Salad Restaurateur Erin Wade Talks Eating Your Greens
- Written By:Alexandra Malmed
There’s a good chance that at least one day of the week (if not all of them), you’re having a salad for lunch. And all too often people grow tired of having some variation of their usual. The solution? Vary the symphony of ingredients, and make it exquisite. Think of a salad as an indulgence—a bounty of nutrients for your cells, a burst of clean energy, and a glittering explosion of flavor. The pleasure principle is one of the most overlooked in life—even when it comes to salads.
What is the best salad that you’ve ever had in your life? The chopped chicken salad from Freds’ at Barneys? The grilled salad from The Ivy in Los Angeles? If you’ve been to Vinaigrette in Santa Fe or Austin, it’s probably the salad that you had there. With a menu comprised of rich, savory creations ranging from the “All Kale Caesar” to more earthy, sweet salads such as arugula with pear, smokey pulled duck, and goat cheese, each salad on the menu is, really, beyond. The ingredients are grown locally on restaurant-owned farms and each salad has a flavor profile that’s complicated and somewhat mysterious, utilizes umami, and is, in a word, sensational.
Vinaigrette is owned by Erin Wade, a Harvard graduate who left her city life to return to her family’s farm in New Mexico to reconnect to nature and, in turn, open a string of healthful restaurants in New Mexico and Texas. We spoke with Erin about being a female entrepreneur and, of course, all things salad.
Why did you decide to move to Santa Fe?
I’m from the Northwest, and Santa Fe always felt like a motherland for my mother. I grew up visiting frequently. I went to Harvard, where I studied science, math, and english, and after graduating, I had a summer off before I moved to Milan to study fashion. My Aunt had moved to Santa Fe, so I spent the summer with her, with no intention of coming back.
While in Milan, I realized that I missed nature and space. My family owns property outside of Santa Fe, so instead of moving to New York or LA, I decided to move to Santa Fe and to teach myself to farm sustainably.
Italy and my family informed my views on food and eating—healthy eating should be joyful and fun and emotionally satisfying. My ways with food are informed by the Italian attitude towards food—that of relishing food, without the emotional baggage.
Are salads, to you, more about wellness or about pleasure?
They represent the sweet spot between both. I never make a salad with the emphasis on just one. I want every salad to taste amazing and to be healthful. I play with flavor and ingredients. I think that salads are the perfect manifestation of both wellness and pleasure. They move with the seasons. In winter, I like to incorporate sautéed, roasted cooked, vegetables, and in warmer weather I like a more bright salad.
Agreed! They’re one of the holy grails. Can you share any tricks, recipes, and secrets with us?
Pay more attention to how you cut things. When it comes to salads, you’re after the perfect bite. Don’t do huge chunks of ingredients—slice and chop carefully.
When it comes to salad dressings, remember that the salt content in vegetables is minimal compared to that in processed and canned foods. So make sure that dressings have enough salt and acid so that when it’s poured over a large volume, it has enough punch. It may taste salty when you taste the vinaigrette on its own, but on the salad, it works.
The best thing to do with leftovers is to make a salad. If you have leftover steak or protein or grilled vegetables from dinner, they’re excellent in a salad. The Salacho at Vinaigrette was born from leftover nachos and salad.
What is your favorite salad? What do you eat in a typical day?
My favorite salad is The Pepita at Vinaigrette—It’s so bright. It has chopped kale, shredded chicken, black beans, crumbled cotija, diced avocado, and spicy pepitas with a really zesty lemon-cumin vinaigrette. I love salads that have protein, lots of antioxidants, and tangy, addictive vinaigrettes. I love all of my salads—they’re my babies. I feel better immediately after eating a Pepita.
As far as daily eating goes, I try to make sure to eat six-eight servings of vegetables a day. It’s so easy for me to worry about the restaurant, and what other people are eating, which can lead to to my neglecting my own wellness. So I’m making a conscious effort to each more fruits and tons of vegetables. Six-eight servings per day sot of renders you a goat—it’s a lot of chewing.
I make a smoothie every morning with three-four servings with vegetables. I have a salad every day from Vinaigrette with greens and vegetables and nuts. I love the volume and high density of nutrients and flavors. I usually have a small salad with, or a large for salad dinner. Occasionally I’ll have an indulgence like pizza and or hamburger, if I want it. I feel that being too restrictive is bad—dieting and restricting can be harsh and problematic. I honor my cravings, but mostly I’m a very clean eater.
Vinaigrette is, in some ways, the antithesis of restaurants like Sweetgreen, which supply quick—albeit fresh, healthful—fuel to the masses. What does the future of salads look like to you?
I hope that people find time to eat again. Our obsession with convenience is tough on the environment.
I love connection. I love when people come in to eat and enjoy themselves—it’s a part of wellness.
Mass market businesses will continue to grow. People are busy and feel that they food to be convenient. We will continue to do what we do.
I hope that there’s a boomerang effect in our culture that leads to a return of sitting down for lunch to eat well. It’s about how you eat and how you feel as you eat—not just what you eat.
What has being a female entrepreneur and CEO taught you?
First and foremost, it’s taught me the importance of having a great team. Great people are hard to find. When you find them, be grateful and nurture itt. I've only been able to do what I do because of my team. I have an amazing crew of people who I trust and want to spend time with—both of which are essential.
How do you start your day? Manage a busy work life and personal life?
I live on the farm. I try to not check my email right away, because doing so disorients me. My biggest focus right now is how I consume technology. It’s the biggest issue with wellness right now, I think. We’re all consuming a massive amount of a very addictive drug. So I start the day off without technology. I meditate, to recenter. I run or exercise. I eat a healthy breakfast comprised of green smoothie some sort of protein or something more solid, like eggs or avocado toast.
When I first opened the restaurant, there was no distinction between my work and my personal life. Now I take time off and disappear once or twice a year to just completely check out—which usually entails working at the farm or hanging out in the woods in Bellingham, where I’m from.
I’m constantly making lists. As I’ve gotten older, I realize that the better I am, the better the work is. I need to take care of myself, run, exercise, make lists, and stay organized in order to thrive and to focus.
You’re in Whole Foods and can only buy five ingredients, including the protein, for a perfect dinner salad. They are?
Two veggies, a nut, a cheese, and protein. I would buy kale, because it’s my go to and I love how it takes to vinaigrette. And then something to pickle. I’m really into pickling lately. Radish—radish to pickle. And some sort of protein, probably roast chicken. And sunflower seeds and cotija cheese.
How can we make salads—an essential part of most of our daily and wellness routines—as magnificent as possible, with ease?
Practically? Prep on one day of the week. Cut up a ton of veggies to have ready. Salads can be so labor intensive, so it’s amazing to have tons of vegetables ready early in the week. And pay attention to vinaigrettes. The vinaigrette is so key. Thirdly, I always tell my team to focus on the balance between goodies and greens. Every salad should be satisfying and contain treats, but it also needs to be bright and healthy.
Recipe: All Kale Caesar Vinaigrette
2 Lemons juiced
1/2 T water
1 T champagne vinegar
1/2 T creamy Dijon mustard
1/2 shallot, minced
3/4 C EVOO
1/2 t black pepper
Salt to taste
Whirl everything together in a blender, pulsing the shallots until they are small pieces but not pulverized. Stream in olive oil until emulsified. Adjust seasoning as needed. This should be a super tart, salty vinaigrette — because its for kale, and the acid and salt is absorbed the by kale, softening and quasi-cooking it.