Executive Chef/Owner of Bar CastaÑeda and Kin at CastaÑeda
Local Hero: Best Chef, Greater New Mexico
Photos by Stephanie Cameron
Sean Sinclair is executive chef and proprietor at Bar Castañeda and Kin at Castañeda. Born and raised in Tijeras, Sinclair has great pride in his home state. After high school, Sinclair moved to Portland, Oregon, to attend culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu. After several years working in some of the finest kitchens in Portland, Sinclair made the move home and took the executive chef position at Albuquerque’s Farm & Table. Under his leadership, Farm & Table won accolades from many publications, including being ranked the best restaurant in Albuquerque by USA Today. From Farm & Table, Chef Sean took a sous chef position at the renowned Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Virginia.
How did you get to where you are now? What’s the backstory, and what was the moment that brought you to your current work?
The only reason I have gotten to where I am now is I genuinely love working in kitchens. I was lucky to get an early start working in restaurants around Albuquerque; I think by the time I was sixteen I knew I wanted my own someday. I don’t really have one moment because there’s never really been any other option in my mind. My childhood dreams turned from becoming a professional baseball player, as I am sure many fifteen-year-old kids do, to becoming a chef.
This has been a very difficult year for all restaurants in New Mexico due to the pandemic, and you have had to postpone the opening of Kin at Casteñeda. How have you managed during this crisis?
We were so very close with Kin this past April but, honestly, I am grateful the news of the pandemic didn’t come any later. It would have been much more difficult to get things under control if we had expended all the resources needed to open the doors only to find out we wouldn’t be able to.
As things stand currently, we are just making the best of a bad situation. I want to make it a point to state that we are proudly following all guidelines set by the governor. We are very fortunate to have a large patio for plenty of outdoor dining space. It is not lost on us how lucky we are right now to have eighty seats outside and to still be within compliance of all social distancing rules. We have changed our entire business model, pivoting from full-service to counter-service. I believe this is the safest way to serve our guests and keep our staff healthy while still offering a nice place to sit and enjoy a quality meal.
You have worked at restaurants around the country, including in the Pacific Northwest and in Virginia. How have those experiences shaped your culinary approaches in New Mexico?
I moved to Portland for culinary school. A chef that I was working for at the time said they have a cool restaurant scene up there, so two weeks after he told me that I had enrolled in school and packed my bags. It really was dumb luck that I picked one of the greatest culinary scenes in the United States to utilize as training grounds.
When I made the move to Virginia, my plans were a little more calculated. I wanted to work at one of the best restaurants in the world. After a ton of research I found out that Patrick O’Connell was hiring a sous chef for his restaurant, The Inn at Little Washington, so I applied. I got a call the next day and scheduled a stage [similar to a try-out] and got the job. Working for Chef Patrick changed the way I look at this industry. It was an unexplainable, unbelievable, life-changing experience. I am endlessly grateful for the opportunity.
Is there a local food issue that is important to you? Why?
I would like to see more restaurants utilizing local beef. It is so readily available in this state, yet restaurants utilize meat from elsewhere. I don’t understand that because the quality is great and the pricing is competitive. It would be a very easy switch to make for most restaurateurs.
The Hotel Casteñeda is a historic Fred Harvey hotel, and your menu has several nods to Harvey House days. Why is an engagement with local history important to shaping a menu and the overall dining experience?
After we signed the lease at the Castañeda, a guest showed up and donated a box full of old Harvey House relics from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Included in that collection were twenty-five menus from the Castañeda, the Southwest Chief [railroad dining car], and various other Harvey Houses. We just had to recreate some of those dishes. About 30 percent of our menu at any given time is a nod to those classics served all those years ago. The Castañeda dining room was the first fine-dining establishment in the American Southwest and that inspired us to bring it back with Kin, hopefully soon!
What is your favorite meal to cook during a day off?
On the rare occasion, I like to roast a chicken over lump charcoal outside on the grill.
What are your favorite things about living in Las Vegas?
The people. The people of this town have been incredibly supportive and welcoming. I have never moved somewhere that felt like home so quickly.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with edible readers?
We are working on a new project so people in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos don’t have to make the drive out to Las Vegas for one of our green chile smash burgers. We are outfitting a food truck! Please follow our food-truck journey on our social media accounts @BarcastanedaNM on Instagram and Facebook.
524 Railroad Ave, Las Vegas, 505-434-1005, kinlvnm.com