One afternoon, two chefs were driving together to Santa Fe and one, looking at the beautiful, layered sunset before him, said to the other, “I wish I could put that on a plate.”
The chefs were Gilbert Aragon, executive chef at Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town and the new, luxury Hotel Chaco, and the legendary Mark Miller, of the iconic Coyote Café (Santa Fe), Red Sage restaurant (Washington, D.C.) and Wildfire restaurant (Sydney, Australia). That sunset helped inspire the cuisine at Level 5, the restaurant and lounge at Hotel Chaco.
Expect powerful flavors, layered flavors, experiential flavors, Aragon said during an interview prior to the restaurant’s opening.
“Guests will be pleasantly surprised,” he said. “It’s meant to be an experience.”
The Miller-Aragon collaboration will bring guests flavor and beauty from the wild. Expect completely seasonal dining featuring unexpected wild flavors and ingredients coming from local and regional farmers, ranchers, growers and artisans.
“The farm-to-table concept is going to be automatic for us,” Aragon says, adding that there will be a chef’s garden at the hotel.
Level 5’s Modern American cuisine will symbolically represent all indigenous cultures through ingredient pairings and preparation techniques, Aragon says. A play on the Nordic gravlax using venison, Pacific North Coast-inspired squid with black lentils and kabocha crackers (made from Japanese pumpkin) all have a place on the menu.
Hotel Chaco is a luxury Heritage Hotels & Resorts property inspired by the mystique and grandeur of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Chaco Canyon. Chaco Canyon was a major center of Pueblo and Native American culture for thousands of years with its height of activity between roughly 900 and 1150 AD.
Level 5 is named for the largest pueblo at Chaco Canyon, Pueblo Bonito, which had five stories. It occupies the hotel’s fifth – and top – floor and offer indoor and outdoor dining along with a refined, chic, contemporary atmosphere and spectacular views.
For Aragon, the name also speaks to the elements of fire, wind, water, earth and metal, and that has directly influenced the cooking techniques used at the restaurant. Cooking is done over wood – and in some cases in the ground. Stone, ash, cast iron and Mother Nature are all tools in the kitchen.
Aragon says the preparation, cooking techniques and layering of textures and flavors to make each dish a dining experience is deliberate.
He wants the dishes at Level 5 to mean something, to evoke memories, create new memories and really excite the senses.
“This means a lot to me personally, growing up in Albuquerque I always dreamed of opening a restaurant like this,” he said. “It’s really going to be special.”