Farmer-Chef Collaboration Creates Appetizing Artistry at Arroyo Vino

By Candolin Cook · Photos by Stephanie Cameron

From my first plate at Santa Fe’s Arroyo Vino, an amuse-bouche of seasonal crudités, I knew I was in for an incredible meal. The beautifully plated assortment of tops-on micro turnips, carrots, and radishes; ice lettuce (a thick succulent leaf bursting with lemony salt flavor); and a confetti of edible flowers came paired with a green aioli made from a blend of vegetable tops and herb stems—items too often discarded. Utilizing every part of the vegetable, and using them in unexpected ways, is something executive chef Colin Shane sees as his “responsibility as chef.” Whether it’s the seed, stem, root, fruit, or flower, Shane makes every component a star instead of an afterthought.

As each subsequent course arrived, our four-top let out a collective gasp, and then reached for our cameras to immortalize the edible artistry. Yes, we were those people. Maybe it was partly due to the free-flowing rosé, selected from AV’s conjoined, award-winning wine shop, but at one point I compared the caliber of the meal to Broadway’s Hamilton—it was that good.

While the meat dishes were wonderful—buttermilk sous vide chicken breast adorned with a flattened chicken-skin crisp—the thoughtfully prepared flora at AV really puts the restaurant on another level. The majority of vegetables are grown on a small on-site farm, Arroyo Vino Gardens. The farm is well-curated with high-value and unique crops, the product of close collaboration between farmer and chef. The week after my meal at AV, I returned to interview Shane and his partner at the Gardens (and in life), farmer Lauren Kendall, about their working relationship, food ideologies, and the meaning of New Mexican cuisine.

The creative young chef grew up in Santa Fe, left high school at age sixteen, and joined a punk rock band that toured the world. Between tours he made a home base in Gainesville, Florida, where he picked up work in restaurants, moving up the ranks from dishwasher to line cook to mentee of renowned Florida chef Burt Gill of Mildred’s Big City Food. “He taught me how to buy produce and how a restaurant functioned. I had never really even eaten fine dining until I started making it.” Weary of life on the road, Shane returned to Santa Fe with the intention of attending culinary school. However, his innate talent, commitment to self-education, and a series of staging (apprenticeship) opportunities and mentorships under prestigious chefs in Santa Fe and San Francisco gave him the experience he needed to take over as AV’s executive chef in 2014.

“When I became head chef we had a lot of discussions about where we wanted to take Arroyo’s identity,” he says. Those conversations led to a partnership with Kendall, whose farm flanking the west side of the restaurant has quickly progressed from a small three-bed garden last year, to a vibrant two-acre, two-women operation. Arroyo Vino’s kitchen and garden now enjoy a very symbiotic relationship. “We begin the season by reading The Whole Seed Catalog together,” Shane says. “I make a list of dream crops, and Lauren tells me what is feasible here.” For Kendall, cultivating plants with medicinal benefits—echinacea, calendula, yarrow—is also important: “I’m here to create a healthy product, and I have an emotional connection in seeing where it ends up.” Her background is in apitherapy, which uses the products made by bees (venom, royal jelly, honey, pollen) as medicine. Five of her hives reside on the farm, pollinating her garden and providing honey and pollen for the kitchen. Because AV uses “every product that comes out of the garden,” Kendall says the restaurant “has to be fluid.” Shane clarifies, “If that means we have to come up with ten different ways to use mustard greens one week, that’s what we’re going to do.” Shane doesn’t really care for the trendiness associated with farm-to-fork cuisine; he tweaks his menu daily based on what the farm has to offer because it’s “just the right thing to do.”

AV’s commitment to local and native ingredients is also evident in the wide array of foraged elements—such as porcini, nettles, angelica, and wild watercress—found throughout the menu. Dessert dishes include local accoutrements of aromatic spruce shoots, elderflower syrup and mousse, nasturtium meringue, and bee pollen brittle. “You are tasting the whole environment,” says Kendall, “the here and now.”

“I want New Mexico to be known for more than chile,” Shane declares. “These are New Mexican ingredients too, and they have been around you your whole life. Let the restaurants who do traditional fare really well do that. You don’t need every [fine dining] restaurant making red chile cornmeal trout. There is a much broader spectrum and I’d like to see more people taking risks.”

A recent trip to Copenhagen reinforced Shane and Kendall’s “time and place” food ideology. Shane worked under Amass restaurant owner Matthew Orlando (former head chef of Noma, aka the “best restaurant in the world”), while Kendall expanded her knowledge of food systems and soil health in Amass’s kitchen garden. New Nordic Cuisine emphasizes hyper-local and hyper-seasonal ingredients, sustainability, patron-chef interaction, and naturalist plating, all of which are found in abundance at AV. “Copenhagen isn’t about luxury and caviar,” Shane explains. “It’s about being innovative with what’s around you.” Shane’s opportunities to stage and eat in some of the world’s best restaurants have been invaluable, and something he wants his staff to experience. “I realized we can’t expect some of our [local] guys to understand what I want if they’ve never even been to a restaurant like that.” So last spring, AV took all of its salaried employees to San Francisco to experience some of those top-tier restaurants firsthand. “We wanted them to get inspired.”

Arroyo’s restaurant and garden have expanded their collaboration to include a Saturday farmers market on their grounds, where you can find Kendall’s veggies and line of bee products, as well as baked goods from the kitchen. Shane is excited about the direction AV is going and the freedom its owners give him to find his own path. “Every day we make the best food we have ever made,” he says. “I don’t know what the end goal is here, but I think the opportunities are endless.”

218 Camino La Tierra, Santa Fe, 505-983-2100

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Candolin Cook is a history doctoral student at the University of New Mexico, an associate editor for the New Mexico Historical Review, and editor of edible Santa Fe. She spends much of her free time washing carrots and radishes at her husband’s vegetable farm, Vida Verde Farm, in Albuquerque's North Valley. Come check out their booth at the Downtown Growers Market, and follow her farm life on Instagram: @candolin and @vidaverdefarmabq.