The Chimayo Experience

Birgitte and Michael Lutfy

Chimayo is a small town in Northeastern New Mexico, consisting mainly of the mission, Sanctuario de Chimayo. The word Chimayo is derived from the Tewa Indian word for the local landmark, the hill of Tsi Mayoh. The surrounding area is well known for the red clay-like dirt behind the Catholic mission that is said to have miracle healing properties, and for the Chimayo heirloom chile that is cultivated only in this region. We use this chile powder in many of our dishes and condiments. For more information on Chimayo, click on this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chimayo,_New_Mexico
 
Chimayo Stone Fired Kitchen is located in the historic Century Building on Main Avenue in downtown Durango. The building was originally built sometime in the mid 1890s. Over the years it has been a department store, a furniture store and even a fitness club through much of the '70s and '80s. The building's current owners converted the space into a Chelsea's British Pub franchise from 1994-2000, after which time it was leased to a Chinese restaurant from 2000-2011. By the time we took over the space, it was time for a complete remodel. Demolition began on January 3, 2012, and required two weeks and 14 large dumpster loads of trash before we could get started on construction. During
the demolition phase, we uncovered the original Carnegie steel support beams, the original tin ceiling, the original maple hardwood flooring and most of the original brick wall. All had been covered up with layers of materials from countless remodels over the years.

Chimayo is the culmination of years spent researching restaurant designs and concepts around the country while we were traveling with the Andretti Racing Team as the team corporate chefs. Together we came up with the concept and layout incorporating all of the elements we wanted in a restaurant, or ones we had noted were lacking. Birgitte called upon her years of experience as a closet and interior designer to design the interior, and provide all mechanical plans for the contractor and all governing and licensing agencies. We did not employ commercial kitchen or restaurant designers, or a professional architect. Several of her most noteworthy design elements are the curved booths, which she constructed from cardboard templates that were then used by the trim carpenters to build on site, the 35-foot curved concrete bar, the artwork above the booth (which she drew herself), and the steel sconces in the lounge. We went through many drafts to refine the floorplan and kitchen workflow, choosing fixtures, furnishings and equipment, and spent hours tuning our lighting design to get the right ambiance. We restored most of the original maple hardwood floors, brick wall, steel support beams and tin ceiling , and worked closely with CarbonForm Design to create many steel fixtures, shelving, trim pieces and sculpture to create a modern, urban, industrial design theme while preserving the building's ties to Durango's historical heritage.

Michael spent several years developing the twin-oven concept, including several trips to Woodstone’s corporate kitchens to test the ovens, as well as numerous visits to oven-themed restaurants around the country, even staging at various restaurants to learn how to use the ovens and develop recipes. Most of our made-from-scratch menu is prepared in the stone hearth ovens. We do not use a grill, traditional saute or deep fat fryer methods as our main source of cooking.

Michael Lutfy: Chef/Owner

Michael began working in kitchens in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania at the age of 12, then worked in various restaurants for the next 16 years. During that time he was employed as a catering director/executive chef for a gourmet wine and foods shop with an exclusive celebrity clientele in Santa Barbara while pursuing a degree in film/television; executive sous chef for several fine dining restaurants including Tutti's in Montecito, California; Louie's in Santa Barbara; Le Biarritz in Newport Beach; and as executive chef/food and beverage manager of the Variety Arts Center in downtown Los Angeles, a 400-seat restaurant and seven-story entertainment complex that hosted Hollywood parties, award shows, plays, TV show tapings, conventions and many other large functions for up to 1200 people. After that, he embarked on another career path in publishing, working as an Associate Publisher/Editorial Director for Penguin Random House USA from 1988-2011.

In 2001, a call from his sister to help out at the racetrack to cook for the owner of Andretti-Green Racing reignited his passion for cooking. From 2001 through the 2006 racing seasons, he was the Executive Chef for Andretti-Green Racing, the championship Indycar racing team owned by Michael Andretti. He traveled the racing circuit throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico, responsible for budgeting, planning, organizing and preparing gourmet fare for 80 staff members and up to 300 sponsor guests.

Birgitte Lutfy: General Manager/Owner

 Birgitte obtained a culinary degree from Holstebro Academy in Denmark, with a specialty in charcuterie, the artisanal method of producing high-quality, hand-crafted meats, including sausages, salami, prosciutto, veal, beef, pork and chicken in the European tradition.

 After several years working in artisan charcuteries throughout Denmark, she relocated to the U.S., working as the catering director and food services manager for Irvine Ranch Farmer’s Market and Promeli’s Gourmet Foods, both in Newport Beach, California from 1995 through 2000. At both companies she organized and catered small and large functions throughout Orange County, with management responsibility for all staff, food ordering and budgeting. From 2001 through 2006, she was the co-executive chef for Andretti-Green Racing, responsible for overseeing the organization and execution of all track dining setup and functions, coordinating with the AGR hospitality staff, and the preparation of appetizers, cold prepared foods, fine pastries and desserts.

From 2007-2011, Birgitte was the designer for Closets Plus, designing custom closets, pantries and garages. From this experience, Birgitte was able to develop her design talent and construction skills that form the basis for Chimayo's design.