Chef Fernando Olea’s life has been built on love... a love for people, food and community. Chef Olea serves as the executive chef and co-owner of Sazón Restaurant in Santa Fe, New Mexico. From a young age, he watched his mother breathe love into the traditional Mexican recipes that filled her kitchen. He now pours his passion for this heritage into every dish at Sazón, which is evident by the restaurant's numerous top rankings including the fourth best fine dining restaurant in the U.S. and Chef Olea’s 2022 James Beard Award win for Best Chef of the Southwest.
Finding His Calling in The Restaurant Business
Chef Olea grew up in Mexico City and met his wife, Debra, in Mazatlan. He left home and moved to Minneapolis, where his wife was from, in pursuit of the American Dream. There he used his degree in Business Administration to manage businesses in different industries from cosmetology to furniture sales. One of these companies brought him to Santa Fe, an event that would change the course of his life and make Chef Olea a part of the culture of this storied community.
In 1991 he was offered the opportunity to take ownership of Bert’s Burger Bowl, a Santa Fe institution since 1954. He accepted and as he and Debra ran the restaurant each day, he not only got to know Santa Fe and its people, he discovered his passion as a chef and restaurateur. There was no turning back.
“Nothing in life has given me more satisfaction than the culinary field,” says Chef Olea. “I am fortunate to have found a profession that gives me so much satisfaction.”
Even while serving casual New Mexican fare at Bert’s Burger Bowl, Chef Olea began to find ways to bring the recipes and foods of his upbringing in Mexico to life, embarking on a “culinary adventure” to rescue the recipes of his family, adjust them to his own palate, and reintroduce the fusion of flavors as “New World Cuisine.” As he brought his lovingly prepared food to venues such as the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta and opened other specialty restaurants, Chef Olea’s reputation within the culinary industry grew.
The Timing is Right for New World Cuisine
In 2015, Chef Olea launched Sazón, a new restaurant dedicated to his unique interpretation of contemporary and traditional Mexican dishes. The time was right and Sazón quickly took off, gaining accolades and repeat visitors. At Sazón, everyone who walks through the door is family. Chef Olea visits with customers tableside, as his trained staff enthralls diners with each dish’s presentation. The star of the show is his mole – a sauce with complex flavors that can contain more than thirty ingredients and a variety of chilies.
“We still have that personal touch,” says Chef Olea. “I talk with every table and make a connection, and we provide the best service that we can.”
Chef Olea points out that these characteristics of relationship building and exceptional service are the same characteristics he finds at First National 1870, which is how Sunflower Bank is known in Santa Fe and its surrounding communities.
Shared Values Create a Successful Partnership
As a successful business owner and restaurateur, Chef Olea depends on a banking relationship that extends beyond just having an institution to house his earnings. First National 1870 provides him with the creative solutions, relationships and customer experience he values in his own business, along with a dedicated Private Banker that supports his financial strategy.
First National 1870 is proud to serve as Chef Olea’s banking partner for his private banking and business accounts. Through our Private Banking services, Chef Olea gains a suite of products specifically designed for successful individuals and families. His dedicated private banker, Karen Kellovich-Borrego, serves as Chef Olea’s trusted resource, helping him both manage his account needs and reach his financial goals. This includes standing by Chef Olea after a fire closed Sazón for seven months in 2019 and then working with Chef Olea to secure a PPP loan that meant he could keep his trained staff employed during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
“You are a local bank. To me, you feel like family. You feel like Santa Fe,” says Chef Olea of the Bank. “You know when I or anyone from my restaurant comes in to make a deposit or transfer, and you are always so prompt to help. I come in every Friday to do my banking because I love it here, everyone is so helpful and smiling.”
We look forward to helping Chef Olea continue to live his passion for years to come.