Taos punches above its weight,” explained wunderkind Zak Pelaccio, award-winning ex-New York restaurateur and cookbook author. Now, he and his likewise accomplished wife, Jori Jayne Emde, own the new Taos natural wine bar Corner Office. 

The Ethical Cellar, always in search of a story, did not expect to encounter Zak and Jori in this quirky northern New Mexican town. Taos is best known for its aging hippy culture, high desert vistas, earth ships, and the legendary ‘hum.’ Not to mention Taos Mountain, one of the world’s great ski areas which Jori and Zak seasonally enjoy almost daily. He continued, “The place found us. We didn’t find the place.”

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Over morning coffee in their second-floor space just off the Taos Plaza, Zak and Jori told us how, at the start of the pandemic, they were driving from work in Salt Lake City to their Hudson River Valley life. The couple heard New York City was shutting down, so they detoured to their second home in Taos for “a week or two” until the pandemic receded (a common delusion). “As time passed, we realized we wanted to be in Taos, so we sold both our home and Fish and Game, our farm-to-table restaurant.” 

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The decision cannot have been easy as Esquire Magazine had named it one of the most influential restaurants of the decade. Wine Enthusiast put it in their Hall of Fame; in 2014 it was a James Beard semifinalist for Best New Restaurant, and Zak was the 2016 James Beard Best Chef Northeast.

Jori is less well known than Zak but her culinary credentials (chef, historian, food scientist) are impressive. Her specialty is fermentation which she teaches in an online school she founded with two other women. Early in her career, she worked at two high-profile Mario Batali restaurants, Lupa and Esca, before joining Zak at two of his NYC restaurants, 5 Ninth and Fatty Crab. 

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One of her other interests aligns with a Taos ethos—she’s a member of Psychedelic Support and is credentialed in the therapeutic use of psilocybin.

Zak continued, “We didn’t have a plan after selling our Hudson Valley properties, so we decided to spend the winter of 2021-22 in Rome. When we returned, we realized our personal natural wine cellar was on the wane and found we couldn’t get the wine we wanted here. Fish & Game had a 100% natural wine list.”

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Their needs aligned with the genesis of Corner Office, a natural wine bar and café. The only problem was their favorite producers had pallet minimums (56 cases) so they went on a campaign to convince local distributors that there was a market for ethical wines. Turns out, they were right. Distributors brought in the wines which appreciative audiences endorsed.

Photo by Michael Hawkins

Jori had a brainstorm on how to make these esoteric wines more approachable. Along with the usual printed list, she created a “wall of wine” sourced from around the world. Upon entering Corner Office, on the right are shelves filled with the wines on offer, each bottle featuring a handwritten description. Patrons are encouraged to peruse the shelves before sitting down. Jori added, “We hope diners have fun, maybe even make their selection based on an attractive label, rather than be intimidated. We know and love our wines. One of us is always here to hand sell these unique bottles.”

They brought their award-winning culinary creativity too. The “small plates” seasonal menu is dictated not just by crop availability but by their tiny kitchen. “We have very little prep space and even less storage, so we can’t consider serving anything that requires either,” Jori told us. 

Zak and Jori work closely with local farmers, often paying them in advance for ingredients the farmers are then required to store, recently 200 pounds of wagyu beef and six weeks’ worth of over-wintered spinach.

The Next Revolution Will Be Biologized

Given Jori’s passion, fermented foods are included in several dishes. The night we were there, the wagyu beef was served with sauerkraut. Other innovative dishes on offer include sardine toast with watermelon radish; charred green cabbage wedge with beet tahini sauce, scallion, wild sumac + sesame chili crisp; and escargot with fermented green garlic and thyme butter.

For those seeking more familiar dishes, there’s asparagus with hollandaise and trout roe; slow roasted hunter’s chicken with a semolina dumpling; and mussels with charred spring onions, white beans, and chorizo.

Taos has several “serious” restaurants we’ve returned to over the years, like Medley and Lamberts. Corner Office isn’t competing with these. Jori and Zak are committed to keeping their place casual, (their gregarious pet dog Waylon is a clue), first and foremost Taos’ only natural wine bar. 

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Waylon, Photo by Michael Hawkins

Zak finished with, “We’re here to be part of the fabric of the community, not just in our business but in our social lives as well. We hope customers feel this when they visit us.” Considering how they left their mark on the culinary worlds of New York City and the Hudson Valley, Taos can look forward to sharing Corner Office’s wine exploration and innovative cooking.