Sean Sinclair is executive chef and proprietor at Bar Castañeda and Kin at the Castañeda, the historic hotel’s restaurant. He is a Tijeras, N.M. native and a keen advocate for New Mexico. Following high school graduation, Sean moved to Portland, Oregon to attend culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu.
Sean said that from childhood, he recognized the importance of knowing where the food he ate came from. His move to the Pacific Northwest made it possible for him to experience the deep-rooted farm-to-table dining culture Portland’s food scene is noted for. After several years working in some of the finest kitchens in Portland, Sean made the move back to New Mexico to become executive chef at Albuquerque’s Farm and Table. Under his leadership, Farm and Table was named “Best Restaurant Albuquerque” and received accolades from many publications, including USA Today.
To advance his career, Sean made the move to Washington, Va., where he became sous chef at the world-famous Inn at Little Washington, a Michelin Star property, which was recognized in 2019 as the fifth ranked restaurant in the world. At the Inn, Sean worked with Patrick O’Connell, a chef considered to be the Pope of American Cuisine.
“ I am endlessly grateful for the opportunity Chef POC gave me to work in his kitchen. The lessons I learned in that restaurant will be with me for the rest of my life.” – Chef Sean Sinclair
In this Q&A, Sean talks about his new journey as executive chef and proprietor at Kin, the restaurant at the historic Castañeda Hotel.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself as a New Mexico native.
Sean: I am so excited to be back cooking in New Mexico for the people of my home state. We chose to open a restaurant here in Las Vegas because of the strong agricultural community that surrounds this area. I think of myself not only as a chef, but as a food economist. Restaurants spend tremendous amounts of money on food products. Most of the time those products are shipped in from other states or even other countries. It’s not practical to use strictly New Mexican products, but our goal is to keep 70 percent or more of the money we spend on food here in the state. We aim to help support our local farmers and ranchers as much as we possibly can.
Q: Talk about how this has influenced you as a chef.
Sean: Early in my career, New Mexican cuisine greatly influenced the way I cook. Some of my favorite foods are posole with pork and red chile, and tamales. I like to look at New Mexican cuisine from a different angle. To me the new, New Mexican cuisine is to focus on the use of delicious and locally grown products and let that product shine. A well-grown ripe tomato has nothing to hide; it’s delectable all by itself. Instead of over-complicating a dish with tomato, I would rather showcase how delicious our locally grown tomatoes (or any other product), really is. To me, the cuisine of a region can’t be distilled down to one ingredient. Our chiles here in this state are among the many things that make New Mexico such an amazing culinary destination. They do not, by themselves, define us. We aim to showcase the true bounty of the Northern New Mexican agricultural community.
Q: Kin at Castañeda. How did the name of the restaurant come about?
Sean: Kin means family. It’s a nod towards the time my wife and I spent in rural Virginia. It was at first hard to fit in, but by the end of our time in Little Washington, Va., we were kin to the locals.
Q: What are your guiding principles as a chef?
Sean: My guiding principles as a chef are simple.
Q: How is owning your establishment effecting your choices about menu?
Sean: My standards have always been rigid when it comes to the food we prepare. Now that I am working for myself, my energy gas tank got much larger. By that I mean it’s much easier to work 100 hours a week for yourself than it is for someone else. The more I work, the more I save for my business. I will be on the line every service overseeing the quality of food we produce and training our staff to meet and exceed any expectations set.
Q: What is it like to be affiliated with such an iconic historic property and how does that influence your management of overall food services in Kin and in Bar Castañeda?
Sean: I think the best part about being inside such an important historic building is that the Castañeda itself is a draw. We will attract patrons that might not have made the trip otherwise and that is a huge plus. As far as the way it will influence our services, the plan is simple; put out the best quality product and service possible and give the great city of Las Vegas one more thing to be proud of.
Q: Are you serving food in Bar Castañeda and if so, what might patrons expect to find on the menu?
Sean: We sure are! Bar Castañeda has its own menu and that will debut soon! The menu will be comprised of re-imagined Fred Harvey classics. Stay tuned on our social media platforms for updates.
Q: You and Katey come into this venture as a team. Talk about that and how you work together to assure everything runs smoothly?
Sean: Katey is my best friend. We balance each other out really well. She has been a career teacher up to this point and the skills she learned in her past career come in very handy in the restaurant industry. Katey has a keen eye for detail and she doesn’t miss a beat! I don’t trust a single human on earth more than I trust Katey, so it’s nice having her around to be where I cant be, watching what I can’t watch while I am in the kitchen.
Q: In the hospitality business, back-of-house – making memorable food, and front-of-house – customer interaction and service, are complicated and require different approaches. How are you handling that?
Sean: I have been fortunate to work in some truly great restaurants and have worked for some absolutely amazing people throughout my career. I will take the lessons learned and apply them to my own business. It’s always some sort of controlled chaos. The trick is to hire the right people and let them excel in their respective departments.
Q: How many staff to you expect to hire and what are you looking for, first in the kitchen, and then in the dining room?
Sean: In the kitchen 14-15. In the dining room, 16 – 20. We are seeking candidates with a willingness to learn and a strong work ethic. We will provide training and a fair work environment.
Q: What have you learned about your profession that came as a surprise, but taught you a lasting lesson?
Sean: I have done this all my life. I have learned to not let anything take me by surprise. We take each challenge in stride and become better versions of ourselves through adversity.
Q: Who is the greatest influence on you as an entrepreneur? As a chef?
Sean: Patrick O’Connell was my chef at The Inn at Little Washington. The man showed me that any dream is possible no matter how grand and unobtainable it may seem. I refined my skills working in his restaurant, yes, but I think the most important thing I learned there is to dream big.
Q: What was your approach to developing the Kin menu?
Sean: We want to feature locally grown products. The idea is to glorify the ingredient. We want to serve many courses of small plates to keep our guests engaged. Pace plays a large role in a multi-course tasting menu. Designing a menu where we can control the pace, to some extent, is part of that. The Kin menu will change regularly and will be a lifelong work in progress, constantly influenced by new techniques and most of all, by the farmer.
Q: When will Kin be open and what are the hours?
Sean: We will be releasing this information through our social media platforms. We do not currently have a fixed date for Kin. We will be open 4 nights a week from 5 to 9 p.m.