Sawmill Market adds Little Madrid to the menu

Chef Christian Monchârtre is hastily putting the finishing touches on Little Madrid, a Spanish tapas bar that’s being added to what he calls “the last corner” of Sawmill Market. As vice president of culinary operations for Heritage Restaurant Group, a division of Heritage Hotels & Resorts, he oversees the dining options at the group’s various properties. Those properties include El Monte Sagrado, Eldorado Hotel, The Inn at Loretto, Hotel St. Francis, Hotel Albuquerque, Hotel Chaco, and Albuquerque’s popular Sawmill Market near Old Town.

Little Madrid, which opens February 10, features what its proud chef calls “traditional Spanish cuisine, but made in America.” Amidst the European market-like tile and wrought-iron decor, there are separate serving areas specializing in tapas, charcuterie, paella, and a special, caramelized “Basque cheesecake” (the latter served on a bar made from mahogany wood imported directly from Spain) . A currently empty glass-door refrigerator will soon be hung with “pata negra” (premium acorn-fed Iberico ham imported from Spain – hand-cut and sold by the ounce). “A very great delicacy!” crow Chef Christian. And of course there will be plenty of Spanish wine and beer in the glasses of the customers.


With the addition of Little Madrid, the well-traveled chef hopes to “bring Spain to New Mexico. There’s a big connection there,” he emphasizes. “And most New Mexicans, if you want to eat and experience the tapas style, it takes you a plane ticket to Spain.” Much of our state’s history is rooted in Spain, but few locals have had the chance to taste “real food” from Spain. Little Madrid hopes to change that.

“Tapas are very shareable,” says Chef Christian. “Tapas bar hopping is fantastic in Spain. Usually each bar has a specialty.” Monchârtre hopes to create his restaurant’s specialty by adding a touch of “New Mexico flair,” among other shareable delights, adding a paella made with green chile to the menu.

Most of the dining options in Sawmill (Mercantile Cafe, West Cocktail & Wine Bar, Flora, Paleta Project, Churro y Corn, Red and Green) were created by Heritage and Chef Christian. The rest are third-party sellers (including Neko Neko, Dr. Field Goods, Tulipani Pasta), carefully selected and curated by Monchârtre. According to the man in charge of culinary operations, Heritage chooses tenants based on cuisine, business history and uniqueness. “We have a team that does what we want. High-end food from Asian to some pasta to other flair, so there’s a mix for people to keep coming back. Otherwise you get bored after a while.”

Sawmill Market opened its doors to the public in March 2020. According to Monchartre owner of Heritage Hotels, Jim Long, “He has a very big vision of what the food market will look like. The food market has become something very big in the United States in the last eight to 10 years.” Because of his work recruiting tenants for the dining hall, Monchârtre “is very proactive in helping people actually do business. That was very big for us. There are people who have talents, who know how to cook certain things, but they don’t know how to do it the professional way. I think Heritage is very good at that, really helping with the design, with what to serve, etc. So it has been a learning process for everyone.” While overseeing the installation of new restaurants and food concepts across the state, Monchârtre emphasizes that: “The most important thing for me is to teach people. All the knowledge I’ve gained over the years to pass on. That’s so important to me.”

Chef Christian has spent virtually his entire life “learning” in restaurant kitchens. He was born in Paris. When he was 9 months old, he was moved by his parents to the historic Loire Valley in France. “I grew up in the cradle of the King of France, with all the castles and restaurants.” His parents ran a restaurant from a historic castle, where he learned to cook. On “the edge of 18”, young Monchârtre wanted to see the world. He went to Italy where he worked ‘off and on for nine years’ in places like the legendary Villa d’Este on Lake Cumo. He later ended up in San Sabastian, Spain, where he worked at the three-star Micheline restaurant Arzak. In 1993, he “jumped to the United States, came to Los Angeles,” where he eventually joined forces with Jean-François Meteigner to open La Cachette. A series of restaurant openings and appearances followed working as a chef in various private clubs and cooking for “politicians and movie stars”. At some point, he moved to the Riviera Maya and opened the first molecular gourmet restaurant in Mexico. In Rancho Mirage, California, he became executive chef at the Thunderbird Country Club. “Where the Rat Pack used to go,” as the chief puts it. In 2013 he stopped cooking for three years. “I was a little burned.” So he worked for the largest tuna company in the world, Norpac Fisheries, based in Hawaii. He eventually developed special poke recipes for Costco and Albertson’s. A few years ago, his wife was asked to become the CFO of Western Skies Community Care, a startup that won the Medicaid contract for New Mexico. The couple moved to Albuquerque. “I came into retirement and I’m bored,” recalls Chef Christian. “So I looked at the best hotelier and best restaurateur in the state of New Mexico, and it was Heritage.” However, Heritage President Adrian Perez and Founder/CEO Jim Long weren’t sure they could afford someone with Monchârtre’s extensive background. “My resume is pretty impressive,” admits Chef Christian. “I don’t know. I’ll let you judge.” Nevertheless, Monchârtre took over as head chef at Hotel Chaco’s beautiful Level 5 restaurant, still keeping his name there and overseeing seasonal menu changes and chef training Unfortunately, not long after he started, “COVID came along.” I gave myself time off so people could get paid, just like, I’m doing wellso.” But six weeks later, Heritage called and brought him back to the company.

His job was to bring the hotel restaurants back from COVID closures. “As we reopened, little by little I was bringing teams back to each property. And restarted the hotels, the culinary aspect of it.” Heritage initially opened its Sawmil Market premises in 2020, just as COVID began its march across America. “It was only open for nine days and was closed,” says Monchârtre. Heritage, eager to get all of its properties up and running, named Chef Christian VP of culinary operations for the entire Heritage Restaurant Group. “The rest is history,” says Monchârtre.

For now, Chef Christian is just happy to be standing in front of a stove again. “I love coming back with Little Madrid now because I’m going to put on my white coat again. I’m going back to the kitchen. I’m staying here for the next few months, at least three months, until I’m sure everything is going well. For my personality I go to customers. Some cooks are introverted. I’m more of the opposite. We must have, because this is an open kitchen and it’s all about the food. So even the front people we need to learn how to talk about the food, the vibrant colors, the flavors, the spices, all used in Spain.

Heritage, like a number of developers, is heavily invested in the growth of the Sawmill District. The company already has plans for a multi-family housing complex and another small hotel opposite Sawmill. However, until such plans materialize, Chef Christian is looking forward to Little Madrid’s February 10 opening, excitedly saying, “I’ll be here in my white!”

Prev post