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New chef at Vara Winery & Distillery revamping the Spanish-influenced menu

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Vara Winery & Distillery’s Spanish-influenced cuisine now has a new chef adding his touch.

A Crudité bowl served at Vara Winery & Distillery. (Courtesy of Vara Winery Distillery)

Executive Chef David Ruiz recently overhauled Vara’s menu while adhering to its love of traditional Spanish fare.

“We have Gambas Al Ajillo, which is a spicy shrimp dish that we do with a salsa seca crunch, which is like super awesome,” Ruiz said. “We have our truffle popcorn that’s amazing. Albondigas (are) our Spanish-style meatballs that we do in a spicy tomato like ragù sauce.”

David Ruiz is the new executive chef at Vara Winery & Distillery.

The Piquillo Pepper Confit is one of Ruiz’s favorite dishes. He adopted the recipe from famous Spanish chef José Andrés.

“This piquillo is cooked in its own like juices and then steeped in a bunch of olive oil,” Ruiz explained. “We do that on some local M’Tucci’s bread with a goat cheese that we mix with black pepper and orange juice and some of that piquillo oil. It’s so good.”

Ruiz is also fond of the Lamb Merguez sausage.

“The lamb is local New Mexico lamb from Polk’s Folly Farms up in the East Mountains,” Ruiz said. “(It) makes our sausage for us, which is super incredible … (The Lamb Merguez) comes with a brandy mustard … And then we have some pickled onions and we do this like cured orange on there.”

Paella is a Vara staple and Ruiz has created his own take on the course. His interpretation of the Spanish rice dish features a variety of shellfish as well as chicken that has been marinated in olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic.

“We use a bomba rice that we love,” Ruiz explained. “We soak the bomba rice in chicken stock overnight and then we cook it with a little bit of saffron, and then we’ve added shrimp, mussels, clams. We use marinated chicken in there with some green beans, chorizo, onions. You know, pretty classic. And then we do like a saffron aioli over the top. And then we do like a cured lemon for you to squeeze over it. It’s awesome.”

The refreshing Crudité bowl is perfect for patio dining in the spring.

“It’s pretty simple, it’s just basically blanched pickled vegetables,” Ruiz said. “So we have some pickled watermelon radish, some fresh shaved watermelon radish, green beans. We have some pickled Brussels sprouts and then we do like some colorful cauliflower, just blanched, and then it comes with a black olive aioli and chili oil … It sits in a bowl. So basically, we crush ice in a bowl and we freeze it so it all sits on ice. So it stays cold (when) out here in the sun.”

Ruiz prides himself on his plating. He has been recognized for his creativity and has been featured on the Food Network’s “Chopped” and “Guy’s Family Road Trip.” In 2018, he won the James Beard Foundation’s Blended Burger Competition with his approach to the sustainable burger, according to a Vara news release.

Ruiz, who is originally from California, moved to Albuquerque eight years ago. He is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy, and an advocate of food education and the connection between food and farming, according to the news release. Ruiz has worked at several award-winning restaurants in Albuquerque, Aspen, Colorado, and San José and the Yosemite Valley in California.

“We are thrilled to have welcomed Chef Ruiz to our Vara family,” Doug Diefenthaler, Vara owner and chief operating officer/executive vice president states in the news release. “At Vara Winery and Distillery our history is rooted right here in Albuquerque and to add an artisan with the talents of Chef Ruiz will elevate the experience for our guests even more.”

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