Where There’s Smoke There’s Common Fire

Disruption is the name of the game these days.

From fashion to food, these days, “disruption” is the buzzword, and if ever there was a foodie who fits the term like a glove, it would be Andy Lynch.

When Common Fire opened last year, I covered it here on the blog, but the place has gone through some significant changes since then so I thought it was time to revisit the restaurant and its owners (the aforementioned), Andy Lynch and William (Billy), Sarokin.

I dropped by on a sunny Wednesday after a swim in the neighbouring (Quail Ridge) pool and found Andy and his staff on the patio eating lunch. Andy immediately asked if I was hungry and when I answered affirmatively, he shared his sandwich with me. Home made meatloaf on Common Fire’s house made bread (the best sourdough bread in Taos), toasted in the open-hearth, the eaterie takes its name from.

Delicious. Still famished, I asked for more and Andy and I went inside to chat while he indulged my needs.

Although Common Fire has been open only from Thursday (at noon) through Sunday – soon to change – the staff gathers on Wednesday to take in orders and stock the walkins and shelves, as well as to prep food for the upcoming open days and turn wine into vinegar. Literally. Nothing goes to waste at Common Fire. Food scraps go into stocks (or turn into meat loaf), half empty bottles of wine, are fermented.

Andy Lynch has a long history in the food business here and in Santa Fe. He got his start in Manhattan (he’s a native New Yorker), before coming here over three decades ago and landing at the Apple Tree (then owned by Polly Raye.) From there he went on to the Taos Inn before a stint in Santa Fe and then L.A.

His return to Taos coincided nicely with Billy Sarokin’s desire to involve himself in the restaurant business.

I know why Andy wanted to open a new place in Taos – he had decided to relocate here after living in L.A. and travelling abroad with his wife and son – memories of Taos kept nipping at his heels, but Billy was a different story. An Oscar nominee for Sound, his background is in film. He worked on the iconic Off The Map, which was his introduction to Taos.

At the time (with another governor in office) New Mexico was very much on the map as far as film making was concerned, and Billy found himself here often. So often in fact, he purchased two condos at the Quail Ridge which is where he met (former owner), Pete French.

He arrived as Andy and I were chatting while I finished my lunch.

I asked him how he got into this partnership that has since become a close friendship.

“The short answer is who the hell knows,” he said. “Longer answer is Pete French.”

“I kept asking him when the OBL would re-open.  After I bugged him for a year or so he said ‘buy it yourself, the license and package store alone make it a good deal.’  Not being a total fool I admitted my almost total lack of knowledge of the restaurant business so he said call Andy Lynch in L.A.”

“Long story short we were outbid on the OBL but since Andy and I being exact opposites (him, Bronx, Irish, total extrovert, me, Brooklyn, Jewish, somewhat introvert), hit it off like a house on fire we started considering plan B.  I would have named it ‘Plan B’, but like I said, Andy is the restaurant guy, so ‘Common Fire’ it is.”

Billy and his wife Anne (an incredibly talented artist), had been spending time here with their daughters for almost fifteen years by that time, and clearly Taos had captured their hearts.

“We’ve been Taos part timers for years as I bounce around with the film business.  But more and more Taos is becoming the permanent home.  So being partner in a restaurant solves the proverbial question.  ‘What should we do for dinner?’.  It’s always a pleasure sharing a nice dinner with 50 or so in a lively place.  Andy’s the man with the fire in his belly.  Anne and I are the couple sitting happily by the hearth.  We may never make much, if any money, off the deal but as long as we have that dinner spot life is just fine.”
Back to the man “with the fire in his belly.” My new name for him is Andy the Disruptor.

As we talked about the changes Common Fire has gone through since opening, it became clear to me that Andy Lynch is not only on his game, but also ahead of his time. In an age of gluten-free neurosis, he fires up his hearth to make the best bread and flatbread around, turning it into the focal point of his menu. The flours are local, organic and clean as it gets.

When his chef left, he decided it was time to render the “concept of the Chef, obsolete.” Instead he hired line cooks (who were all busy in the kitchen as we spoke.) Not only is he  doing away with the idea of a Chef in Charge, he’s also done away with the traditional menu set up; Appetizers, Entrees etc. Instead his menu reads like a page from a book, albeit a recipe book filled with mouth-watering but short, descriptions of the unadulterated food. And the traditional plates of food have also been disrupted.

Mac ‘n Cheese is on the menu above a Pork Chop with Collard Greens, a couple of salads are there next to the Short Ribs and Chicken Dinner. The chalkboard inside broadcasts the day’s specials. The wait staff is discreet and efficient. No condescending lectures at the table about the food; the food speaks for itself.  They operate in tandem like a well oiled machine.
I commented that he had completely dismantled the American Food Plate.  The food, deceptively simple, is organic, local and fresh. It speaks for itself without excessive flavouring and sauces. When spices are used, the result is a sophisticated pairing that tickles the palate like a fine wine.

And fine wines are available at Common Fire which boasts one of the best wine lists in Taos (Andy’s not known as the “wine guy” for nothing!)

“I love doing this,” he told me, “and we’ve had a great first year here.”

“Over the next year, I’d like to see more locals come in – we already get all the foodies on the North side of town, but it’s not that far of a drive from the other side.” He smiled.
The following evening I arrived to meet Billy and Anne for dinner. The place was packed, inside and out. I saw Page and Doug Patterson at a table and went over to say hi. They joined us outside. We ordered food we could share; simple salads, plates of fresh heirloom tomatoes sprinkled with chopped herbs and drizzled with olive oil, bread (oh the bread), with roasted garlic and more olive oil, hummus with house made pita (I don’t eat legumes or yeast breads) that looked delicious and apparently tasted so too! The bowl was soon empty. Pork Chops with Collards that melted in the mouth and the aforementioned Short Ribs (which I had eaten the day before, minced and turned into the most delicious meatloaf I have ever tasted.)

A bottle of rose’ (and a glass or two of red wine), paired brilliantly with the food on this end of summer night on the patio, overlooking the mountain as the sun sank in the West.

We needed our jackets then, autumn was closing in. Common Fire will be nice and toasty by the time the weather changes in earnest, and it might be open more too!

For more information about Common Fire, please visit their site linked below this post.

 All photos by Billy Sarokin