by Chef Johnny Vee
I have always considered myself an Anglophile of sorts, since I first went to Leeds, England, to restaurant college, circa 1974. I loved how different it was from America, how the land of our forefathers seemed so parochial compared to the aggressive hustle and bustle of the U.S.A. While living there I marveled how this relatively small country had at one time practically ruled the world.
Most surprising to me still is the stronghold Britain had over the gigantic country of India. After meeting the disarmingly charming and charismatic Paddy Rawal, owner and chef of Santa Fe’s spanking new Raaga Fine Indian Dining, I have a feeling that had the British Empire come up against this dynamic businessman and culinary wizard, India’s independence might have come decades earlier. Lucky for the Brits, Paddy wasn’t born yet to stand beside Gandhi; lucky for us Santa Feans, he has arrived in our midst to teach us a new way to think about his exotic native cuisine.
Erin Wade’s Nambé farm is home to a curious cast of characters.
There’s the large flock of what Wade calls “ridiculously hormonal” chickens ranging freely over the property. They keep the pests down, roost in the trees and sometimes break into the house. Four very large pigs root around in a sturdy pen above the driveway. They spend their days taking mud baths and arguing with a bold pair of ravens over savory tidbits of slop. Charlie, Wade’s “egg-suckin’ hound,” pokes around in the shadows looking for wayward chicken eggs.
Finally, there’s Hopkins, a little orange cat that showed up on the farm one day and decided to stay. Hopkins is named after poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. She follows Wade around the farm, wagging her long striped tail and basking in the sunshine. She’s a cat that thinks she’s a dog.
My history with Taos goes back to the late 1980’s, when I was living in Sydney and working for a company that set up American-themed restaurants in that beautiful Australian city. Hearing of the popular new culinary trend that was sweeping the states called Southwestern cooking, we ventured to hop on the bandwagon and introduce the cuisine and concept Down Under. I found a chef consultant named Dan Hoyer who headed down to assist us in establishing the authenticity of the food, and Dan was from Taos.
In the coming months, localflavor magazine is embarking on series of articles featuring some of Northern New Mexico’s independent fine wine stores. “Independent” is an apt description of the people who operate our local retail wine stores. You have to have the audacious passion of a Broadway producer to invest the capital necessary to get a license, let alone to purchase inventory chosen from the estimated 10,000 different grape varieties, which translates, exponentially, into hundreds of thousands of wines. What is clear is that each neighborhood wine store—grand, storied, or mom-and-pop—is operated by individuals of unique and resolute vision.
A palpable transformation is occurring in the wine community here and around the country, not unlike that of the “farm to table” movement. Any chef worth her fleur de sel is adamant about sourcing her products, be they natural, sustainable, organic, or simply the best out there. Owners and managers of our fine wine stores are pursuant of the same prevailing desire: to bring this global, whirling life back into our own hands, to give credence to craft, and to heed what we consume. Spend time in any fine wine shop in the Santa Fe or Albuquerque area and you will find fervent “cork dorks” guiding customers away from industrialized brands and toward grower Champagne, natural wines of Loire, garage pinot noir from California Central Coast. We can’t all be farmers, winemakers, or sommeliers, but we can all participate in how and where we choose to spend our money. In this highly competitive business, there is, nevertheless, a collective spirit that unites these purveyors: the celebration of craft, honor of the land, and the art of winemaking.
Dining out, I feel, is an act of compulsion. Some thought, memory or taste recollection interrupts our day, lodges itself in our little brain forcing our body to respond by heading off to a restaurant to re-live that lovely, edible reminiscence. If we haven’t visited the establishment before, perhaps a friend raved about the food there, or we saw an ad that featured a gorgeous food shot, or we read about it here in Local Flavor and thought, “Gee that sounds interesting and yummy.” Off we go to check out the menu. And it all starts with a thought.
Often when I am writing, as I reflect on a dish, I suddenly realize my mouth is watering. Literally, my taste buds kick into action as that delicious dish scampers across my mind. (Talk about Pavlov’s theory….) As the year draws to a close, I thought I would call on those scrumptious reveries and share them with you. Here are my top ten favorite dishes of 2010. They are by no means in order of importance or preference. The list could have been a thousand strong, because I am sure you all agree–we truly live in the City Deliciously Different. Continue reading
When I first tasted Mark Connell’s cooking at a special invitational sampling just prior to the relaunch of Max’s, the cozy downtown eatery in the Guadalupe district, I couldn’t believe my taste buds. I was already a fan of prior chef Brian Rood’s simple, ingredient-driven menu, most of which came from the Farmers’ Market. Connell had recently become working chef/partner with proprietor Maria Renteria and Rood had temporarily left the restaurant (Rood now acts as Connell’s sous chef). Word on the street was that Max’s was closing, and then suddenly a new chef and direction appeared, and a buzz slowly started to build.
The dinner that night was perplexing. I had heard that young Connell had worked briefly for Thomas Keller and had incorporated the sous vide cooking technique into a few of the dishes at Max’s. I wasn’t yet sold on the notion that cooking food in a plastic bag in a temperature-controlled water bath did anything to improve its flavor or enjoyment factor, so I was surprised by the results. Continue reading