Chef Jose Fernandez looks to local flavors to help build his culinary creations - Albuquerque Journal

Chef Jose Fernandez looks to local flavors to help build his culinary creations

Chef Jose Fernandez is the executive chef at the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

To have a regular day on the job would be boring for Chef Jose Fernandez.

As the culinary mastermind behind Terra, the fine-dining restaurant located at the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe, there are always daily challenges.

Despite many of them, Fernandez navigates them with precision and communication.

“Building a great team is important,” he says. “But it’s the communication that remains the foundation. This is what makes everything successful.”

Fernandez is also the type of chef who immerses himself not only into his creations, but in finding incredible value in local ingredients.

It’s not uncommon to find him at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market twice a week to find the local flavors that will give his culinary creations an edge.

Executive Chef Jose Fernandez at the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe cuts up cilantro and tomatoes at Terra. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

“What the local flavors bring to the table is very important to me,” Fernandez says. “Especially in Santa Fe, there is so much you can find. I go all the way up to Taos and down to Las Cruces. The Hatch chile is amazing. As are the three sisters of corn, squash and beans.”

In the nearly two years Fernandez has been in Santa Fe, he’s embraced all that is around him.

Born just north of Barcelona, Spain, Fernandez’s journey in the culinary world begins.

Often heading into the kitchen to see what his grandmother, mother and aunts were up to piqued his interest into culinary arts.

He would see simple ingredients transformed into sustenance.

“It gave me the opportunity to think about my future,” he says.

A family friend who owned a restaurant offered the then-16-year-old Fernandez a job.

“I had finished my education at the time and it was time for me to find a job,” he says. “I wanted to get out of the house. I started working there on the weekend and after a couple of weeks fell in love with the culinary world and its spirituality.”

Fernandez spent five years at the restaurant, all while going to culinary school.

“I was able to keep growing and I had a friend who worked at Hotel Arts Barcelona,” he says. “This was my first hotel job in Barcelona. This was also a eye-opening experience for me because I love the hospitality of it all. I went to my chef and told him that I’m young and single and wanted to travel the world.”

Fernandez arrived in the U.S. at 25, where he started in California.

In 2002, he went to New York City and spent eight years. His journey after that led him to Tucson, Washington D.C., Chicago and then Los Angeles with the Four Seasons.

Paella for Two ($72) with bomba saffron rice, chicken, chorizo, shrimp, clams, mussels, catch of the day, sweet peas, garlic rustic bread and Hatch chile aioli. (Courtesy of Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe)

Getting the opportunity to work in Santa Fe has been a blessing.

He feels inspired by the community and enjoys the laid-back vibe of New Mexico.

“I wouldn’t be able to actually go visit farms in any other location I’ve worked,” he says. “I’ll plan trips up to Española and further north to meet with the growers and actually see the quality of their product. It’s been a welcomed change for me.”

Over the course of his decades-long career, Fernandez has changed as a human, as well as a chef.

When he was younger, there was an eagerness to learn and putting his stamp on a dish was important.

As he traveled the world, he learned that there’s a difference between the aesthetics of a dish and the flavor of it.

“As I grew professionally, I realized that I had to immerse myself into the community,” he says, “to see what ingredients are available locally and embrace it.”

One example of adapting is in Ferdandez’s recipe for his romesco sauce.

“It’s a very classic sauce from Spain and made with pasilla chiles,” he says. “I’m doing the same recipe but changing the flavors with that of the red and green chile found in New Mexico.”

He’s also added items like Piñon Crusted Lamb which features blue corn beet polenta, piñon herb crust, garlic roasted green beans, red wine demiglace and root vegetable slaw. And then there’s the House-Made Green Chile & Bison Meatballs with grilled rustic herb bread, ricotta, Parmesan, fresh herbs and heirloom tomato demi.

“We use New Mexico Bison from Beck and Bulow farm right after Las Vegas, New Mexico and the green chile from Hatch,” he says. “We also use the bread from Sage bakery here in Santa Fe as well, so yes, this dish is legit and local.”

NEW MEXICO BISON & GREEN CHILE MEATBALLS WITH RICOTTA CHEESE AND HEIRLOOM TOMATO SAUCE

Makes 25 meatballs each or five servings | Preparation time: 40 minutes | Cooking time: 50 minutes.

For the Meatballs

2 pounds ground New Mexico Bison

2 whole organic eggs

½ pound ricotta cheese, plus some for final plate.

1 cup breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon of chopped garlic

3 whole Hatch green chile

¼ cup fresh cilantro

¼ cup fresh parsley

½ tablespoon fresh chopped oregano.

1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ cup diced rustic bread

½ cup organic whole milk

½ fresh jalape ñ o pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil for roasting

Salt and pepper to taste

In a mixing container place the diced rustic bread and the milk, let it soak until the bread is soft, then set aside.

In a heavy oven-roasting pan, place the Hatch chiles, cover them with the olive oil, some salt and pepper, and then roast them until golden brown at 350 degrees for about 4 minutes. Let them cool down. Set aside.

Peel the Hatch chiles taking off the skin and the seeds out.

In a blender, blend the green chile, jalapeños and cilantro, blend until smooth. Set aside.

In a separate large mixing bowl, place the ground New Mexico bison and the rest on the ingredients, including the blended chile mix and the soft rustic bread.

Mix very well until smooth.

Take a small sample and cook it to taste the seasoning, add more salt and pepper if need it.

Form meatballs using 1 ounce to 1½ ounce portions. Place them on a large sheet tray. At this point, they are ready to be cooked, either in a sauce of your choice, or in the oven alone for future use. If you choose to cook them in the oven, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and cook the meatballs for around 30 minutes until golden brown.

For the Heirloom Tomato Sauce

6 large, chopped heirloom tomatoes, or good quality San Marzano canned tomatoes

5 whole gloves of garlic, chopped

1 large white onion, chopped

2 whole bay leaves

4 to 5 fresh basil leaves

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

In a blender, place the cut tomatoes and puree them until smooth. Set aside.

In a heavy pot, add the extra virgin olive oil and the bay leaf, cook the onions and the garlic until golden brown.

Add the tomato puree and simmer for about 40 to 60 minutes.

Taste for seasoning and add the fresh basil, set aside.

Final preparation and presentation

At this point, place the meatballs in the sauce and simmer for another 10 minutes until all the flavors are combine.

Serve with an additional dot of ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, fresh herbs and grill bread of your choice. Enjoy.

– Recipes courtesy of Jose Fernandez, May 2022

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