The look of shock can still be seen on Point Grill owner and head chef Mike White’s face as he recalls the moment he was given the New Mexico Restaurant Association’s Chef of the Year Award for 2018 earlier this month.
“It was surreal,” White said. “I was genuinely surprised… All I could think about was not tripping on my way up to the stage.”
He said this award couldn’t have come at a better time, given that he is closing the doors to the Point Grill in Mariposa on Sept. 25 to relocate.
“I’ve been on the West Side or in Rio Rancho in one form or another for 23 years,” he said. “The fact that I found a place just down the hill to serve my existing clientele as well as broaden the business was the whole idea in moving.”
White said he will relocate the Point Grill, renamed the High Point Grill, to a 3,600-square-foot space at 9780 Coors Blvd.
“I changed the name because I want to be the high point of your week, your day or every once in awhile,” he said with a laugh.
According to White, the new location will serve many of the same dishes as the Point Grill, but with the added space, he will expand the menu with seasonal dishes.
“We will be doing handmade pasta; we are going to pull our own cheeses and, of course, we are going to make our own sauces, dressings and other things like that,” he said. “There will be more upscale items and an extended specials menu, which gives me more room to play.”
White said he will maintain a beer and wine license, and do food pairings with each, keeping the tradition from his old location alive.
White reminisced about starting out as a chef in a food truck a few years back.
“I never really was a culinary-school guy,” White said. “I learned everything I do from good old-fashioned trial and error.”
White’s culinary inspirations come from some of the Southern cuisine he grew up with, along with his passion for a hint of Southwestern spice.
“I remember falling in love with green chile when I moved here,” he said. “After tasting it, I just wanted to put it in everything because it is so amazing.”
After his time in the food truck, White found the opportunity to operate his dream from a location in Mariposa.
“I sold my house to a real estate company that was out here, and they also happened to own this building,” White said. “Another local named Lucas Stephens wanted to start up as well, so we joined forces and opened the Point Grill three years ago.”
He said his biggest professional feat so far was winning 2018 NMRA Chef of the Year.
“If you look at Rio Rancho, there aren’t many homegrown mom-and-pop restaurants,” White said. “Usually it’s the big chain restaurants that have the edge over a small-business owner like me, so winning this award was proof that a small-business owner can accomplish big things.”
Another accomplishment for him is establishing Kitchen Kids Inc., a nonprofit that teaches kids to cook wholesome meals from scratch.
“This is really fun, being able to teach kids how to cook pasta or make pizza dough from scratch, plus there might be a young me in the class that will someday grow up to be a chef,” White said.
For now, he said he is looking forward to having more space to continue doing the thing he loves most, cooking.
“I am hoping to have everything up and running in mid-October, so we aren’t wasting anytime moving and setting up,” White said.