Local chef bridges gap between city and reservation life through food

Local chef bridges gap between city and reservation life through food

At Yapopup in Old Town, the menu tells the story of Chef Rainbird Taylor's childhood.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – At Yapopup in Old Town, the menu tells the story of Chef Rainbird Taylor’s childhood. 

Growing up, Taylor split time between the Pueblo of Ohkay Owingeh and Santa Fe.

“I got to see what life was like outside of it and inside of it. So it gave me an interesting point of view,” said Taylor. 

With his family on the reservation, food was everything. 

“That’s where my love for cooking started. We have feast days, dances, my family feeds throughout those holidays and periods. So I think watching my family operate like a mini-restaurant was kind of like a catalyst for me,” Taylor said. 

One person inspired him the most. 

“My Saya, her name is Margaret. She’s pretty famous throughout the Pueblo, she makes an amazing red chile stew,” said Taylor. 

You’ll find Saya’s stew at his new restaurant attached to the Tiny Grocer on Old Town Road. But he’s updated the family recipe.

“For example, we take Saya’s red chile stew, we use Oaxaca cheese. Then, we make Pueblo quesabirria. Then, use broth as a consomme just like they do with the regular quesabirria,” Taylor said. 

He’s hoping the traditional dishes with modern twists will appeal to Indigenous people, and those who have never stepped foot on a reservation.

As a child, he often wished he could bridge that gap in his own life. 

“I felt like I was too urban for the rez and too rez for the urban part of the world, but it’s kind of coming together now through food,” said Taylor. 

His menu also includes duck fat wings and street tacos, which highlight the three main crops of Indigenous people.

“A lot of people know the three sisters as corns, beans, and squash. We call ours the Three Aunties Taco. We call it the Three Aunties Taco because the corn has been roasted, the squash has miso added to it, and we don’t need to add any other beans because the miso represents the beans. The sisters have aged a little bit, they’re aunties now,” Taylor said. 

Taylor owns the restaurant with his partner Nessa Belin – she’s from Tesuque Pueblo. Together, they want to make their families and their Pueblos proud.

“Basically every single Pueblo and all the Indigenous communities is on our back right now to try to pull through and show something different,” said Taylor.  

Standing out as leaders and teaching others about their culture through food.

If you’re thinking Indigenous soul food sounds familiar, they used to serve up their dishes at Chomp Food Hall in Santa Fe. 

Taylor says he couldn’t have done it without other Indigenous chefs showing him the way.