Copyright © 2023 Albuquerque Journal
Marc Quiñones finds solace in nature.
Before an expected long day at work, the Albuquerque chef will take to the streets and go for a miles-long run. If running isn’t in the cards, he will head to the bosque and walk.
Either way, this time is for a reset.
Quiñones, who turns 42 this month, has also looked to nature to help guide the direction of the dishes he creates at Level 5 at Hotel Chaco in Old Town – specifically Chaco Canyon.
“I look to Chaco Canyon as a blueprint,” Quiñones says. “Being at Chaco is having the chance to tell our story.”
Since taking the helm as executive chef on March 7, Quiñones has completed a cultural change of the menu at Level 5.
“What I want to do is tell the story of the cuisine of our people and what New Mexico does at its very best,” Quiñones says.
The menu went live in mid-May.
Quiñones is proud that the creations feature local and regional products as much as possible.
The property also created the Chaco Garden where his staff will be growing and harvesting its own produce.
“We want to cook for the international traveler and let them know that when they come to New Mexico, they experience the best,” Quiñones says. “It’s a flavor that excites the palates of our locals.”
Quiñones grew up in the Bronx, New York, and is Puerto Rican and Dominican.
His family moved to Albuquerque when he was 13 years old. He lived in Barelas and went to Washington Middle School.
He graduated from Albuquerque High School in 2000.
While in high school, he kept himself busy working the fast food circuit around town.
His first job was at the Wendy’s located on University Boulevard and Central Avenue, and then transferred to the Wendy’s in Old Town.
He was fired from the Taco Bell at Gibson and San Mateo boulevards and also delivered chicken for Kentucky Fried Chicken on San Mateo and McLeod Road in the Northeast Heights.
“It blows my mind to think of me starting there and working my way up,” Quiñones says. “I only ever cooked in high school. I was also the person manning the barbecue grill at high school parties.”
After high school, Quiñones moved back to New York City and worked at various restaurants in Manhattan.
It was there that he began to build on the foundation he forged in New Mexico.
He began to whet his appetite within the culinary world.
“When I went back to New York, the mission was clear. I want to work in restaurants and I wanted to work my way up,” he says. “I took every opportunity as a learning experience. I still do.”
After a few years in New York, he moved to Arizona to go to Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts Scottsdale and graduated in 2005.
After culinary school, he bounced around, with a stint working in Hawaii.
Coming back to New Mexico, he began running Bien Shur at Sandia Resort & Casino.
His tenure lasted for five years.
It was time to head to Santa Fe, where he was executive chef at the Inn and Spa at Loretto.
“This is where I fell in love with New Mexico food,” he says.
After that era, Quiñones ended up at Hotel Andaluz for nearly six years. He ran the food and beverage as well as Más Tapas y Vino.
“This is when I found my fully-crafted culinary point of view,” he says. “It is inspired by my travels and I give it New Mexican flavor.”
In 2021, Quiñones competed on the Fox series, “Hell’s Kitchen.”
“Hell’s Kitchen” is hosted by Gordon Ramsay and pits two teams of chefs as they compete for a job as head chef at a restaurant. In Quiñones’ season, contestants were moved from the Los Angeles warehouse to the Hell’s Kitchen restaurant in Las Vegas, Nevada, to compete.
Quiñones said his time competing on the Fox series was one of the toughest challenges in his life.
“It’s ‘Hell’s Kitchen,’ and they call it that for a reason,” Quiñones says. “It’s extremely challenging, and having 17 other people that literally want to beat you. At the same time, you want to beat them. It’s heavy competition.”
Quiñones often turns to running daily to clear his mind.
He’s finished 10 marathons in the last five years.
“Running for me is very personal. It’s how I handle my mental health and keep my body fit,” he says. “During that time, I process life, my family, my menus and my staff. I’ve run all over the world and nothing beats running in Albuquerque. I see and smell so many things while I’m on the road.”
Quiñones looks back at his journey and knows the struggles he’s gone through. He’s grateful that New Mexicans have supported him for 15 years as a chef and continues to evolve as a chef.
“It almost seems surreal. I feel really blessed to be working within this unique platform,” he says. “My ability to connect with people through my food is special. In the end, every day when I show up to the property and it starts with the same thought process. I’m creating the best I can for the guest experience.”
Chile Garlic Shrimp Tostones
For the plantains (tostones)
3 green unripe plantains
2 cups of corn oil
Kosher salt, to taste
Peel the plantains by slicing lengthwise with a sharp knife and using your fingers to pull the skin off.
Clip the ends and cut into roughly 1-inch cubes.
Add oil to a heavy-bottomed fry pan and bring to medium high heat.
Fry the plantains until golden brown about 4-6 minutes.
Remove from the oil and place on a paper towels to drain excess grease.
Flatten with the bottom of a mortar and pestle.
Fry them again for another 5 minutes or until golden brown and crispy.
Salt to taste upon removal.
For the garlic mojo sauce
3 cloves fresh garlic
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons fresh chopped oregano
1 ½ cups of distilled white vinegar
½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground annatto
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
Juice of 1 fresh lime
Add garlic, oregano, salt, pepper, annato and lime juice into the bottom of a mortar and pestle. Ground into a paste.
Add vinegar and combine with a whisk.
Add olive oil and combine with whisk.
Add Worcestershire sauce and sugar. Whisk again.
For the chile pequin
1 tablespoon chile pequin
3 tablespoon granulated garlic powder
2 tablespoon granulated onion powder
1 teaspoon Pimenton de la Vera Spanish paprika
2 teaspoons dried Dominican oregano
Kosher salt to taste
Coarse ground black pepper to taste
Granulated white sugar to taste
Lightly toast chile pequin in a saute pan over medium heat and don’t lose sight of it. Once you smell the aromas remove and ground it up in a mortar and pestle before introducing it into a small mixing bowl with the other ingredients. Remember not to evaluate with sugar until after the rest of the ingredients for the rub have been brought together.
For the shrimp
25 medium sized shrimp, (5 shrimp per plate)
5 medium avocados
Saute shrimp in saute pan with 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil for 1 minute on high heat then hit it with the garlic mojo sauce and set aside before placing on top of crispy tostones.
Dice avocado and lightly tossed in mojo sauce and finished with salt. Garnish with micro cilantro.
Plate the tostones to your liking, shrimp and diced avocado and then sauce with the mojo at the very end for a bite of heaven like no other.
(Recipe by Marc Quiñones)