An Interview with Mark Kiffin, Owner

Local Hero: Best Restaurant, Santa Fe

Photos by Douglas Merriam

The Compound restaurant has a heritage rich in history and regional influences. Before its incarnation as a restaurant in 1966, its adobe home was the centerpiece of a group of houses on Canyon Road known as the McComb Compound. In the twentieth century, when Santa Fe was far away from the rest of the world, movie stars, industrialists, and socialites visited to enjoy a secluded getaway. Eventually, Will and Barbara Hooton acquired the main house and converted it into a restaurant. They brought in designer Alexander Girard, who gave The Compound its distinctive look.

Chef Mark Kiffin celebrated his twentieth anniversary as owner of The Compound restaurant on May 30, 2020. Kiffin has developed a signature contemporary American menu, using New World influences combined with the culinary style and flavors of the Mediterranean. Kiffin focuses his seasonally evolving menu on available regional ingredients and local sourcing, making the restaurant truly farm-to-table.

What is The Compound’s backstory, and what was the moment that brought you to your current work?

I came to The Compound in 2000 after leading Stephan Pyles’s multi-restaurant, multi-city corporation, knowing I wanted to get back to Santa Fe after the eight years I was Mark Miller’s partner. This city felt more like my home, and I treasured my connection to its food scene.

The current pandemic continues to have a profound effect on restaurants throughout New Mexico and the country. How has The Compound adapted to the ongoing crisis?

COVID-19 has us changing every day. When the closure happened on March 19, I shut down completely, quarantining the entire restaurant. We then totally cleaned, sanitized, and rebuilt the inside to prepare for a safe reopening. Now we continue to ensure our staff and guests the safest dining experience, using only our three outside dining areas. We have lots of room and lots of spacing to do our job.

This year The Compound celebrates its twentieth anniversary with you as owner. What have been the keys to the restaurant’s longevity?

Longevity means consistency and caring every day to be the best. There are no days off when you care about what you do.

What are some of the biggest changes in the local food scene that you’ve witnessed over the course of these past two decades?

Locally, we have grown out of just the New Mexico style of food. There are many more choices than “red, green, or Christmas” now, and the tourist economy has pushed that and benefited from it. The farmers market only gets better every year, producing a better, more extensive product, and has become “the” place to be on Saturday morning.

What is a local food issue that is particularly important to you? Why?

Getting food served to kids in schools who don’t have that much to eat at home. We can all be better for our children.

Tell us about your commitment to seasonality.

The Compound changes its menus seasonally, seriously. That means a major change every ninety days. I have now changed the menu eighty times. Most restaurants can’t say they have changed eighty items, much less eighty seasonal cycles! We are the epitome of seasonality.

What excites you about the future of the restaurant industry in New Mexico? What is most worrisome? What changes would you most like to see across the industry in the years ahead?

Right now with COVID, I hope everyone makes it out of it and to the other side, staying in business. Then I feel most will retool to make their restaurants safer, and also be better in business so they realize that Santa Fe and the USA will take years to come out of this. We want to continue to be one of the best small cities in America that remains small and unique.

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

Buy local, shop local, and EAT local. You can’t say I wish a restaurant was still in business if you don’t go and enjoy it. That will also bring more talent to this area and its food scene, attracting chefs, servers, and somms to our area who no longer want to live in a big, dirty city.

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

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