Restaurant, Greater New Mexico
An Interview with Sean Sinclair, Executive Chef and Proprietor
Photos by Stephanie Cameron
The Bar Castañeda team from left to right, bottom row up: Katey Sinclair, River Sinclair,
Sean Sinclair, Andres Apodaca, Justin Woodlee, Monique Vigil, Sam Coca, Matt LaVigne,
Jackson Revell, Chad Brown, Cisco Mendoza, Josh Loseke.
Sean Sinclair is the executive chef and proprietor at Bar Castañeda and Kin at Castañeda. Born and raised in Tijeras, New Mexico, he has great pride in the Land of Enchantment. Right out of high school, Sinclair moved to Portland, Oregon, to attend culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu. After several years working in some of the finest kitchens in PDX, Sinclair returned to New Mexico and took the helm at Albuquerque’s Farm & Table. Under his leadership, Farm & Table won many accolades, including being named a Local Hero for Best Restaurant in edible New Mexico, and was featured in publications including USA Today. He then moved to Washington, Virginia, to join The Inn at Little Washington, a three-star Michelin restaurant, as a sous-chef. He opened Bar Castañeda in 2019. Sinclair is also the owner and chef of Legal Tender Saloon &
Eating House in Lamy, which opened in 2021.
How did you get to where you are now? What’s the backstory, and what (or who) have been your biggest influences?
From a very young age, I recognized the importance of knowing where my food came from, so I moved to the Pacific Northwest to experience the deep-rooted farm-to-table culture of the Portland food scene. Then I made the move home and took the executive chef position at Farm & Table. From there, I took a sous-chef position at the world-famous Inn at Little Washington, where I worked under the pope of American cuisine himself, Patrick O’Connell. I am endlessly grateful for the opportunity Chef O’Connell gave me to work in his kitchen. The lessons I learned in that restaurant will be with me for the rest of my life. Chef O’Connell is genuinely one of the greatest chefs to have ever lived. I was able to cook for him almost daily for over two years. You can’t get better experience than that!
Left: Chicken liver pâté with pickled veggies, Sauternes jelly, and house-made lavash crackers.
Right: Relleno with roasted poblano, quinoa, goat cheese, mushrooms, and walnut romesco.
What makes a great restaurant?
Consistency makes a great restaurant. That’s the thing we focus on most at both Bar Casteñeda and Legal Tender, whether it be consistently changing dishes based on seasonality or the consistency of making sure our Smash Burgers are exactly the same every time.
Your menu is influenced by New Mexican cuisine, but, with nods to the South, the Northwest, Ireland, and beyond, it is far from strictly New Mexican. Have you been especially influenced by any particular regional or national cuisines? Is there a line you won’t cross when it comes to marrying different traditions?
We just want to cook tasty food at Bar Castañeda and we put dishes on the menu based on one question: Is it delicious? Delicious isn’t something you have to think about. It is or it isn’t. We have no biases on where inspiration for the food comes from, which I think is the same for most chef-driven establishments.
What goes into developing a new dish? How do you balance seasonality with satisfying customers who fall in love with a certain menu item and want it over and over again?
We have a few things that never change, but for the most part we want to switch things up based on what’s available at the farmers market. Oftentimes, we start with a single ingredient we are really excited about and go from there. Sometimes it could be a protein like chicken from Lotus Farms in Tijeras that we feature as an entrée. Other times, it could be a product we get lots of, like fresh corn. When an ingredient is in season, you might see it in two, or even three, different dishes on the menu, and as soon as it’s gone, those dishes change. Every time something new shows up at market, I grab it and we work it into a dish.
Have you had any kitchen encounters with the ghost at Castañeda Hotel?
Once I had some cold breath on my ear and a super eerie feeling in the kitchen at like 1 am. Guests say all the time they have had experiences.
Why Las Vegas?
Or Lamy, for that matter, right? I’m a born-and-raised New Mexican and I know people in this state like to road-trip, so destination properties really resonate with me. Beyond that, Las Vegas is a truly authentic part of New Mexico with incredible history and charm.
524 Railroad Ave, Las Vegas, 505-434-1005, kinlvnm.com