November Chef of Chef Works: Marc Quiñones

Chef Marc Quiñones has an energy that’s hard to ignore. Whether you’re meeting him in-person at MÁS, the full-service restaurant and tapas bar in Albuquerque’s Hotel Andaluz, or you’re watching one of his viral plating Reels on Instagram, you’ll quickly realize this is a man living with purpose and passion. And, judging by his accolades — 30,000 followers on Instagram, Chef of the Year, and Best Chef in the City not once but three times — the rest of the world is also paying attention.

We had the pleasure to meet Chef Marc to discover the driving force behind his spirit, learn how honesty has been his superpower throughout his career, and find out the invaluable gems he has to offer to up-and-coming chefs.

Chef Works: Did you always know you wanted to be a chef?

Marc Quiñones: I’m a Puerto Rican Dominican from the South Bronx, New York City, born to a single mother who was young at the time. My mom, Grace, was and is a big foodie. She’s the best cook I’ve ever known.

Growing up in that area in the Bronx, you had food and you had music. We had great salsa music all the time, and my mom was always cooking food in the kitchen with fresh ingredients — peeling garlic, making the marinade for the pork… When she’d make rice and beans, I’d always want to stir. So I’ve been in the kitchen since I was a little boy.

We moved to New Mexico when I was 13 years old in June 1994 because my grandfather was terminally ill. He passed away six months later, but we stayed here in New Mexico. I started working when I was 14, 15 years old at Wendy’s, and I loved being on the grill.

I’d get to work and everyone was not wanting to be there, and I was like, “I get to work the grill tonight!” I was always pumped up about it. So in high school, I worked the fast food circuit, believe it or not. Wendy’s, Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino’s.

It didn’t matter if I was making a quesadilla at Taco Bell or fried chicken at KFC, I was always happy to be touching food. Ask anyone who knows me, I always say “This never gets old.” And the fact that I get paid to do this? It’s almost weird!

CW: What were the early days of your professional journey like?

MQ: After all of that, I ended up back in New York City when I was 19 years old. I wanted to go out there and find myself. I knew I wanted to be a chef, so I started working for a temp agency in the early 2000s.

Every morning at 4 o’clock in the Bronx, I would walk down Hunts Point Avenue, catch the 6 train to 125th Street, and then take the 4 to 42nd and Grand Central. The agency was right around the corner. I’d go in, and they’d give me a piece of paper with the address and name of the chef I’d be reporting to.

So I’d go to a random restaurant in the city with a slip and would begin washing dishes. That’s just how it was. I knew that was my path to getting into a kitchen as a prep cook.

So after washing dishes, I’d always volunteer to prep. And when I was a prep cook, I’d always volunteer to help out with the banquets. I would make myself valuable.

From a young age, I was taught by my mother: “Pound the pavement and make yourself valuable.” Everything you do, do it with everything you got. And do good in school. So no matter what I’ve had to do from a task perspective, I always lean into it.

I don’t think I’m the best or the worst, but I try hard. And that’s how I’ve been my life categorically, whether it’s been husband, father, chef, leader in the community — is it pure? That’s very important to me. And that’s been instilled in my veins since I was a little boy.

Fast-forward the clock, I knew I wanted to become an executive chef. I’ve always been of the belief that someone who looks like me and comes from where I come from, if I wanted to be taken seriously, I had to be amazing academically. I had to have all my paperwork — and the accolades behind it. So I went to Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale, Arizona, and I ended up graduating with a 4.0 on the president’s list.

As a chef now, I mentor a lot of the young cooks. I tell them, “Establish that this is your purpose.” ‘Cause if it is, you’re going to have the most amazing career. It’s gonna be such a roller coaster. If you get tempted to tally up the good days versus the bad days, don’t do that math! Because it’s all about the journey.

CW: Speaking of it being a roller coaster, how do you take care of yourself, especially your mental health, in a high-pressure career such as yours?

MQ: This is what I tell the young chefs: What you feel is real, and you need to allow yourself to feel that. It’s relative to what you’ve been exposed to in life, so my situation has never been any worse than yours, and vice-versa. It’s important to be in tune with that.

And what I recommend, even what I do here at the hotel, is I take a lot of the young chefs out running. Find your purpose, and allow yourself to be excited by it. If it puts a smile on your face, and it makes you dream, don’t ever think it’s too big.

I remember being a kid, having a 13-inch TV with aluminum foil on the antennas, and all of a sudden, Julia Child pops up. I remember the very first time I saw Food Network and thinking that one day I’m going to be a chef.

CW: Tell us about this season in your life and what brought you back to New Mexico.

MQ: When I graduated school, I was like, “Do I want to go back to New Mexico where my mom is? Do I want to go back to New York?” I ended up on Kona, and that’s where my wife and I reconnected. I had first met her here in Albuquerque when I was 13.

Long story short, I ended up back in New Mexico where I began to establish myself as Chef Marc Quiñones. I came back in 2007, and I’ve been cooking here ever since. Yeah, I’m from the Bronx, and I’m proud of my heritage. But I gotta be honest — I’m also 100% New Mexican. In many ways, I really became a chef here. This is where I’ve taken my travels, culture, and background and carved out my point of view when it comes to food.

CW: Anyone who visits your Instagram page will not only see your beautiful food but also the gorgeous pottery it’s plated on. Can you tell us the story behind that?

MQ: We have an amazing program going here. All our specials only go out on pottery by local artists right here in Albuquerque. You know, New Mexico’s known for art. The majestic colors, the stoneware, the pottery, the clay, the petroglyphs, the sandy mountains.

We’re high-desert over here — we’re about 5,500-6,000 feet elevation base level. It’s very artistic, artisanal, and organic out here. Our bounty of ingredients is amazing, and we cook with local ingredients every day here at Más. And about a year ago, we began to buy local pottery.

We started out by buying two pieces, and they were beautiful. I was like, “Wow, I wonder if they have more. I’m gonna go back.” We started working with Crossed Paws Pottery, and then we noticed Cloudhead Ceramics also had local plates.

Next thing you know, we now have a lot of local plates, and we’re able to send all our specials out on local pottery. And I believe those vessels are just as beautiful — if not more — than my food. And it’s an honor to be able to leverage my platform, which I’m blessed to have. It’s a privilege to wake up in the morning and to make the decisions I’m able to make as a steward of the resources here.

Any last piece of advice for up-and-coming chefs?

To all the young chefs out there, I cannot stress this enough: If cooking excites you, if new knives excite you, if new chef coats excite you, spend the beginning of your career diving into the finances of restaurants. That’s what’s going to separate you.

That’s what’s going to get owners and partners to believe in you. And once they believe in you, you can be as creative as you want to be. Prove yourself fiscally, be responsible, learn the business side, and be as excited about that as you are your food!

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