A Year of Buzzin’ Around

JV-gcIMG_7231 In the oft-recorded Sondheim anthem, “I’m Still Here,” survival in the tough world of show business is toasted and honored. Perhaps the same theme is relevant in the hospitality field; “Good times and bum times, I’ve seen them all and my dear, I’m still here!” The restaurant biz is amazingly resilient, thanks to the plethora of culinary talent our foodie fueled town boasts. They survive the up times and the down times and still manage to keep us all lusciously entertained. Here’s our annual round-up of the movers and shakers, fryers, sautéers and bakers who have made a delicious difference in Santa Fe’s gastronomic year.

A Town for Tacos

Who knew the humble taco had enough clout to warrant the explosion of eateries that offer the authentic soft-shelled (not the hard shells of my youth) grab-n-go goody that has leapt out of the food truck and drive-up window and onto the tables of sit-down restaurants? Taco Fundación led the charge with Brian Knox’s (he of Shake Foundation) takeover of Bert’s Burger Bowl in the Guadalupe district. He started with a simple three, but slowly added some unique versions like sweet potato, kale and pine nuts, and my favorite, the fried oyster. The spanking new Paloma, too, has two yummy ones that vary from the usual varieties. Try the chipotle-fired chicken tinga or roasted cauliflower, marcona almond, olive and golden raisin—delish!   Continue reading

Rocky is Back!

RockyDurham-SunriseSprings_DSC6328As tenacious as Rocky Balboa in the Rocky film franchise, Santa Fe’s own Rocky Durham keeps us coming back for more with his longevity and distinct culinary one-two punch. He has weathered a long and illustrious career that has taken him around the world and has included a few bumps in the road that might knock out an otherwise less sturdy chef. What I love about this guy is he always comes up swinging and with a big toothy grin on his face to boot. The length of his resume should make him well into his 50s, but the ever-youthful Durham is in fact only 46.

Durham’s latest gastronomic boxing ring is the beautifully re-imagined Sunrise Springs Spa Resort in nearby La Cienega. The long-standing spa-resort has been renovated and revitalized by the folks who own Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs, and their move to bring Rocky onboard is a clever one. I had dined there right after they opened in September 2015, when original Chef Paul Novak, formerly of Geronimo, took a more Spartan approach to the food plan with dishes that were delicious but purposely simple and un-adorned—this flowed from the original design, in which the resort was primarily private and meals were for guests only. As the resort management got a better feel for how Sunrise Springs would fit into the hospitality and “wellness spa” community, it was decided to open the place up to locals and day visitors, allowing anyone to dine there and partake of the lovely spa attached. When Chef Paul moved on, Rocky stepped up to the ring.

A longtime colleague of Rocky’s, I’ve known him for over two decades, and after enjoying a delicious brunch at the lovely Blue Heron Restaurant where he now mans the stoves, I thought it would be interesting to chat with the local legend and see how his latest venture is settling in. I decide to spend some time in the kitchen to observe the chef in his natural habitat as it were (like watching a boxer at training).

As I arrive on a sunny morning in early January, I catch the chef putting the finishing touches on a batch of buckwheat crackers. He sets a timer and we retire to some comfy couches in the corner of the dining room overlooking one of the property’s many ponds. “I actually auditioned for the position, cooking the owners a meal,” Rocky begins. “I knew what the food had been like here, but I wanted to cook my food and not be too concerned about it being light or healthy, just my food.” We discuss how the image of what’s “healthy” in the food world has changed and is changing. “My wife is vegetarian and I have prepared both vegan and raw food,” the chef says. “So I do feel I have a strong background in food that is good and good for you.” Continue reading

Cherished Moments at the Table – A Look Back at 2016


dreamstime_l_10866520As the year draws to a close, we reflect back on it and hopefully remember some of the wonderful moments that helped us weather crazy 2016. For foodies, powerful memories often include a fantastic meal, a discovered culinary talent or exotic ingredient, or maybe just a perfect roast chicken served to you by a loved one. I usually write a roundup of some of my favorite meals at this time of year, but my editor was looking for a change, and asked me to reach out to some of my gastronomic contemporaries instead for their thoughts and delicious reminiscences.

I queried a variety of folks who work and travel in the food world—chefs, photographers, writers and restaurateurs—and I was thrilled that many took time out of their busy schedules to share a few words about their yummy year. In the spirit of the song “Auld Lang Syne,” this holiday season, let’s take a cup of kindness yet and not forget our old and delicious acquaintances. Cheers!

The tasty tales came from a wide diversity of locations, some as close as the restaurant around the corner and some as far away as the Emerald Isle. Writer and cookbook author Deborah Madison had just returned from there and offered this: “I just got back last week from another visit to Ireland—this time in the Southeast part of the country—and again ate very well. The best, most memorable meal, however, was at a famous vegetarian restaurant called Café Paradiso in Cork.  Continue reading

The Girl Gets My Vote!

401 exterior

401 exterior

This year’s election process has been such a constant barrage of polls—and both public and pundit opinion—that it practically has me catatonic. Still, I believe it can be interesting to find out what the folks on the street are curious about. So through the use of social media, and more specifically, Facebook, I alerted my friends and foodie fans that I was interviewing a newish chef in town and posed the question: What are you interested in knowing about my next (unspecified) interviewee?

The responses were many and varied. I was surprised to see that although we are currently considering a woman to be president, many of the responders who included a gender in their query assumed my subject was a male chef—surprise!

So using my list of over 30 questions from the masses as a guideline, I went to the newly opened 401 Fine Neighborhood Dining on Guadalupe Street to chat with Chef/Owner Laura Licona. I had already enjoyed at least three meals at the casual eatery, so my curiosity, too, was piqued. I wanted to know more about this talented newcomer to town and find out what made her tick and to discover her culinary platform, if you will. I wanted to learn what gastronomic promises her campaign of cookery makes. Continue reading

Santa Fe Top Ten Dishes

A review I read recently in the New Yorker about a new Slavic restaurant in Brooklyn ended with a simple statement: “wear sweatpants.” It made me chuckle as I had to admit to myself that the phrase was an apt metaphor for my writing in Local Flavor this year on the Santa Fe food scene. With so many fantastic restaurants and so much culinary talent to cover, no wonder I found myself loosening my belt a notch or two.

Santa Fe is truly a foodie town; it comes as no surprise that we’re rated in the top ten of Conde Nast’s Reader’s Choice Award for 2014. I think anyone would agree that all of our dedicated chefs and hospitality professionals deserve the praise.

But I was asked to choose my ten favorite dishes. So, what makes a Top Ten dish in my mind? Certainly flavor, first and foremost, with creativity and dish execution also being important factors. The atmosphere of the restaurant and the caliber of the servers bear merit as well, although I believe gobbling up a messy burger on a picnic table by the roadside with sauce running down your chin can win just as much kudos as a fine dining experiencethe likes of Geronimo or Georgia—well, almost.

From pickles to poutine, it was a delicious year. I remember last year, after my Top Ten List of 2013 came out, a few readers told me that they were going to try each of my celebrated dishes to see if they agreed with my votes. With the New Year upon us, I think that’s a great idea…just don’t forget the sweatpants!

Chef Joel Coleman photo by: Kitty Leaken

Chef Joel Coleman
photo by: Kitty Leaken

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Chef Johnny Vee Wants to Know

Fire & Hops

slider Fire and Hops

As a longtime fan of Chef Joel Coleman’s cooking, I remember my disappointment when I heard he was leaving town after running into owner problems at his downtown venture Koi. Prior to that, Coleman had made a splash with Mauka in the Guadalupe district, serving his unique spin on Japanese and Asian inspired cooking. His frustration is one that many talented chefs feel; finding your culinary footing in this fickle industry can be tricky. I was glad to hear he was back in town and eager to check out his new gastro pub, an idea he had been playing with in his head for years. As I wrote in my round-up in the September issue of Local Flavor, when I visit a restaurant three times in a week, you know I’m intrigued. Fire & Hops has become my new “local favorite” so I was curious to hear from the chef himself, and partner Josh Johns, just how this new gamble is panning out … and to talk Spam. Continue reading