photos by Stephanie Cameron
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.
Ratatouille with zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, and roasted red peppers.
Colin Shane was born in Boston but grew up in Santa Fe. As a teen, he left high school to pursue a career playing music that took him to every corner of the United States as well as Europe and Mexico. After many years on the road, he found himself working as a dishwasher and quickly discovered a new passion in food. Over the last seven years, Shane has devoted everything to this craft, which has led to being head chef at Arroyo Vino Restaurant at the age of twenty-six. In 2017, he was a semi-finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Rising Star Chef of The Year Award, as well as being named a Local Hero by edible Santa Fe.
What do you love most about local food?
I first found the importance of community while being involved in the independent music world. Relationships and connections with people are the basis of everything. Everyone had their own individual goals and mission, but you were part of a larger picture where everyone worked together so that the community as a whole succeeded. As I’ve progressed into my career as a chef, it has become increasingly important to me to make those same types of connections and realities come to fruition in my own food world. I enjoy being able to promote and support local farmers and producers with what I do. I love when they bring in a product they are excited about that maybe I haven’t used or considered using yet, and it’s equally gratifying to be able to show them what the final product is that we create in the kitchen. I like to allow the farmers to dictate the menu to a certain degree. There has been a big movement toward local food and sustainable agriculture, but there are still many people from my generation and younger who don’t have a good grasp on how the food they eat is produced or where it comes from. I hope things like the farm at our restaurant help people tap back into some of that process by being able to see the field in different stages as they are dining, and maybe they will reflect on the connection between the plate and the work that went into creating it.
Do you have a favorite menu item and why?
My current favorite menu item is the grilled matsutake mushrooms on our tasting menu. They are one of the most sought-after ingredients in Japanese cuisine, and we are incredibly lucky to be able to have them pop up occasionally in the mountains around the restaurant. Their aroma is unmatched by any other mushroom and they are very versatile. The rarity and special conditions which they need to grow, and finding them in the mountains, makes them extra special to me. I enjoy working with ingredients that are limited in nature because it forces us as cooks to celebrate the moment they are available and to be creative with ways to preserve them for later use. Many things, I think, are best left to be truly seasonal. Unfortunately, we are seeing food produced year round more and more often, and, in my opinion, it takes away a little of the magic.
What’s your favorite way to spend a day off?
In our profession, there is not much time to spend on taking care of yourself mentally and physically. The more I chase down my culinary dreams, the more I realize I need to make that space. I am still very, very, very bad at it, but little things like hiking and foraging with the kitchen crew gets me exercise, clears my mind, and helps create bonds outside of the hectic kitchen work pace. My days off are usually spent doing that or cooking a simple meal and curling up on the couch with my dogs and fiancée, Lauren Kendall [Arroyo Vino’s on-site farmer], for some much needed rest, relaxation, and time to connect outside of our work life.
Do you have a serendipitous moment?
We’ve had many “happy accidents,” as I sometimes call them in our kitchen, especially thanks to the garden being so close and our being able to tap into so many different vegetables, flowers, and herbs at different stages in their growth. Sunflower kernels, the unripe sunflower seeds, so juicy and sweet and nutty, were definitely an amazing find last year while Lauren was making bouquets for the restaurant. We’ve been trying to approach everything with a similarly open mind. Some of the other things we’ve stumbled upon in the last few years have been asparagus fronds, nasturtium capers, green coriander seeds and flowers, radish seed pods, and all manner of flowering herbs and vegetables. This is only possible because we are able to harvest at the exact moment they are tender, juicy, and ripe. We always welcome the other edible plants that volunteer in the garden, such as purslane, nettles, and lambs quarters.
What do you love most about your work and passion?
I love collaborating with my fiancée Lauren the most when it comes to my work and my passion because it adds layers to our personal relationship that would otherwise not exist. I get to work with my best friend every day and for that I am very fortunate. I’m collaborating with someone else in a different, yet symbiotic field of work, who is equally as passionate and talented. This is something I am very thankful for.
How did you get to where you are now?
I first entered kitchen work when I was playing music and needed to work in between traveling. A friend of mine hired me as a dishwasher in a pretty wild Mexican restaurant in Gainesville, Florida. From there it was kind of the classic story of taking every chance to prove myself and move up the ladder. Eventually, I had a friend who was the sous chef at the only real fine-dining restaurant in town at the time, and she convinced me to come work with her. I immediately became enamored with the professional cooking attitude I was surrounded by—the level of care and attention to detail, handcrafting of everything, the creativity, the produce and products, and the way we worked with local farms. Our chef, Bert Gil, showed me a lot about how to carry oneself in the kitchen and in life. That was a very transformational time for me. When it was time for me to come back home, closer to my family, I worked for chef Martin Rios for a year and I saw a lot of modern cuisine and technique in his kitchen, which inspired my move over to Arroyo Vino. My current work has really been influenced by some of my travels, particularly to the Bay Area and to Copenhagen.
Both places, in their own way, really celebrate locality, sustainability, vegetable-focused cuisine, and thinking outside of the box when it comes to lifestyle and food. My connection with Lauren early on in my time at Arroyo Vino and the development of our own on-site garden/farm at the restaurant has also played a big part in our food. Mostly, it has taught me to try to let go of the controls now and again. You can’t command a vegetable to ripen or grow faster; they are on their own pace. I let them tell me when it’s time to be on the menu. Everything we do is always a work in progress. It’s been both incredibly gratifying and very hard work to get to where we are today with our cuisine, service, and overall Arroyo Vino experience. I could not have accomplished any of it without the amazing team members we have, both past and present.
If you could have lunch with anyone, who would it be, where would you eat, and what would you ask them?
If I had the chance, I would have lunch with Rene Redzepi at l’Arpège in France. I’d like to ask him how he finds the balance between pushing yourself and not burning out. He is one of my cooking inspirations for more than just the food he creates. His ideals and aesthetics go beyond the plates, and he teaches, grows, and expands his team’s abilities and opportunities while still seeing his own visions to fruition, all while somehow still maintaining a seemingly healthy home life. These are things I struggle with as a young chef and I’d like to know his secrets.
What gets you fired up?
Anyone who works with me would probably say I can be an intense person from time to time. I consider myself to be very passionate, although sometimes it gets the best of me. I get fired up in a good way all the time at work, when we nail a new idea, or something that’s been aging or fermenting for a while comes out great. I also love the intensity of a busy night in the kitchen when everyone is on point and the guests are happy. I have a hard time when people prepare things improperly just because they are too proud or afraid to ask for help. I don’t know everything and I don’t expect my crew to either, but you have to be able to ask for help when you need it, regardless of experience level. I have little patience for excuses and corner cutting when it comes to food. Honest mistakes are fine as long as you own up to them and fix them to the best of your ability. As one of the wisest beings in the universe once said, “There is no try, only do.”
Is there anything else you’d like to share with edible readers?
Thank you for nominating me for the Local Hero award! I look forward to meeting you in the Arroyo Vino dining room or at the Rooted Leaf farm stand soon!