The Life of Spice

Chimayo head chef Arturo Flores traded a career in law for one in the kitchen.

By Austen Diamond June 1, 2014 Published in the Summer/Fall 2014 issue of Park City Magazine

Spice pmwzly

Arturo Flores infuses Chimayo's eclectic menu with creativity, family tradition, and lots of flavor.

Few, if any, law students graduate from their three-year program, study rigorously to pass the bar, and then land their dream job ... as a dishwasher. There’s a huge grin on Arturo Flores’s face as he recounts the story of how he came to be the executive chef of Chimayo (368 Main St, 435.649.6222, chimayorestaurant.com). Flores gave up life as a lawyer in Mexico City when he moved to Park City 20 years ago to work in the culinary arts—and he wouldn’t have it any other way. “The food, the spices—just being in a busy kitchen—inspired me a lot,” Flores says. “I knew that’s what I really wanted to do.”

Flores was saving money to finish school that winter before returning to Mexico City. But after passing the bar, reality sunk in. “I decided I didn’t want to be there anymore. I knew I wanted to be a chef,” he explains. Flores brings a unique palate to the Chimayo brand of “distinctive Southwest” with his love of exotic reductions, myriad dried and fresh peppers, and flavorful spices. He lists his favorite spices in his affable Mexican accent almost like a poem: “cumin, paprika, Mexican oregano, coriander, and peppers—we use a lot of peppers—like ancho, guajillo, puya, morita, jalapeño. And then I really love blood orange and passion fruit and other juices,” he says. “Spices are what get me excited about being a chef.”

Flores began his culinary arts career as a dishwasher and has worked as a food runner, prep chef, expeditor, line chef, and ultimately head chef at Chimayo for the past 14 years. He received no formal training other than working with owner Bill White, whom he cites as a continual inspiration and source of knowledge.

Chimayo’s menu is as comfort-oriented as it is exotic and enticing. Many of the dishes owe as much to French cuisine as they do to Latin. For instance, a typical
Béarnaise sauce under Flores’s keen sensibility benefits from green chiles. And nearly all of the dishes are Flores’s creations, like his heavenly ribs—rubbed with onion, chipotle, molasses, guajillo chiles, lime, and more—which fall off the bone when you unravel this artistic entrée.

Flores also infuses a bit of his own familial traditions to the menu. The chicken tortilla soup is his grandmother’s recipe. During his childhood, Flores and his family would pile over to Grandma Maggie’s house for soup made with garden-fresh tomatoes and cilantro, herbs, and spices from the local market. That freshness and authenticity are what Flores goes for every single day at Chimayo.

Each morning Flores makes all of Chimayo’s distinctive soups, sauces, and dressings himself. “Not that I don’t trust my guys; it’s just something that I really love to do,” Flores says. He’s a man completely dedicated to his craft. “I just love playing with all of the ingredients,” he says. “I just really love food!”

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