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 Dec 7 - 13, 2017
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Food Interview

Chatting with Campo’s Chef Jonathan Perno

Los Poblanos’ new farm-to-table restaurant opens

By Robin Babb

Whenever somebody from out of town asks about places worth visiting in Albuquerque, Los Poblanos is always high on my list of recommendations. The lavender farm and inn is preternaturally peaceful and otherworldly, with peacocks strutting casually around the grounds alongside blissed-out tourists eating little triangles of cranberry cake from the Farm Shop. And now there’s even more of a reason to visit the slice of New Mexican heaven, because Los Poblanos recently opened their new restaurant, called Campo—and it’s stunning.

In the middle of the huge, open-layout kitchen, visible from the dining room, is the hearth. When I arrive in the afternoon the fire is small and pushed to a back corner—the kitchen staff won’t be needing it to cook for another few hours. It’s here that I encounter Executive Chef Jonathan Perno. He’s peeling golden beets into a bowl filled with other vegetable waste that, I’m certain, will go into compost or feed some of the animals on the property. I find out later that Perno doesn’t like the word “sustainability”—he thinks it’s become too buzzwordy, and thus, meaningless—but he certainly doesn’t take any of his ingredients (or where they come from) for granted.

According to Perno, Campo was in the works from the moment Los Poblanos opened its doors as a bed and breakfast in 1999. Of course, there was a restaurant on the property from the start, but it wasn’t as grand and unique as the owners, Armin and Penny Rembe, wanted. After he began cheffing at the original Los Poblanos restaurant 10 years ago, Perno worked together with the Rembes to come up with a restaurant concept that would live up to the standards of environmental stewardship and minimalist beauty that have guided all their efforts at Los Poblanos.

Perno grew up in New Mexico, but spent his formative early career in the Bay Area, where he worked under Wolfgang Puck at Postrio and learned raised-bed farming in Berkeley. The education he received there, and the appreciation for the Slow Food movement that was flourishing in the Bay, served him well when he came back to New Mexico. In the years since, he has fostered the connections he’s made with farmers and producers in the area. One local farmer Perno talks about in particular, Jesse Amyo of Amyo Farms, is his exclusive provider of tomatoes and garlic, two very important ingredients in most restaurants. “He’s started growing these little tiny European shallots that he’s just selling to me as an experiment. So everything that he didn’t keep for seeds, he gave to me,” Perno says. They’ve known each other for 13 years, and have come to rely on each other. Which, I think, is just how the bond between chef and farmer should be.

He has a number of other farmer friends who save entire acres just for him. “I’m just a vehicle to let farmers showcase their wares,” he says. While I think there may be a little more to it than that, I’m sure his humility is appreciated by those who keep him in carrots and leeks.

“Our inspiration is the state of New Mexico,” Perno said when I asked him about the menu at Campo. That means, of course, plenty of green chile and blue corn, but it goes a little deeper than that as well. It means that many dishes are cooked over a wood fire, it means that their cheeses come from a dairy farm just a few miles away, and it means that what’s in season in the state will largely dictate what’s served.

While he may not be a fan of the term “sustainability,” it’s fair to say that the food that Perno serves at Campo is uniquely tied to the land and the growers who tend it. When I ask him what makes Campo different from many other restaurants that claim farm-to-table principles, his humility flags a bit as he grins wryly at me and says, “well, we walk the walk.”

Campo is now open for breakfast daily from 7:30 to 11:30am, and for dinner Wednesday through Sunday from 5 to 9pm. Reservations required for dinner, recommended for breakfast.

 
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