The Corn Maiden Showcases
Indigenous Ingredients in Fine Dining Cuisine
By Robert Salas · Photos by Stephanie Cameron
At the Corn Maiden at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort in Santa Ana, two New Mexico–born chefs are combining classic and modern techniques, locally sourced ingredients, and flavors rooted in Indigenous and New Mexican cultures to create an “Indigenous-fusion cuisine.”
For both Corn Maiden’s executive chef, Patrick Mohn, and chef de cuisine, Ernesto Duran, the road to culinary excellence started in northern New Mexico—in their mothers’ kitchens. “I was always curious about how she would put different food combinations together,” Mohn says. “How she would make stuff spicy or sweet—[the] basics of cooking.” Mohn’s early curiosity in the culinary arts would lead him to the Scottsdale Culinary Institute and then to an internship at Tamaya Resort. He has never looked back. “Ascension came quick within the Hyatt. I went from intern to assistant sous chef to sous chef to executive sous chef to executive chef within a relatively short period of time,” he says. Mohn now oversees Tamaya Resort’s culinary operations, including the Santa Ana Café, the Corn Maiden, and the Rio Grande Lounge.
Instead of going to culinary school, Duran cut his teeth cooking in restaurants around the state, until he, too, found his way to the Hyatt. “Chef Patrick reached out to me and offered to bring me on at the Corn Maiden,” Duran explains. “He knew I was really intrigued by the restaurant and, to me, it is a dream job.”
Coming together, these two chefs are creating a truly unique fine dining experience. The Corn Maiden is named after the corn maiden, or corn mother, who in Pueblo tradition represents sustenance, survival, and life. Mohn says that he wants diners to have “an amazing experience at a restaurant that is second to none in its skill set and in the quality of product we bring in.” Duran says the restaurant’s menus are “hyper-local and hyper-seasonal . . . [and are] created in tandem with what local farmers are producing.”
In addition to working with local partners like Romero Farms, Beneficial Farms, and Urban Rebel Farms in Santa Fe to source seasonal produce, Mohn and Duran say they love having direct access to fresh ingredients grown right on the Tamaya Resort grounds. “In the springtime we have above-ground planter boxes for specialty produce. We have three beehives that provided about forty pounds of honey this year. We also have a small orchard and an extensive herb garden,” Mohn says.
Chef Mohn says that it’s also important for Indigenous and New Mexican cultures to be represented at the restaurant, because the
surrounding communities play a key role in inspiring the menus. From the Corn Maiden Classic K’uchininak’u (Native beef strip loin, buffalo sausage, and Fresno chicken breast) to the Earth and Water Tyini Kaisrpitra Ku Tsitsi (seared tuna, jumbo prawn, and duck breast, served with green chile potatoes au gratin), the Corn Maiden incorporates elements of Indigenous cuisine and New Mexican flavors in innovative dishes. “There are a lot of components [in our local cuisine] that we [can] combine with international techniques and flavors,” says Mohn. “And that lends itself to creating something new for the modern palate.”
The culinary team at the Corn Maiden isn’t only incorporating Indigenous ingredients with a fine dining experience, they’re also utilizing Indigenous cooking methods, such as open-fire cooking. “Having meats cooked over a rotisserie fire is definitely something near and dear to what I envision for Corn Maiden,” Mohn says. “We can take something like Native-raised beef from the Arizona–New Mexico border and cook it over a fire and pair with our risotto to make a dish that is simple yet brings a complexity to the palate.” The chefs don’t take all the credit when it comes to building a dynamic menu at the Corn Maiden. Duran says that the creative process is fluid and that there’s a whole team of white coats who contribute to building each dish.
“[Mohn] has a think board in his office and we all jot our ideas down. Often, what starts there on that board, becomes a dish,” says Duran. Both Mohn and Duran take pride in all the menu items but there’s one dish that they say embodies the creative concept of “Indigenous-fusion cuisine”: the corn risotto.
According to Duran, this dish takes a significant amount of prep time, which includes soaking a variety of untreated heirloom corn for hours. “It’s not like posole or hominy where you can cook it for a few hours and it pops open,” he says. The dish also incorporates other types of corn, including hominy, red corn, blue corn, and goya cracked corn, which all come together to create what Duran describes as a “cream of corn but also the best risotto you’ve ever had.”
“We cook this corn for about twenty-four hours, and it becomes soft and palatable, almost like arborio rice. So, we treat it like risotto. We finish it with cream and herbs and cheese. It’s so popular and it’s something that I am super proud of,” Duran says.
Mohn is the first native New Mexican to run the culinary operations at Tamaya, and both he and Duran plan to continue to nurture and evolve the restaurant in the years to come. They want to focus their efforts on continuing to highlight local farms and showcasing New Mexico’s abundance. “What’s next is us staying true to the Corn Maiden spirit and moving it forward into a very ambitious realm,” says Duran. “We want it to be fluid and fun.”
Corn Maiden, 1300 Tuyuna Trail, Santa Ana Pueblo, 505-867-1234