Local Hero: Chef, Greater New Mexico

An Interview with Chef and Co-Owner of Manko
Photos by Stephanie Cameron

Ray Naranjo, chef and co-owner of Manko. 

Chef Ray Naranjo, a Native American with roots from both the ancient Puebloans of the Southwest and the Three Fire Tribes of the Great Lakes, believes in the preservation of the foodways and ancestral knowledge of his people and strives to continue on this path. With the use of modern and ancestral cooking techniques, he pushes the limits of what is known, unknown, and forgotten about the Indigenous food culture of North America. Chef Ray earned a degree in culinary arts and has more than twenty-five years of experience in the modern restaurant industry, working in kitchens in exclusive hotel and casino resorts in the Southwest and wearing titles ranging from executive chef to food and beverage director. Chef Ray has also been presented with several awards in New Mexican cuisine, with a focus on the chiles of
New Mexico.

What’s the story behind Manko? 

In the Tewa language, manko is the verb for “come and eat.”

The end product of what is Manko is a career of refining both street food as well as fine dining dishes that fuse the original ingredients of the Americas with modern technology and the cooking of the present. A reversal of colonization. 

How has your food truck menu changed and developed over the course of your first year in business? Is there a particular dish that has especially resonated with customers? 

Our menu has developed to meet high-pace needs as well as having enough diversity to please a crowd. Our green chile smashburger is made with free-range buffalo and wrapped in a tortilla. Our turkey sandwich is finished with cactus fruit syrup.

Our new salad is one of significance. Even the name is a hidden meaning—Berries Bird Seed Salad—Berries being the rez nickname for Manko co-owner Nathana Bird. This salad is also the missing link to connecting us to our past and connecting the food truck to my food journey as a chef. With ingredients like popped amaranth and popped quinoa, we can tell the story of our connections between the ancient world and today. 

Top: Finishing a Cactus Tempura Turkey Sandwich with cactus fruit syrup.
Bottom left: Ray Naranjo with his son Ethan Naranjo. Bottom right: Berries Bird Seed Salad.

How do you approach sourcing? 

We offer free-range bison products from Beck & Bulow and try our best to source the rest of our menu items locally. 

You often collaborate with other chefs, whether at events catered by Manko or with the Intimate Indigenous Experiences you hosted while at Indian Pueblo Kitchen. Are there any upcoming collaborations readers should know about? 

Collaborations for Native chefs are important to develop what is now surfacing as modern Native American cuisine, and foster healthy competition to challenge our creativity to push this cuisine as far as possible. We have an upcoming collaboration with Chef Crystal Wahpepeh of Wahpepah’s Kitchen in Oakland, California. 

Anything else you’d like to share with edible readers?

Thanks for this awesome opportunity. Follow us on Instagram or Facebook to check in on our location, as we plan to do plenty of traveling in 2023.