images by Kitty Leaken and Jen Judge

Erin Wade graduated from Harvard in 2002 with a degree in English and all the makings for a successful career in fashion. While studying in Milan, she had an epiphany that would completely correct her course. The concrete jungle was not for her; she needed nature. Specifically, she needed to get her hands in the dirt.

She immediately settled herself in Santa Fe, where she connected with the land both spiritually and practically, becoming a self-taught soil expert and farmer, as well as a chef and restaurateur. Today, she owns the salad-centric eatery Vinaigrette, with locations in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Austin, and Modern General, a stylish café and home goods shop. She says her philosophy for a happy and healthy life comes from her early years experimenting in the garden and kitchen on her ranch in Nambé. She believes in the “importance of taking pleasure in and enjoying healthy eating.”

What do you love most about local food?

It connects us to our communities and the earth in a physical and tangible way.

What’s your favorite way to spend a day off?

In my pajamas in bed, reading and loafing.

Tell us about your life outside of the restaurant.

I enjoy writing, running, Pilates, and working on a book with my friend and photographer Jen Judge about food and joy. I love to read, too.

Do you have a serendipitous moment?

The serendipitous moment or experience that got me on the path I am on happened in my early twenties. Having lived in big cities for the previous five years, I missed nature, open space, and the feeling of the earth. I had a really strong desire to get my hands in the dirt, sort of all of a sudden. That’s how I went from high fashion in Milan to farming in the high desert.

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?

While I was farming in Nambé, I had an idea for a restaurant that combined health and deliciousness in a way that was as natural, easy, and unified as the restaurants I’d seen in Italy. I was inspired by a pizzeria that I used to love there that delighted in hundreds of flavor combinations. I was making all kinds of salads on the farm from what I was growing, and, progressively, the idea gelled into a restaurant concept.

Fill in the Blank:

I love being creative and making people feel nourished and good the most when it comes to my work and my passion because food is a powerful portal into joy and wellness if we allow it to be.

The question people always ask me is what my favorite salad is and what they should order. But I wish they’d ask me how they should order. One of the key ideas of Vinny is that you need to eat what you crave and what your body wants at that moment. Sometimes this is tricky to figure out, but our ultimate health and happiness depends on it

If I had the chance, I would have lunch with Wendell Berry at Vinaigrette. I’d like to ask him, in a world where people increasingly exist in the ether of our online digital world, how do those of us still invested in the physical world and its health compel change?

If I weren’t doing what I’m doing now, I’d be writing.

Most people are surprised to learn that I don’t deprive myself of anything and I eat whatever I want.

What gets you fired up?

When I see produce that we harvested in the morning being served to our guests the same day. The potential to innovate and change the restaurant industry, an industry in need of change.

Tell us about your choice to open a third Vinaigrette in Austin? How is it the same, how is it different?

We think the world, and America in particular, needs more delicious and elevating food that makes people feel good. We picked Austin because many of our seasonal customers begged us to check it out and also because of the long growing season and potential to increase our farm production. And we knew Austinites would appreciate us. Our mission is the same: to make lovingly sourced delicious and nourishing food in a beautiful and uplifting space. We want to be a positive force in our customers’ lives, on the side of wellness and growth.

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

For health in 2017, try spending less time in front of screens and more time truly enjoying the full-bodied experience of eating from a place of mindfulness and presence. It is not just the money we spend on food that has decreased, it is the time. We need to carve out time for food and eating.

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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.