When you talk to Chef Charles Dale, Executive Chef at Santa Fe’s Terra at Encantado, an Auberge Resort, it’s easy to be tempted by the interesting digressions. The word conventional would not apply to his life. Born in Nice, he grew up in Monaco. Because his father was a diplomat he got to meet many of the jet setters of the mid-60s. Grace Kelly was his sister’s godmother.
Although his father clearly wanted him to follow a more orthodox path to corporate stability and success, the younger Dale forged his own path. After graduate school, he was unsure what he wanted to do with his life. He knew he was interested in cooking. At 12 he became the family’s self-appointed birthday cake baker. Taking a few cooking classes after grad school convinced him that he was onto something. Meeting Peter Kump, founder of the New York Cooking School, and early president of the James Beard Foundation, pushed him further in this direction.
He wanted to attend the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, but when an opportunity to apprentice at New York City’s legendary Le Cirque came along, he chose that instead. The names of his mentors while at Le Cirque comprise a dizzying list of luminaries in New York’s culinary scene at the time. He met and learned from masters like Alain Sailhac, Jean-Claude Szurdak, Daniel Boulud, Alain Ducasse and Jacques Pepin (who is still a close friend). After spending a summer in France, he returned to Le Cirque. He worked his way through the ranks to sous chef under the mentorship of Daniel Boulud.
A series of circumstances convinced him it was time for a move. Dale took his culinary portfolio to Aspen. After a couple of years in local kitchens he opened his own restaurant, Renaissance. His mission was, he says, to provide the ski Mecca with “high style city food”. After nearly a dozen years he closed Renaissance and opened Rustique and in 2003, he opened another restaurant, Range His new focus was on well-prepared food from organically sourced ingredients. Food and Wine Magazine’s named him New Chef of the Year in 1995 and in 2001, Esquire Magazine named Rustique one of America’s best new restaurants.. Dale has moved on; Range is closed, but Rustique is still on the Aspen dining scene run by his former partner.
In 2008 when Auberge Resorts was getting ready to open Encantado in Santa Fe, Dale was tapped to open Terra. He’s been at the helm of the AAA Four-Diamond restaurant ever since. It’s a not-to-be-missed Santa Fe dining experience. Dale does not believe in resting on his laurels. He is quite content for his food to speak for itself. After almost 30 years in the business, he continues to have a strong desire to grow and learn new ways of culinary expression. Chef Dale loves the dynamic nature of Santa Fe’s restaurant scene. He enjoys interacting with “an accomplished group of peers” and looks forward to many more years honing his craft. The irony that he did become a successful businessman isn’t lost on Charles Dale.
Charles Dale shares his recipe for Salmon Bruschetta.
Slow-roasted Salmon Bruschetta with Arugula, Lemon, and Capers
Chef’s note: Given the choice, I rarely order salmon, because I’ve spent so much time in British Columbia, the salmon capital of the world. The flavor of a line-caught wild salmon is so much more vibrant than that of the blander farm-raised varieties! Perhaps that is why many people prefer it to other fish, however. It travels well, and you sort of know what you’re going to get. This recipe came out of my constant search for new techniques that bring out the best in simple ingredients.
The salmon marinade is based on the traditional Scandinavian method of curing called “graavlax”. I played with the cultural affinities by substituting oregano for dill, and a lemon-flavored vodka and Pernod for the traditional aquavit. We cure the fish only long enough (three hours as opposed to twenty-four) for it to disgorge some of its water content, thus yielding a slightly crisp outer surface, and a deliciously moist interior texture by virtue of the slow-roasting process. Tomato, arugula, capers and Parmesan cheese round out the Mediterranean flavors. This is a wonderful spring and summer dish, as it is a satisfying and original presentation for a main course salad.
Time saver tip: start the tomatoes as soon as they are seeded and chopped; add the other ingredients later.
4 fresh salmon filets (not steaks), approx. 6 oz. each, skin on
Zest of 1/2 lemon, chopped
3 Tbsp. coarse salt, preferably kosher
2 Tbsp. raw sugar
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
2 Tbsp. Absolut Citron
2 Tbsp. Metaxa Ouzo or Pernod
6 large, ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup sugar
4 slices (1/2 inch thick) hearty country bread
¼ lb. fresh arugula
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
2 Tbsp. large nonpareil capers
¼ lb Reggiano Parmesan cheese, in one piece
Mix together the salt, sugar, oregano, lemon zest, vodka and ouzo or Pernod. Pour into a plastic or stainless steel container, and place the salmon filets skin side up on top of the mixture. Cover tightly and refrigerate for two to three hours.
Meanwhile, make the tomato jam: add all the ingredients in a small, non-corrosive saucepan, and simmer gently for 2 hours. Keep warm until ready to serve.
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees.
Place the four salmon filets, skin side down, on an un-greased baking sheet; do not remove the marinade from the surface of the salmon. Slowly roast the salmon filets for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they just begin to split when gently squeezed.
Brush the sliced bread with extra virgin olive oil, and toast it in the oven. In a medium bowl, toss the arugula with the lemon juice, olive oil, and capers. Shave the Parmesan cheese into the salad with the aid of a potato peeler, or the large holes on a metal grater.
Remove the salmon from the baking sheet by pulling it off the skin with a pair of tongs; alternatively, you may use a spatula, but be sure to leave the skin attached to the baking sheet.
Place a small dollop of the tomato jam in the center of four plates, put a slice of bread on top, and spread a healthy portion of the tomato jam on each piece of bread. Stack the cooked salmon on top of this, then top again with the arugula salad. Serve immediately.
We have been guest of Terra; we greatly appreciate their hospitality. Their generosity has not influenced this post in any way.