Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa is, by itself, among the top wellness destinations in the country, but Artesian Restaurant is quickly gaining recognition among food connoisseurs. It was recently named No. 2 on USA Today Travel among the 10 best restaurants in the Santa Fe area. There are good reasons for it. After a relaxing soak in Ojo’s mineral waters, relaxed (and possibly hungry) patrons can walk into the restaurant and choose from local favorites to international dishes.
A memorable dining experience at Artesian Restaurant started with an Ojo Farm salad: shaved carrots and mixed greens sprinkled with walnut powder and bathed in a sherry-shallot vinaigrette. The main entree, a juicy bone-in pork chop, was served with creamy mashed potatoes and more fresh greens. The dessert consisted of sopaipillas, accompanied with local honey and natillas, a soft custard that enhanced the flavor of the delightful fried pockets of dough.
A sustainable menu: Farm-to-table approach
The Artesian chef focuses on preparing authentic New Mexican dishes and cosmopolitan entrees using Ojo’s farm-grown herbs, fruits and vegetables. Chef Fernando Ruiz says he is inspired to create his menus by the quiet tranquility of the location and the beauty of Northern New Mexico. Ruiz, who was born in Arizona and raised in Mexico, has been a sous-chef at Río Chama, La Boca and Inn of the Anasazi restaurants and the executive chef at Santacafé. He just took the position of executive chef at Artesian and says he is “loving it.”
“I enjoy being outdoors, so bringing farm-fresh foods into the restaurant where I cook is wonderful,” he said.
The farm-to-table approach fits him like a glove. It allows him to know how the food is grown and who’s growing it. “Besides, I like how the ingredients are brought directly from the farm to the kitchen with no stops in between,” he said.
Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa has its own on-site 2-acre farm that provides most of the produce used in the kitchen. Ojo Farm, started in 2014, was developed to match the resort’s mindful health and wellness practices with a nourishing and organic menu. In fact, the idea of having a farm on the property had been a consideration for many years. Farm manager Mark DeRespinis says that he was “just the person fortunate enough to be the first one to implement it.” DeRespinis’ passion for cultivation began in early 2000. Initially pursuing a liberal arts path, he switched gears to follow his desire for good food and organic farming.
“I garnered my education from seasoned farmers while working in distribution at farmers markets across Colorado and New Mexico before coming to Ojo in 2013,” he said.
In the spring of 2014, garden manager Jane McKay approached him about the possibility of starting a farm at Ojo. McKay has been with the resort since 2010. With a foundation in landscape architecture and farming, she incorporates indigenous agricultural traditions practiced in the high desert into Ojo’s gardens and farm.
“Jane’s idea of developing a farm-to-table program for the restaurant sprouted after achieving great success growing herbs and vegetables, especially greens, on Ojo’s grounds, in beds that used the native waffle garden concept with a handy backhoe,” DeRespinis said. “She introduced me to the owner, Andy Scott, and it was a collaboration from the beginning.”
Working closely with McKay, DeRespinis’ vigilance and smart planting techniques — which include building healthy soil without the use of chemicals — made it possible to deliver fresh produce to incorporate into dishes in the restaurant menus. The farm currently grows salad greens, cooking greens, roots, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. Raspberries and Hoss cherries (aka tomatillos) have recently been added to the slate of products grown at the farm.
“We focus here on salad crops,” DeRespinis said. “We provide many dominant vegetable ingredients for our menu items as well as creative items, such as Hoss cherries, and colorful variations, like rainbow carrots.”
The farm also supplies the wide variety of seasonal produce that is showcased in the menu. “We are able to grow an abundance of winter greens and roots successfully,” DeRespinis said. “We also supply extra accents and elements on all dishes, which was part of the original intention for the farm.”
For chef Ruiz, the current approach makes all the difference in the world. “I am able to create cool, unique daily specials from the farm,” he said.