Food & Wine Magazine, September, 2011
“The city’s food evolution also depends on strategic new connections. Megan Tucker, the sensational new chef at Amavi restaurant, promotes farmer-chef relationships on her menu (as many chefs around the country do now). “A pueblo in southern New Mexico grows blue corn and grinds it just for me,” says Tucker. And from this comes her blue corn polenta. Don’t come to Amavi expecting flautas and burritos: “I use local ingredients in the context of France, Spain and Italy.” So for example, her Italian homage to corn, beans and squash—three Native American staples—is a blue corn polenta cake topped with a ragout of local, organic pinto beans, roasted butternut squash, garlic and sage.
Tucker does not so much buy ingredients as curate them. She insists upon organic chickens from Pollo Real, an elite ranch in Socorro, New Mexico, that raises chickens for at least 14 weeks, rather than the typical 12. Tucker is one of the few chefs in the country who has them on her menu (even Alice Waters can’t get them). She roasts a half-chicken perfectly, then serves it simply, with house- preserved Moroccan-style lemons, homemade pancetta, garlic and capers.”
“Santa Fe Restaurants Enter a New Age” by Cooper Douglas Anthony
Santa Fe Reporter, February 15, 2012
“Amavi is closed until further notice,” Megan Tucker, the restaurant’s petite, auburn-haired former executive chef, announces upon sitting down. We’re in a corner of the former Corazón space, now Swiss Bakery Pastries & Bistro, and I’ve just asked her about the future of the intimate, delectable Amavi—since 2007, a Santa Fe staple for locally sourced, reasonably priced fine dining.
“We just weren’t busy enough. It’s the same story with everyone,” Tucker shrugs. “We can’t help the fact that tourism was way down due to the fires. That and the economy—it’s just like, what are you going to do?”
So if the Las Conchas wildfire, the largest in New Mexico’s history (and not the only fire to threaten Santa Fe in 2011), hadn’t happened, would Amavi still be in business?
“Potentially, yeah,” she says.
“Everyone got hurt by that in one way or another,” Tucker says evenly. Despite having lost her job as executive chef, she quickly shifts the focus to the restaurant’s lower-paid employees—the servers and line cooks who will have to compete for already scarce restaurant jobs.
“Those are the people I’m worried about,” Tucker says. “And ultimately, those are the people that wind up leaving and moving someplace else.”
This is the bigger concern, the one I’ve been needling city council candidates and friends and colleagues about with annoying regularity: What are we doing to ensure a stable future for Santa Fe? How will we keep young people here? What’s the economic end game?
Tucker is 30—a talented chef whom Santa Fe, if it knew what was good for it, would do well to keep around. She moved here in 2006, after graduating with honors from the Culinary Institute of America, and helped former Amavi executive chef David Sellers open the restaurant in 2007. After Sellers left, Tucker became executive chef. At Amavi, she spearheaded a commitment to locally sourced ingredients. She was known for accommodating diet quirks with style and grace—a rarity among head chefs. (On my last visit to Amavi, in December, our server suggested that my vegetarian mother try a custom-made dish, promising that Tucker would in fact enjoy
making up something new on the fly.)
But “Santa Fe has its favorites,” Tucker points out, and young restaurants often have trouble establishing themselves. As do young people: Tucker moved here with two culinary school classmates; both returned to the East Coast within 18 months because, she says, “There weren’t enough young people, and there wasn’t enough nightlife.” They weren’t even from big cities, she notes; “There’s something missing here for people our age.”
This is a serious concern, and one made all the more poignant by our environs—once a lively, inviting nightclub; now an admittedly lovely, but daytime-only, bakery.
Tucker has ideas for making Santa Fe better—an activity bar, Dave & Busters-style, “where there’s more to do than just drink”; “a real nightclub”; laws that make it less of a DWI-related risk to run a venue. Given a blank check, she’d open a cooking school dedicated toward helping locals eat better. She’s also recasting her own career, via freelance catering and a blog dedicated to helping people cook with local, seasonal produce (chefmegan
So I ask Tucker the big question, the one I ask everyone: Will she stay in Santa Fe?
“I love it here,” she says emphatically. “I don’t want to [leave], but ultimately, at some point, I need to be working again. I have been enjoying doing catering; I have I maybe six or so gigs in the next three months…which is nice, but that’s not really enough income.” She pauses. “So we’ll see.”
“End Game: Does Amavi’s closing foretell the fate of youth culture?”
by Alexa Schirtzinger
Trend Magazine, Spring / Summer 2011
“ Our next [chef] proffers a grand platter full of color. Megan Tucker, executive chef at Amavi, accompanied by her head baker, Jeremy Dellarosa, has made spinach, red chile and herbed goat cheese tortelloni. The dish uses cheese from [The] Old Windmill Dairy in Estancia and sage, [mint], thyme, and parsley from Keen Ridge Farms in Edgewood.
We head to the kitchen, where Megan adds a scarlet sauce of pureed beets and carrots. She explains her passion for cooking sustainably: ‘By spending locally, I put money right into the farmer’s pocket rather than supporting agribusinesses.’ … Each dollar spent this way ‘is a vote for sustainability,’ she adds.
… Megan’s dish brings a stunning brightness to the table. The diners cut into the tortelloni enjoying what Mark [Connell] notes as the ‘sweetness of the beet crunch from the pecan, and then refreshing mint.’
… It seems the most rewarding part of cooking sustainably is social. ‘It’s all about personal relationships – and that’s what life is about,’ says Megan.
“One Planet, One Sustainable Potluck” by Lesley S. King
Santa Fe New Mexican, March 2010
“Earlier this week, Amavi Restaurant’s kitchen brigade saw a changing of the guard. As chef David Sellers leaves for greener pastures (Connecticut) with his family, chef Megan Tucker is charged with leading Amavi into the future.
Tucker, a 2006 graduate of the Culinary Institute of [America] who has worked in restaurants in New York, Pennsylvania, and Santa Fe’s own Rio Chama and the kitchens of the Inn & Spa at Loretto, is no stranger to Amavi. She served its kitchen well upon the restaurant’s opening in 2007, and worked with Sellers at Santacafé before he branched out on his own…Tucker [is] determined to continue the restaurant’s vision of serving up fine Mediterranean cuisine (geared primarily toward France, Italy and Spain) in what has fast become a local favorite, not only for its food, but for its bustling, locals-friendly bar/lounge scene.
“I’ve been gone from Amavi for a while, but it still feels like home,” she told the Fork recently. “We will continue to focus on seasonal ingredients and a fresh twist on Mediterranean classics, but my hope is to strengthen the kitchen’s relationships with regional growers and ranchers. I want to extend the use of local ingredients to include more dairy, meat and poultry, and I am determined to use more sustainable seafood when it’s available through our purveyors.”
“New Chef Megan Tucker No Stranger to Amavi Restaurant” by Rob De Walt