Come For the Suites, Gasp at the Views, and Leave Talking About the Food!
This month we sat down with Tom and Carolyn Calfee, co-owners of The Grand Hacienda on Abiquiu Lake, to talk about the bed and breakfast, food and sustainability at The Grand Hacienda. Located in a remote area on Abiquiu Lake in northern New Mexico, one might be surprised to learn about the importance the owners place on authenticity, protecting the land, and local, organic and “real” food.
The Grand Hacienda was built over a three year time period as a traditional northern New Mexico hacienda, with a blending of indoor and outdoor living, authentic architecture and details, and spectacular suites – each with private entrances, private outdoor portals (patios) and lake/mountain/red cliff views. Equally as important as the building itself, is the culinary experience that goes along with every stay at The Grand Hacienda. Breakfasts are three-course gourmet experiences, with cappuccinos and lattes made from the healthiest coffee beans. Part of what makes the breakfast experience so incredible is the farm-to-table herbs and vegetables that they grow on site and then incorporate into dishes to add flavor and taste.
Discover Abiquiu: You certainly receive incredible reviews about the food you serve at The Grand Hacienda. I mean, they are all five-star!
Carolyn: Yes (with a laugh.) Honestly, we expected our reviews to focus on the land, the building, the amenities…the views. We were surprised that so much of what is shared on Instagram are photos of food! But food is an important part of the experience here, so it is only fitting that the topic makes its way into reviews. Some of our guests compare us to the famous Amangiri Resort in Utah, or the Explora hotels. We feel very grateful for all these five star reviews – we have the best guests!
Discover Abiquiu: Before you start breakfast, you start with lattes and cappuccinos. Let’s start there. I understand how wonderful it would be to start your morning with a great cup of coffee, but your guests say it’s more than just a great cup of coffee?
Tom: First, to be out here in this remote, isolated area, and have the ability to start your day with what we call a “better-than-Starbucks-cup-of-coffee,” is, well, incredible. We give all the credit to the coffee bean. We use the healthiest beans we could find – hand-picked from sustainable farms, certified organic beans, toxin-free, specialty grade, and ethically sourced. The rest is up to the guest – whole milk or almond, local honey, Ceylon cinnamon, chocolate, cane sugar, stevia…..
Discover Abiquiu: OK, on to breakfast. You serve a Chef’s menu each day, is that right?
Carolyn: Yes, that is correct. We don’t have short-order cooks in our kitchen. Our Chef prepares a daily menu – a three-course gourmet meal, that changes daily and usually alternates between sweet and savory. And our goal is to never repeat a dish for a guest during their stay! Our longest staying guest was here eight nights, and we did push our limits of creativity to never repeat any of the three courses! And sometimes we sneak a "Chef's Treat" into the mix. Needless to say, no one leaves hungry.
Discover Abiquiu: Tell us about the farm-to-table offerings.
Tom: Farm-to-table is more than a buzz word out here – it is our way of life, it is our existence. The closest organic grocery store is over an hour from us. Out here where our population density is only 7 people per square mile, and stores are a hour away, we must locally resource a lot of our food.
We grow all of the herbs we use – and we use a lot of them. We also grow most of our vegetables – watercress, baby kales, green onions, tomatoes, butter crunch lettuce, peppers, chives and more. I probably have 2 dozen cilantro plants and a dozen different pepper plants growing at any one time. We have large outdoor gardens and, in the winter, we grow in our greenhouse. Our eggs are sourced from a local farmer in Abiquiu who lives along the Rio Chama – some days our guests are eating eggs that were received that very morning. Our honey is also locally sourced in Abiquiu.
When we purchase food, we start with local farmers and farmer’s markets. Beyond that, we seek sustainably sourced groceries, to make delicious, healthy, organic meals.
Discover Abiquiu: Some of your reviews rave about starting breakfast with a first course salad?
Tom: Yes! Carolyn makes the best salads and home-made dressings. Using farm-to-table greens, we like to add fruits - pear salads, strawberry kiwi salads, or peach and avocado salads.
Discover Abiquiu: How would you describe your food?
Carolyn: We rely on our guests to answer that. "Fresh" is definitely an adjective used by many. "Mexican with a French flair," a few have said. Many say "very creative". We definitly have our own style. We both spent our careers in the financial industry and I started going to cooking school and taking cooking classes later in life. So we blend a lot of different styles, flavors and spices. We love to travel - and we always take the best of the culinary experiences we encounter and bring a little bit back here to New Mexico with us. We've had a few guests tell us they have stayed in places all over the world - and The Grand Hacienda gave them the best breakfast they have ever had.
Discover Abiquiu: What are some of your specialties?
Tom: I define our specialties based on guest feedback – their favorites. For first and second courses, fan favorites include our avocado toast with egg, a strawberry Dutch baby, or our “healthy” banana split made with yogurt instead of ice cream. We spent a lot of time perfecting our avocado toast…and the question always is, ”how do you do that egg?!”
For entrees, specialties include the “Tomelette”; our banana bread French toast, made with my grandmother's recipe; our blueberry crepes or our version of the New Mexico breakfast burrito. Our potatoes get rave reviews: getting the crispy outside with the creamy inside--we knew we had a winner right off the bat. And topping with our homemade creme fraiche with a hint of truffle oil and fresh chives from our garden….everyone loves the Hacienda potatoes! Our feijoada is another specialty – layered with star anise, cocoa, and so much more. It is as complex as a fine wine! Also, our hickory smoked ham – which is brought to the table under a cloche filled with smoke – it’s wonderful. Finally, our Sausage Tower of three, different home-made sausages is a fan favorite.
We really like to use smoke to flavor food. I first saw something similar--I believe it was mussels--a couple decades ago at Jose Andres' restaurant "The Bazaar" in South Beach. I knew we had to incorporate that here. We are a B&B “experience”. Guests don’t just come here to sleep, or just to eat. They must have experiences during their time here. That makes us uniquely different. We love food and great chefs. So we want our guests to experience food. We were mesmerized by Grant Achatz's work when he first opened Trio in Evanston Illinois, again--a few decades back. We are still working on a dish inspired by his massively creative work. Another food experience in the works.
Discover Abiquiu: Speaking of fine wine, I understand you have quite the wine list!
Tom: Of course. I am an avid wine collector. We are the only B&B in the area with a liquor license, so we are able to offer our guests a great selection of wine (and beer).
Discover Abiquiu: Do you have a cookbook?!
Carolyn: Not yet. It’s on my list. I guess I am going to have to sit down and do one. Seriously, and I am not one to exaggerate, you are about the one hundredth person who has asked us that. We should create one, but we are always trying to up our game and we keep tweaking recipes. Our food that we offer has so seriously evolved over the last couple of years that the earlier version of a cookbook would be obsolete: You would have had to buy another one to keep up! But our breakfast potatoes alone would probably make the first edition of our non-existent cookbook worth it.
Discover Abiquiu: Let’s get back to the greenhouse. I love how it is a part of the hacienda – looks like it is part of your house. But I understand there are some very interesting things going on in there.
Tom: Yes, we designed the greenhouse that way. We were flipping through architecture books as we were designing The Grand Hacienda, and one of the articles described a picture of a building as being a greenhouse. As we looked closely, we could see that, in fact, it was. So tastefully done. Our greenhouse is at the front of the property, where everyone walks past it to get to the front gate, and is our guest’s first encounter with The Grand Hacienda. So it had to blend in, be nice, functional – and, of course, eco-friendly.
Discover Abiquiu: Green and eco-friendly. Tell me more about that.
Tom: One challenge in a greenhouse is the heat that is produced in the room – they get very hot and steamy. Having worked in greenhouses a long time ago while I was in college, I knew I wanted a more sustainable approach to manage the temperature control. So I did some research and decided to try a new approach: I brought in two Rheem Hybrid water heaters, which suck the heat out of the air, thereby cooling down the greenhouse while creating air movement. The heat they suck out of the room preheats the boiler water that is used to heat our floors throughout the property. So our greenhouse air is largely heating the water that is heating the floors! To me, that is full circle sustainability.
Discover Abiquiu: I LOVE heated floors!
Carolyn: We do, too. That was a requirement for us. We have over a mile of pex tubing providing floor heat throughout the property.
Discover Abiquiu: Do you need grow lights for your greenhouse?
Tom: Yes, we do need grow lights to assist, even in New Mexico where we get a lot of natural sun. We are on-grid here, and we also have 42 solar panels on our roof, and our grow lights are also sustainable.
Discover Abiquiu: Water is a precious commodity in the desert – how do you handle water for your gardens and greenhouse?
Tom: Great question! Water conservation is extremely important. We have a 600 foot deep well, with a reverse osmosis water system. We also use rain catchment systems to capture the rain from our roof to water our outside gardens, and we use our filtered house water to water inside the greenhouse. We use grey water to water our trees outside along our driveway. So every time a guest takes a shower, they are watering the trees along our driveway. In all, we've planted 35 new trees around our properties.
An interesting aspect of our outdoor gardens is we use the rock layering techniques that the native Americans used on this same site 300-800 years ago. Stones to mediate temperature extremes and add mineralization to the plants were genius on their part. Even today, we have examples of farming sites using these techniques. We extend our growing seasons an extra month on each end by doing this.
Discover Abiquiu: Where do you get all your plants?
Tom: 90% of our plants were started from seeds. We grow the seeds in our greenhouse, and move plants outdoors when they are large enough to make it on their own. We’ve had such great success with our crops that we are now planning to expand our greenhouse.
Discover Abiquiu: How do you manage pests? Especially if you are moving plants from indoors to outdoors, and vice versa?
Tom: We manage pests organically. For insect control, we use sticky paper, neem oil and lady bugs. We buy lots and lots of lady bugs – they are great for pest control. It’s not unusual for guests to comment to me that they see a lady bug somewhere on my shirt!
Discover Abiquiu: Several of your reviews talk about coming to The Grand Hacienda and it not being “just a B&B”. What does this mean?
Carolyn: That was always our goal. Honestly, we wanted something different – not your typical “B&B”. We weren’t even sure we should call it a B&B. It IS different. We finally settled on the B&B “Experience”. There are just so many wonderful things going on here - and together it leads to the "experience."
The views are spectacular. We’ve had several guests cry, literally, when they walk out on the lakeside portal. The architecture and details are inspiring. The food is a feature. But it’s so much more than that. It truly is a feeling, a release, an experience. People sleep better here - and we believe it is because of the lack of EMF (electronic magnetic fields) in the suites and the "earthing" floors. They are in awe during Stargazing events at night where they can see the Milky Way and the rings around Saturn. People check-in as guests, and leave as friends. You really can’t put it into words. You just have to come and experience it.
Discover Abiquiu: Thank you, Carolyn and Tom, for your time and giving us an insight into The Grand Hacienda. For our readers:
· To learn more or make a reservation, visit www.TheGrandHacienda.com.
· The average nightly rate is $489 and includes a full list of amenities, the Grand breakfast, afternoon treats and The Grand Hacienda experience.
· The Grand Hacienda is adults-only (16 years of age and older). Children are welcome when a party rents the entire property (all three suites).
· There is no smoking and no pets permitted in the Hacienda.
· You can reach Carolyn and Tom at TheGrandHacienda@gmail.com.
· And, if you would like a complimentary Discover Abiquiu guide, just visit www.DiscoverAbiquiu.com/contact.