Local Hero: Best Chef, Santa Fe

Photos by Douglas Merriam

This May, Chef Mark Kiffin celebrated his nineteenth anniversary as owner of The Compound Restaurant, a cornerstone of the culinary landscape in Santa Fe, located in the Arts District on Canyon Road. The restaurant, renowned for its distinctive style and elegance, celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 2016. Kiffin’s signature contemporary American menu combines New World influences with the culinary style and flavors of the Mediterranean. The chef also focuses his seasonally evolving menu on available regional ingredients and local sourcing, making the restaurant truly farm to table.

Beginning in 1990, Chef Kiffin partnered with owner Mark Miller at the famed Santa Fe–based flagship Coyote Café and, later, at the Coyote Café MGM Grand in Las Vegas, where he was the corporate executive chef and owner. Since his tenure with Miller, Kiffin has gone onto work with other notable chefs and has opened twenty restaurants.

Twenty-eight years in Santa Fe have strengthened Kiffin’s love and passion for New Mexico. He recognizes not only his responsibility for taking care of one of Santa Fe’s true treasures, The Compound Restaurant, but also the importance of taking care of his community.

How did you get to where you are now? What’s the backstory?

I grew up in a house with parents in the travel business, both working for the airlines, then eventually owning a travel agency. Travel is the way to see the world, to see the world’s foods. My mom didn’t like to cook that much, so she kept it pretty simple, but my dad would come home from trips overseas and talk about all the different foods. I took a dishwasher job at fifteen—back then it was that or sacking groceries. The work is hard, and soon I realized if I could learn to cook (or show interest) that I could get out of the dish station! That took me to my first few jobs in restaurants, which then took me to the Culinary Institute of America in 1980 . . . then I was on my way!

Was there a turning point that brought you to your current work?

Opening up The Inn & Links at Spanish Bay as a sous chef in 1987 was the early accomplishment for sure, that led me to Mark Miller, that led me to owning The Compound and to my James Beard Award.

What local food issue is most important to you?

Working with the growers to expand their growing season, trying to get them to not just provide local food in the summer months only. More greenhouses will help provide more products in the winter.

What is the best piece of advice you have received as a chef?

Great ingredients = great food, period. There are no substitutions for quality.

What is your favorite meal to cook at home?

My wife and I do a lot of protein/salad combos. We eat very healthy. We love to cook Sunday breakfast with green chile, the works!

Do you have a favorite meal to cook when you are eating solo?

Solo . . . a great steak!

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

Edible’s readers understand good food, the markets, cooking for their families. They are very supportive in Santa Fe and we, as restaurateurs, appreciate it.

653 Canyon Road, Santa Fe, 505-982-4353, compoundrestaurant.com

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Edible celebrates New Mexico's food culture, season by season. We believe that knowing where our food comes from is a powerful thing. With our high-quality, aesthetically pleasing and informative publication, we inspire readers to support and celebrate the growers, producers, chefs, beverage and food artisans, and other food professionals in our community.