New chefs of Santa Fe
Oliver Ridgeway and Charles Dale came to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to reinterpret Southwestern fine cuisine. We thought they might be curious about each other, and we were right.
Oliver Ridgeway is a tall, friendly 32-year-old Brit who made a name for himself in London and New York before arriving as executive chef at The Anasazi Restaurant & Bar at the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi. Charles Dale is an impressively connected yoga-practicing 51-year-old who drew devotees in Aspen and New York before becoming executive chef at Terra at Encantado.
Courtesy, left to right: Rosewood Hotels and Terra at Encantado
Chefs Oliver Ridgeway and Charles Dale
Both came to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to reinterpret Southwestern fine cuisine. I thought they might be curious about each other, and I was right.
Dale and I went to Inn of the Anasazi to see what Ridgeway was up to.
"What we're doing here is modern American cuisine with a Southwest influence," Ridgeway, who once dazzled Manhattan at the revered Carlyle hotel, told us. "I'm reinterpreting Southwest with a predominantly Hispanic kitchen by incorporating dried chiles, anchos, pasillas, cumin, cayenne, and a lot of oomph! A lot of color, too — bright color, like a bright-green pea soup."
That inventive pea soup with green chile, duck prosciutto, and a seared Maine scallop started us off right (and proved Dale's favorite).
"I like the little bit of heat," Dale said, "and I wonder if a mint oil is involved." Next came a watercress salad with hearts of palm, avocado, chayote squash, and blood-orange vinaigrette. "I'm a very picky salad eater," Dale confessed. "I won't order a salad with raw onion or carrots. This salad is thought-out; that's what separates a really good chef from an okay chef. This salad has dynamic tension: The ingredients all work together, but they're threatening to pull apart." A blue-corn crusted salmon was my top pick — light, scrumptious, and healthy. Then a porterhouse cut of lamb was paired with a high-alcohol-content Amarone della Valpolicella wine that had Dale asking for a second pour. We finished off with lemon-vanilla crème brûlée and a 20-year-old Portuguese port. Dale's overall impression? "It's inventive, it's fun, it's creative."
Dale returned the invite, so a week later Ridgeway and I headed just north of town to Terra at Encantado. Dale — who owned Rustique, Renaissance, and Range in Aspen, and before that did stints at New York's renowned Le Cirque and Quilted Giraffe — characterizes his cuisine as "modern rustic." And he's prepared it for all sorts of luminaries, including Mick Jagger, Don Henley, and Jack Nicholson.
Nowadays, Dale holds food court in a high-concept setting of glass, concrete, stone, and metal with mountain mesa views that stretch for 40 miles. "You can't beat the views! And the wine is on display — I like to see wine." Ridgeway was obviously enthusiastic about Dale's new space. And we were soon just as enthused about his food.
We tucked into a super-fresh Asian-influenced seared tuna with ginger caviar that was paired with a sparkling Gruet Blanc de Noirs. Then came duck confit on a blue-corn pancake with chipotle hoisin. "A play on Peking duck." Ridgeway was approving. Italian-influenced oxtail ravioli with Parmesan broth followed: "Really delicious, very balanced, my favorite." Bruschetta-style salmon with tomato jam was comforting, while pork tenderloin in adobo was richer. As we came to the meal's finale, a pine-nut anise cake, the setting sun performed its own finale, streaking golden yellow through thick, luminous clouds.
After that meal, Ridgeway had no trouble giving Dale his due: "Out of all of Santa Fe, this is the most contemporary restaurant with an artisan flair." For his part, Dale pinpointed an advantage the two talented chefs share: "We're not conditioned by the locale. We don't have a past here. We look at the environment through a different lens." Macro Southwest, you could say.