at izanami. I’d like to ask him “What do you think about my food?” because he was the first chef that gave me the opportunity to cook.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a chef?
I’d be a politician in my hometown (Veracruz, Mexico).
What are most people surprised to learn about you?
That I am only thirty.
What makes you laugh?
I find joy and fun in what I do, and those around me.
What gets you fired up?
When people mix up ingredients and turn something that would have been extraordinary into a tasteless mess.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with edible readers?
I invite them to come up for one of our special dinners or to try the omakase-style chef’s tasting menu, offered nightly. So many changes have taken place just in the last year that those who have tried izanami under our previous chefs will enjoy the experience as if they had never been before.