BERNALILLO – After honing his craft in some of the culinary world’s most prestigious arenas, Chef John Chacon returned home to the Land of Enchantment to pay his knowledge forward.
Originally from northern New Mexico, Chacon said he found a spark for the culinary arts from a young age.
“In ‘94 and ’95, I started cooking breakfast for my family and friends and roommates,” he said. “It was back then I had the plan to start my own restaurant in New Mexico. Now, 23 years later, I am making my dream come true.”
That dream is his newest culinary endeavor, Chef Chacon’s Pancake House at 567 Camino Del Pueblo in Bernalillo.
Chacon said he is excited to be back home after toughing it out in some of the most competitive kitchen environments.
“I started my apprenticeship with the ACF (American Culinary Federation) in the mid- to late ‘90s here in New Mexico, and that’s when I started winning awards,” he said.
Soon after this, Chacon said he traveled to Las Vegas, Nevada, to try to get a position in a thriving kitchen.
“When I got there, I handed my résumé to one of the top chef’s and he said, ‘I got the perfect chef you are going to be working for,’” Chacon said. “They set me up with one of the toughest and roughest chefs in Vegas named Richard Ross.”
According to Chacon, Ross was tough to please, but his rough nature helped Chacon get better at his craft.
“Soon I was doing private events for Ross, like cooking for Bette Midler, Luciano Pavarotti and J-Lo (Jennifer Lopez),” he said.
Moving forward, Chacon said he worked for Sodexo for 12 years as a district chef who was sent to several academies and colleges to help build the morale of the brand and look at the accounts.
“I was bilingual,” he said. “I would walk into the kitchen, I would look at all the numbers and put them on the wall and break down what was going on.”
Besides several other business endeavors that panned out to be successful for Chacon, his main focus was to bring his knowledge and resources back to New Mexico.
“Family was my main reason for coming back to New Mexico, but after the pandemic kicked in, I was in California and I knew there was an opportunity for me to help New Mexicans…I wanted to pay it forward with cuisine,” he said.
Upon returning, Chacon said he re-connected with his now-restaurant manager Katerina Garcia after six years of working together.
“I originally went out to California to visit and ended up staying out there for six years,” Garcia said while helping roll silverware. “The one thing I hated about it in San Francisco was the food. There was no New Mexico food.”
Garcia’s craving for green chile and want of a job brought her into contact with Chacon in San Francisco, she said.
“I moved back to New Mexico in 2020 after losing my mom and saw Chef Chacon posting about his food truck Wowza Burger,” she said. “I originally applied to be a server, but after we met up (Chacon) said he wanted me to be his assistant and help manage this restaurant.”
With a soft opening in December, things were so-so, according to the restaurant duo, but that changed drastically after the New Year.
“Now we are busy pretty consistently,” Garcia said. “What we really need is help to keep up with the demand.”
Chacon’s Pancake House has four employees, including Chacon and Garcia.
“We are happy that the business is doing great but would like to work in a few more employees to stay on top of the demand,” Chacon added.
One of the many tasty treats people show up for is the pineapple-upside-down-cake style of pancakes Chacon serves. The difference, he said, is the caramelization of the pancake in the skillet, which he and Garcia have mastered.
“We are going try and do a Dutch Apple pancake, which is not on the menu yet, but with the same style of technique,” he said.
Chacon said he is classically trained, so he makes his Native New Mexican dishes with that take on flavor.
“This whole menu is like 23 years rolled up,” he said. “I don’t use stalk for my chile; I extract the actual flavors from the chile and I thicken it with cornstarch, plus I don’t use flour.”
Chacon said there is an art to doing classic New Mexican dishes with a French traditional twist.
For more information on Chef Chacon’s House, go to chefchaconspancakehouse.com.