Chef Andrew Cooper of Terra

Andrew Cooper always dreamed of becoming a chef. Although he’s worked with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts for 14 years, recently he has been awarded his first executive chef position at the company’s five-star resort at Rancho Encantado. But cooking for Terra, the gorgeous restaurant on the property, isn’t the only thing he’s been up to. Since moving to Santa Fe a year ago, Andrew has been busy working with organizations like Cooking with Kids and The Food Depot, implementing his philosophy of organic, local and sustainable foods within our community. He’s also busy raising his one- and three-year-old sons. It may sound like a lot for one person, but this is one chef full of energy and an insatiable appetite for all things cooking and community.

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As with many chefs, his love of food began with his grandmother, who made special meals for him and his family when they visited her in Brooklyn, New York. He cooked during Boy Scouts (once cooking over a campfire with a Danish cookie tin that exploded). In high school, he got a job at a country club where he cooked hot dogs, chicken and fish for golfers. When it came time to think about college, Andrew decided to pursue his dream of becoming a chef. “I spent more than eight hours a day thinking about food,” he says. “I wanted to get paid for it.”

He enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York. When it was time for his required internship, he decided to apply at Bouley Restaurant, in New York City. Dressed in his best (and only) suit, he knocked on the back door of the restaurant and told David Bouley that he wanted to be a chef and wanted to intern with him. Bouley asked him to start immediately—by making pasta with his sous chef.

“The first thing the sous chef did was take a whole handful of pasta and throw it across the table to me,” Andrew remembers, smiling. “I looked down at my suit and thought, ‘Oh well.’ I worked the rest of the day there. Bouley was so impressed that he took me under his wing and trained me.”

Andrew has traveled the world, learning about and teaching cooking in Switzerland, Italy, Australia and even Taiwan. In his 14 years with Four Seasons, he’s worked at hotels in New York, Hawaii and West Lake Village, California. One of Andrew’s strengths is his varied experience and willingness to learn from each new place he goes. When he worked for Four Seasons in New York, the food was all about indulgence: duck fat, butter and foie gras. But in West Lake Village, he had to relearn his techniques in order to make more healthy food that still tasted indulgent, like mayonnaise made from avocado. On the Big Island in Hawaii, Andrew’s focus shifted to what would become an important part of his personal philosophy as a chef: sustainable cooking.

“When you’re on a rock in the middle of the ocean,” Andrew says, “you have to be as sustainable as possible. You can fly food in, but it costs an arm and a leg.” When asked to write a sample menu, the resident chef responded by highlighting all the items that weren’t local—over half the menu. So Andrew started touring the island, visiting the more than 160 local farms that sold produce and meat to the hotel. He enjoyed getting to know the farmers and their families, as well as learning how they grew and prepared their produce—even how it was delivered. “It really made my love of cooking even more special,” Andrew explains. “I started to understand how and why something is grown and associate the produce with the farmer. So a tomato wasn’t just a tomato—it was Dave’s tomato.”

AndrewCooper3Andrew has brought his knowledge and passion for local, sustainable food to Santa Fe. When he arrived at Four Seasons at Rancho Encantado, he asked the folks in the kitchen where they got their apples. No one knew, and Andrew discovered that there weren’t many local ingredients on the menu. He took his kitchen crew to the farmers’ market, and they’ve been going every week since, buying as many local ingredients as possible to incorporate into the menu at Terra. He spends time getting to know our local farmers and learning to make the best use of local ingredients, especially green chile. “When I first came across Romero Farms and experienced the chile roasting,” Andrew exclaims, “the smell was intoxicating! The flavor, the taste—I fell in love!”

Andrew wants to share his excitement for local ingredients and sustainable food with the community, and he also wants to show people what Terra is all about. “People tend to avoid coming out here because it’s ten minutes out of town,” he explains. “Four Seasons is fine dining–focused, but I want to show people that we can be fun, down-to-earth and affordable.” Andrew took advantage of the Four Seasons taste truck, a food truck manned by different Four Seasons chefs across three states, to showcase “gourmet meals to-go.” Upon its arrival in Santa Fe, he took the taste truck to Tesuque Elementary School, where more than 130 kids were served homemade tamales, enchiladas and churros. He’s very excited to work with kids, especially after seeing his own three-year-old son’s excitement for what goes on in the kitchen. “He wants to be involved when I’m cooking,” he says, grinning. “It’s messy, but he’s so interested!” Andrew also participated in this year’s Souper Bowl and Pie Mania events for The Food Depot. “I want to share my passion and love for what I do with the community,” he says.

To show people what Terra is all about, he has created chef’s table dinners, where people can dine in the kitchen. “People told me I couldn’t do it,” Andrew says, “because it gets so crazy in the kitchen. But I said, why not? It’ll be like watching a Broadway show, but they’ll be in it.” He set up a table in the kitchen, and when a local family made the first reservation, no one quite knew what to expect. At the last minute, Andrew grabbed eight aprons and decided to get the family involved in the action. Instead of simply eating dinner in view of the kitchen, the family was able to help plate food and call out orders. Everyone had a blast, getting to experience the crazy dance of cooks and servers at work on a busy night. Andrew points out that these days, with the Food Network and the popularity of cooking shows, people are much more aware of food than they used to be. Now, at Terra, people will have the opportunity to get a real-life peek behind the scenes.

AndrewCooper2If you haven’t been to Terra yet, you should go. The restaurant itself is gorgeous, with a clean, modern feel and a cozy fireplace, behind which is a gorgeous glass-enclosed wine cellar. The restaurant has an open feel, with several windows that look out on a fantastic view of the surrounding mountains. With Andrew’s creativity and faith in all things local, his food—which he calls American regional with Southwest influence—is some of the most exciting in town. He told me about one dish he recently created using what was available at the farmers’ market—and green chile, of course, which he used to marinate some short ribs. He had pumpkin and chard from the farmers’ market and some local mushrooms. Thinking of ideas in the dining room at Terra, his eye fell on the fireplace, and he decided to smoke the pumpkin with piñon wood. He was also drinking coffee, and so he finished his dish with coffee syrup. The result? Green chile–braised short ribs with a smoked pumpkin purée, wilted Swiss chard and sautéed mushrooms with a coffee reduction. Are you getting as hungry as I am?

I ask if it’s easier, living in Santa Fe, to cook using local and sustainable ingredients. “It’s not easier, but it’s more important,” he explains. “Here in Santa Fe, people really care about their food and they ask where it’s from and if it’s organic.” He points out that what we eat really affects us and that we should have a say in what we eat. “We have a choice to know where our food is coming from and to understand what we’re eating.” Having his own kids has also changed his perspective on the importance of eating local, sustainable food. “Being a parent now, I’m very aware of what my kids are eating.”

To raise awareness about his own cuisine at Terra, Andrew lists on the menu several of the farms he sources from, including Old Windmill Dairy, Romero Farms, Pollo Real, Rancho Chonito Orchards and several others. “I want my food to be from here,” Andrew says. “I want that story.” By engaging with chefs, farmers and organizations within our community in an effort to create change and awareness, he’s now part of that story himself.

Terra restaurant at the Four Seasons Rancho Encantado Resort is located on State Road 592, just outside of Santa Fe. 505.946.5800. fourseasons.com/santafe.

Originally published in the December, 2013 issue of Local Flavor Magazine. Photos by Gabriella Marks.