Cooking with your hands, your mind and your heart at Ranchos Plaza Grill

Adam Medina

Taos-born and raised Adam Medina grew up in a family that loved to cook.

“My father was a chef and had a catering business for many years,” he said. “I often helped him so my culinary training started early.”

Story and pictures originally published in Taos News. Photos: Katharine Egli

Medina was originally interested in medicine and did several internships with Dr. Cetrulo and Dr. Vigil at Holy Cross Hospital while he was in high school.

He started UNM in 1991 and thought of attending pre-med school later on.

“But after three semesters, I found out I wasn’t all that interested in medicine,” he said. “I realized cooking was my calling, so I moved to California to attend Los Angeles Culinary Institute.”

He graduated in 1994 and came back to Taos.

“I wanted to research New Mexican culinary traditions before accepting any long-term jobs elsewhere,” he said.

Medina went to work with his father as a sous chef at the Holiday Inn. As part of his research project on Southwest cooking, he interviewed many community elders like Corina Santistevan.

“I learned so much from them,” he said. “That was a great experience and I still remember and apply their teachings.”

The restaurant

Ever since Medina was a child, his parents talked about opening their own restaurant.

“It was always there as a possibility,” he said. “One day we noticed that the equipment of a restaurant was for sale and decided to give it a try. We bought it and opened the restaurant, which was the Ranchos Plaza Grill, in July 2000.”

Soon, the gallery next to it closed and the Medina family also got that space.

“We tripled the size of the restaurant!” Medina said. “It was a risky move, because, without a beer and wine license, we didn’t have a lot of business at first. There were nights when we served only one or two tables.”

The first two years, he admits, were the most difficult.

“We even put the restaurant up for sale once, because we didn’t know if we would be able to keep it,” he said. “It was tough.”

A family-friendly space

People kept telling them that they needed to apply for a beer and wine license if they wanted to make it in the business. Because of their proximity to the Saint Francis Church, there was a legal process they had to follow in order to get the license.

“We could have gotten it; the priest would have agreed to give us a waiver,” Medina said. “But in the end we preferred to keep it family-friendly. We wanted to be known for the quality of our food, which, in my opinion, is very high. Time proved us right. Fifteen years later, we are doing better than ever and we still don’t have a beer and wine license.”

A Southwestern-style menu

Medina describes the restaurant’s menu as southwestern style focusing on native New Mexican ingredients and cooking methods.

“Our chile, red and green, is the staple that encompasses our cuisine,” he said. “We also have salads, sandwiches, and our famous sopapillas.”

Another popular item is the carne adovada. Traditionally, it is made with marinated cube pork with chile caribe that is cooked in the oven for three or four hours. But Medina slices the pork into medallions, marinates them and grills them.

“It is healthier this way, and tastes much better,” he said.

Keeping up the tradition

Medina’s son, Adam Medina Jr., was just accepted into the Culinary Institute of America.

“He knows firsthand what the life of a chef is like, and he is ready for it,” Medina said. “I always tell him, as well as my students and other people I work with, that as a chef you need your hands, your mind and your heart.”

Medina remembers that when he taught cooking classes he gave everybody the exact same recipe, and the result was different in each case.

“It depends on the energy and the love you put into it,” he said. “That reflects on the food—and the business. When patrons come back because they want exactly what you served them last time, prepared just the same way, then you know you are doing something right.”

He has some words of advice for people who like cooking at home.

“Cook what you like and the way you like to eat it,” he said. “And then enjoy it!”

A busy chef

Besides working at his restaurant, Medina collaborates with the High School Culinary Arts Program and teaches Culinary Business at UNM-Taos.

“I explain to my students what it takes to open a business and dealing with the insurance and all the policies that you have to follow,” he said. “Many times, after the class is over, they realize that they don’t want to open a business after all. This is hard work.”

He credits his wife of twenty-five years, Raelynn Medina, for the success he has experienced in business and in life.

“She is the restaurant manager and also supervises the front of the house, and makes sure the bills are paid on time,” he said. “And then she cooks at home.”

Medina also wants to thank the local patrons who have supported him throughout these fifteen years.

“Without them we wouldn’t be where we are now,” he said.

 

VENISON CHILE

 

2 lbs. venison meat, cut into 1 inch cubes

4 tbsp. flour

4 tbsp. lard

1 large onion

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

½ cup ground red chile (hot)

2 cups venison or veal stock

¾ tsp. salt

 

Dust venison meat in 2 tablespoon flour and brown all sides in 2 tbsp. lard.  Add onion and garlic and sauté lightly.  Add 2 tablespoon lard, 2 tablespoon flour and chile powder, combine and brown lightly.  Add stock, simmer for 45 minutes, adjust seasonings.

 

 

 

 

SOPAIPILLAS

 

2 cups flour

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. baking powder

¾ cups water

1 tbsp. oil

 

 

Combine flour, salt, and baking powder.  Add oil and combine well, add water to make a soft dough.  Kneed briefly, rest dough for about 20-30 minutes.

 

Separate dough into 1 – ½ inch balls, roll on floured surface.  Cut into 4 pieces each.

 

Fry in hot oil (350°- 400°) until lightly browned on each side.  Place on paper towel to drain.

 

GREEN CHILE STEW

 

1 lb. diced pork

4 small potatoes, peeled and diced

2 ears roasted corn (preferably white) removed from cob

2 cups green chile – roasted, peeled, and diced

1 cup stewed tomatoes chopped

4-5 cloves of garlic minced

3 cups pork stock

Salt and pepper

 

Brown pork in oil, then add potatoes and cook lightly, add onion and garlic, stir constantly to prevent sticking.  Drain excess fat, add 1-2 tablespoons flour to absorb remaining oil.  Add green chile, corn, tomatoes, and water.  Bring to a boil and simmer 30 minutes.  Season accordingly.

Adam Medina

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