Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
Some of Jim Griego’s fondest memories are correlated with food.
Growing up, his aunt and uncle worked in the industry.
Like many others, food was at the center of memories and family.
After a career working with government contracting, Griego had a mid-life crisis.
His job wasn’t fulfilling any more, so he turned to culinary arts and began classes in 2009 at Central New Mexico Community College.
By 2012, he graduated and was ready to showcase his talent.
On March 20, Griego got a gig of a lifetime as he was hired as the executive chef for the Albuquerque Isotopes.
On nongame days, Griego is busy planning for events and new creations.
For home games, Griego doesn’t remain in the kitchen.
“I’m always seen on the concourse,” he says. “I like to be out where the people are. I like to see what people are doing with the food.”
Griego, who was born and raised in Albuquerque and graduated from Sandia High School, has worked a handful of jobs in the culinary world.
He’s made a goal of learning all aspects of the industry.
His stint at Sandia Resort and Casino was where he learned more of restaurant management.
Then he learned more about Asian food during his time at PF Chang’s.
Before he was hired at the Isotopes, he was an executive chef for Presbyterian Hospital, where he worked on finding the right food for patients.
“With food, you can help people healthy,” he says. “I knew I could make comfort food and make people relax. I worked with patients on what they would like to eat. Hospital food has its stereotype; I tried to change that.”
During his downtime, Griego volunteers with Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing.
The national organization brings a high-quality, full-spectrum fly fishing program to an ever-expanding number of disabled active military service personnel across the Veterans Affairs health care system, in military hospitals and the Warrior Transition Command.
“I wanted to get back to the people,” he says. “This is why I continue to get out to help in any way I can.”
Working with the Isotopes, Griego not only feels support, but a freedom to be daring with his creations.
While he makes special menus for events and for the press box, he’s also thinking of what the Isotopes fans would like.
“I’ve put a wild game sausage cart on the concourse,” he says. “New Mexico is a big outdoor sportsman community. What would be better is to offer exotic types of meat. I have alligator, duck, rattlesnake, elk and rabbit down there.”
Then John Traub, Isotopes general manager, challenged Griego to create a sandwich with a “wow” factor.
Luckily for Griego, the I-Chee-Wah-Wah Barbeque Sandwich was living in his head.
“A mixture of pulled pork and green chile,” he says. “Lots of green chile. It lived in my mind for awhile and I’m always looking for flavor profiles working together.”
Of course, every concoction doesn’t make it to the main stage.
“Green chile works with a lot of things,” Griego says. “One that doesn’t is ice cream. It never goes together. I’ve been working on making something with yak and somehow reinventing the chile dog. These will take time and have many trials.”
While Griego enjoys the fruits of his labor, it’s the behind-the-scenes work that has to be impeccable in order to have success on game day.
On any given day, Griego oversees that the products and food are all in place for the day.
Because there is a lot of catering done at Isotopes Park, that’s an added pressure. Of course, there are always curveballs.
“During a game, I have four or five food carts,” he says. “Then there are the food stands. The process that takes the longest is figuring out where everything needs to be. Everything has to be in certain areas at certain times. Once we get done with that, something pops up to make the day that much crazier. I feel like I’m much more the organizer on game days because all the prep work has been done.”
Griego also wants to make his mark and bring succulent dishes to the guests.
He finds peace in traveling the world and tasting and learning about other cuisine. One idea he wants to bring to fruition is paella.
“I can’t get the perfect crust on the outside,” he says. “I wanted to bring paella to the suites and offer it to the suite clientele.”
When it comes to the “go-to” entree for the chef on the go, it’s simple.
“Chicken tenders and rice,” he says. “I like chicken tenders because I can walk around the kitchen or the concourse eating them. It’s about meals on the go for me.”
Isotopes I-Chee-Wah-Wah Barbeque Sandwich
“It may seem like a lot of ingredients, but when that creamy nacho cheese sauce meets the spicy green chile and the savory pulled pork with the tang of barbecue sauce … wow, it’s magic. So good and spicy, you’ll say ‘I-Chee-Wah-Wah!’ This recipe is a scaled-down version of what is served at the ball park. Enjoy it at home or even better – enjoy one as you watch the Isotopes play!” – Jim Griego, Albuquerque Isotopes executive chef
6 soft hamburger buns (brioche buns would work well)
Pulled pork (from your favorite recipe)
Spicy barbecue sauce (purchased or your favorite recipe)
Chopped New Mexico green chile
Nacho cheese sauce (purchased or your favorite recipe)
Chile relleno (recipe below)
1 tablespoon butter
To make the sandwiches: Lightly toast split hamburger buns in a pan with 1 tablespoon of melted butter. Place a generous helping of warm pulled pork on the bottom of each bun and layer a few teaspoons of barbecue sauce, chopped green chile and a pool of warm nacho cheese.
Add a freshly cooked, crispy, chile relleno on top. Finally pull it all together with the toasted top bun. Make sure you have napkins handy.
6 New Mexico chile peppers, charred and peeled with seeds removed
¾ pound Monterey Jack cheese cut into 6 strips
1 cup whole milk
½ teaspoon vegetable or canola oil
¾ cup all-purpose flour, plus ½ cup for breading
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon garlic salt
Stuff peeled and seeded chile peppers with strips of Monterey Jack cheese and place in freezer for 10 minutes.
Combine the milk, oil, ¾ cup flour, baking soda, baking powder, and garlic salt in a medium bowl.
Place the ½ cup flour in a separate dish.
Pour vegetable oil (about 1½ inch in depth) into a frying pan, and heat over medium-high heat until a drop of the batter sizzles when dropped in.
Remove chiles from the freezer. Coat each with the plain flour and then dunk in the milk-based batter.
Carefully add to the hot oil, turning each relleno until golden on all sides.
*Tip don’t overcrowd the pan with peppers. It’s best to fry a few at a time. This allows for crispier rellenos.
Recipes from Jim Griego, Albuquerque Isotopes executive chef