While Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) is observed on the first two days of November in Mexico, the Water Street restaurant Casa Chimayo will be celebrating the holiday all month long. Their festive altar, built by various staff members (Disclosure: I had a hand in its installation) is a tribute to the ancestors who inspired the owner of the restaurant, Timoteo Cordova, to open its doors in October of 2011.
“Casa Chimayo honors the traditions of our abuelita (grandmother) by using her authentic recipes and decorating with our family memorabilia,” says Cordova with a smile. “Why not celebrate a holiday that does the same a little longer than two days?”
Altars are the most important part of this famous Mexican celebration and Casa Chimayo wanted to create a very special one that not only honored its deceased loved ones but also educated patrons who may not be familiar with the celebration. Cordova says many of their diners come from other states and countries that have never heard of Day of the Dead. The altar has become a conversation piece that allows Cordova to share his love of history and storytelling with guests.
The ornate shrine is located in the restaurant’s front hallway. According to Cordova, it was a good decision. “Patrons come in and ask us if they can take pictures of it. It’s becoming a big attraction.”
Publicity is no stranger to Casa Chimayo. Last year, the Food Network chose it out of hundreds of New Mexican eateries to be featured on the popular television show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. The feature, starring Guy Fieri, has brought people from all over to experience native Chimayo cuisine.
Sitting on top of an old wooden table salvaged from the Cordova family ranch, the Day of the Dead altar is framed by sparkling fuchsia and midnight blue fabric with amber and purple twinkle lights. In the center, a large barbed-wire cross accented with black silk roses hangs down. Underneath, an old, sepia-tone photo of Cordova’s grandparents has been placed as a focal point. Dozens of votive candles dot the colorful vignette that also includes hand-cut paper flowers; fresh marigold flowers; dried, local Russian sage; an eclectic assortment of miniature skulls; a ceramic image of the Lady of Guadalupe; and lots of milagros. Small Mexican bowls filled with concha cookies and bread for the ofrendas adorn the base while brightly hued paper flags or picados, made locally by Janet Lucero, line the top of the altar.
Decorating for special holidays is a regular fixture at Casa Chimayo. The restaurant always has fresh chile and garlic swags that can be purchased, as well as packets of their famous red chile. The small gift shop offers local books and information about Chimayo, Truchas and Pojoaque. If you go and Cordova is there, expect a history lesson or two — he has a vast knowledge of Northern New Mexico, with deep family roots in both Spain and Mexico. The colorful altar is just one more attraction that makes Casa Chimayo a very authentic experience.
Visit the restaurant at 409 W. Water Street and see casachimayosantafe.com.
Carole has been in the floriculture industry, from international wholesale and retail sales to event planning, for over 20 years. She has floral studios in Santa Fe and Baltimore, is a Santa Fe Master Gardener, and supports local/national flower farms and beautification projects. Carole is available for demonstrations and lectures; contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit www.flowerspy.com.