Local Hero: Chef, Albuquerque

Photos by Stephanie Cameron

Left: Buttermilk-brined fried chicken thigh, gochujang, black garlic mayo, and house-made pickles. Right: Israel Rivera, chef and owner of The Shop.

Let’s start with the bio. How would you write it?

I’m a thirty-five-year-old chef from Albuquerque, no formal education, high school dropout, recovering alcoholic. If I can do it, so can you. I learned on the job, through staging and completely throwing myself into the kitchen life and trying my best (and continuing to try my best) to learn as much as possible. I was really lucky to have had very supportive friends, family, and chefs. Lots of cooks never have that.

How much does the availability of local ingredients or products shape the menu at The Shop?

The Shop’s menu has changed a lot since we first started. One of my main goals when opening The Shop was to make sure we were a neighborhood place, and I really wanted to cement ourselves into this community. I think we’ve done that, and as we discovered the wants and needs of our community, we evolved the menu and our space to really give our customers what they wanted. I will always have my own vision about the menu and the food we serve. At first, I only wanted to do what I wanted to do, but as it became more about feeding people and running a successful business and creating a good relationship with our customers, it became much less about my ego and more about the food itself. I wanted to believe that I knew what people wanted and what I wanted to serve them, but by really trying to listen to our customers, the menu and the entire vibe of The Shop has become something much more organic and amazing that I could have never come up with by myself.

As far as local ingredients, it’s more than the ingredient itself. Not only do we use produce from local farms, but we use lots of locally made goods as well—from the bread we serve to the coffee we sell. Even our merchandise is made from a small, local business. As for the locality of the ingredients, it really does give us some amazing opportunities to be seasonal and connect with our community in new ways through our food.

Who or what have been your main culinary influences over the years?

That’s a good question. Early on in my career, my main influences were the big-name, fine-dining chefs out there, the ones who were always on the top-one-hundred lists of food and such. I honestly thought that is what you needed to aspire to as a chef. For many reasons, I don’t feel like that anymore. The fine-dining world just isn’t for me. It has always bothered me that the people I believe would appreciate that kind of food the most, the people who cook it, almost never get a chance to eat that way. It’s crazy. I’ve been to Michelin-starred restaurants and I couldn’t tell you what I ate there; I don’t remember. But I can tell you exactly what I had the first time I went to Yankee Lobster in Boston. It was so good, it changed my world. Real local, seasonal food, prepared freshly and simply. It was amazing.

I am constantly amazed by simple, well-made food—that’s what I care about now, and that’s what I aspire to create.

Also, I am truly inspired by my friends in the industry. I see them working so hard, building their brands and companies by, again, making amazing and honest food. That inspires me. Big time. I see you out there, Mike, Basit, Siea, Mike W., MQ, Kayla, Kate, Shawn, Tristan, David, and so many more. All of you guys are not only building your own thing, but you are helping build this amazing food community. Just know that I love and am inspired by y’all.

Left: Duck Hash with potato and brussels sprout hash and duck confit served on a bed of red chile. Right: Chilaquiles with roasted pork shoulder.

What’s your go-to meal on a day off?

Anything I don’t have to make. I love going to my buddies’ restaurants also—Mighty Mike’s Meats, Magokoro, Rumor Pizza, Tikka Spice, the list is long . . .

Is there a food trend that you find particularly intriguing these days? Is there one you can’t wait to see disappear?

I know a lot of people are not going to like this answer, but I’m actually glad that fine dining doesn’t seem as popular as it once was. Lots of chefs and restaurant folks are doing more casual concepts these days, and I love it. It really makes it more about the food, being comfortable, and enjoying time with your people. That’s what matters. Making really good, honest food is difficult. All your mistakes will show up, and that’s why I appreciate it so much. It’s all about the food.

The Shop has stuck to takeout and delivery only since the onset of the pandemic two years ago. What have you learned from this model?

The most important thing I’ve learned is just how important it is to have a relationship with your customers. All we wanted to do was keep The Shop alive. By really connecting with our customers, we were able to find out what they wanted and what they needed, and we just had to figure out a way to make it happen. We all learned exactly what it means to be flexible and adapt.

Is there a local food issue that is particularly important to you?

Just supporting local restaurants, bars, and food people. That’s the bottom line. We all help each other by supporting and building relationships and community. A rising tide raises all ships.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with edible readers?

Thank you. I know it’s hard to really understand just how grateful we are to all of you. It’s because of you and our customers that I get to make a living doing what I love, and that I’m also able to provide living wages to my staff and give them all the things I never had as a cook in this industry. None of The Shop’s goals or my dreams come true without you. You guys are the best. See y’all soon.

2933 Monte Vista NE, Albuquerque, 505-433-2795,
theshopabq.com