Meet the executive chef at La Posada De Santa Fe.
By Hope S. Philbrick
Chef Todd Hall is now at the helm of the kitchens at La Posada in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
A prodigy who was behind the world’s first four-star Mexican restaurant—La Hacienda in Scottsdale, Ariz.—he also brought upscale Mexican cuisine to the Boston, Mass., waterfront with acclaimed restaurant, Temazcal Tequila Cantina, and most recently helmed Little Nell in Aspen, Colo.
Hall has spent his career creating unique tastes and setting trends across North America, racking up accolades and awards in the process. He has been named “Best Hotel Chef in America” and “Nominated Rising Star Chef of the Year” by James Beard Foundation, been a finalist at Bocuse D’ Or and the American Culinary Gold Cup, and was a “Youngest Certified Apprenticeship Graduate” by the American Culinary Federation.
At the multiple dining venues at La Posada, he takes inspiration from the seasonal ingredients and flavors of the American Southwest to craft a menu both unexpected and familiar.
We recently talked with him to learn more.
What drew you to a culinary career?
It’s all I ever wanted to do. When I was in junior high my parents ran a restaurant. I was 12, but I would help with prep. The summer of 8th grade I saw the Disney movie Johnny Tremain and heard the line, “I want to be your apprentice. I’ll work for free.” I knew a famous French chef was working at a hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah, so I went to him and said, “I want to be your apprentice. I’ll work for free.” He thought it was funny because I was so young, but he nevertheless hired me as an apprentice under the American Culinary Federation. That was 1976. I’m going to do a dinner at the James Beard House in February 2016 to celebrate my 40th year of professional cooking.
You’ve cooked around the U.S. What led you to Santa Fe?
I’d been up in Aspen, Colorado a couple of years. Two different people associated with this property called me and said it was being renovated, would open two new restaurants. I’d worked with both of those people before, neither one knew the other was calling me. It was only a five-hour drive from where I was so I came down to check it out and fell in love with the property. I thought it was charming, had great potential and might be a great place to spend some time.
Tell me about Julia, A Spirited Restaurant & Bar.
Julia is our fine dining restaurant. We have all kinds of great things on the menu that are hard to get in New Mexico, like fresh salmon, foie gras, beef tartare, dover sole. The menu is a mix of New Mexican and classic French cuisines. It’s been really well received.
How about The Staab House?
The bar and patio are our busiest restaurants. The bar is housed in a 19th Century mansion and features signature cocktails. The patio seats 100 people and we can turn those tables twice a meal throughout summer and fall—people love to sit outside for al fresco dining, so it’s very busy and can be hard to get a table when the weather is nice. There’s live music three to four times a week. The menu is more a gastropub feel with handmade veggie burgers in brioche buns, Wagyu beef sliders, lobster guacamole, grilled chicken, crab cake sandwich and more.
And Viga Bar & Grill?
The brand new one, it just opened. It’s named for the viga posts you’ll see on ceilings in Santa Fe structures. It’s got a granite bar, 50 seats, casual dining with a real Southwest feel. It’s a cross between the patio and Julia. We offer really great salads—we sell almost 200 kale salads a week!—and feature food from the local farmers market—Santa Fe has one of the best farmers markets in the nation! The focus is fresh and natural and we do all we can to source local, sustainable ingredients.
What drives your choices for the menus?
Current dining trends. As an example, I’m no longer cooking with a lot of flour because so many people have celiac disease and want gluten free. I look at the market and see what top sellers are, I gear the menu toward what the market is requesting. There’s a focus on sustainable, organic, local.
What most distinguishes your cuisine?
I love food so much and I’ve been cooking for so long now, I try to find really great ingredients and go to great lengths to source for great taste. My cuisine will not have robust finishes that drown out the flavor of the featured item. Like I wouldn’t dream of taking a great sea scallop and drowning it in marmalade.
How much of your menus are traditional New Mexican versus innovations?
We have a couple traditional New Mexican dishes like green chile stew, but pretty much everything is innovative. I don’t want to be thematic. I’m not like every other resort in town with the same menu. I do have Southwestern nuances and flavors like fresh Hatch chiles.
How often do you change the menu?
All the time. I’m just getting ready to change it again. All the fresh lettuces of summertime are gone, so I’ll roll over to more comfort foods like braised ribs, slow roasted pumpkin soup. We’re going to have warm, wonderful, comforting foods for the next three months.
Do you have a favorite ingredient to work with?
Salt is the most common ingredient I work with. I enjoy specialty cuts, roasted baby goat, molasses, grapefruit, squash blossoms, microgreens, lettuce, peppercress and tangy watercress. I love things with bite.
Do you have a signature dish?
Right now on these menus, I love everything.
La Posada de Santa Fe
330 East Palace Avenue
Santa Fe, NM, 87501
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– Photos courtesy La Posada de Santa Fe