Rick Bayless in Santa Fe!

Rick BaylessAfter 15 years, celebrity chef Rick Bayless is returning to this year’s Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta, this time on the heels of his latest—though certainly not first—James Beard Award win. The nine-time cookbook author, TV host and chef of several restaurants earned the foundation’s highest award for the four-star Topolobampo Grill, which he opened in 1991, shortly after the casual Frontera Grill, a sea-change restaurant in the history of Mexican food in the United States. Chef Bayless is set to prepare a luncheon with fellow chef and friend Martín Rios at Restaurant Martín. The four-course lunch will be paired with wines from Craft + Estate. Bayless will also present a cooking demonstration at Santa Fe School of Cooking. Although scant on menu details at the time of our conversation, Chef Bayless is sure to ladle traditional Mexican fare with organic, local ingredients.  

As devoted as you are to Mexican food, you’ve also been a champion of organic ingredients from local purveyors. When did that become part of your repertoire?

Basically, it came from the fact that I lived in Mexico and learned that the best food came from the places with the best local agriculture. My wife and I decided to settle in Chicago, which has the second largest concentration of Mexican people in the nation (and my wife’s family is from there), but we were missing one great thing: local agriculture. Thirty years ago, there was not a farmers’ market, and you had to drive a long way to find farm stands. We had our work cut out for us to find local, seasonal product. It took many years to find farms willing to supply a restaurant. But it all came from how important agriculture was to great food.

The Frontera Farmer Foundation has provided $2 million in small grants. Why did you decide to focus your philanthropic efforts on supporting local, organic farmers in the Chicago area?

In Illinois, 95 percent of the farm fields are corn and soybeans, which doesn’t go into the food scene. We had to find farms interested in working with us and willing to grow things for us. We discovered fairly quickly that farms couldn’t supply us because they didn’t have the equipment. First, we provided no-interest loans for watering systems, hoop houses or a new tractor so they could be more profitable and productive. They had to pay us back in a year, in dollars or product [worth the value]. We really wanted to make it into a for-profit foundation. Most of our grants are small—$8,000 to $12,000. It would take them years to be able save that amount, so a grant from the foundation pushes them years ahead in what they are able to do. Continue reading

A Multitude of Amused Bouches

NM Fine Dining

Sometimes, the most innovative ideas happen while you’re in the shower, driving or, in the case of Jimmy Day, riding a bike. Jimmy was riding along Old Las Vegas Highway on a Saturday morning in the spring of 2016, when he saw a FOR SALE banner above Bobcat Bite. He memorized the phone number and upon arriving back home, still wearing his Lycra riding suit, announced to his wife, Jennifer, that they were going to buy the iconic Santa Fe burger joint. Accustomed to life with her serial entrepreneur husband—Jimmy has been involved in businesses from real estate to owning auto dealerships for more than 30 years—she took it in stride. “Well, I guess we’re going to buy a restaurant,” she said.

“I called the number, and by Monday, we’d formulated how we were going to buy it,” Jimmy says. Believing in the stone soup fable that calls upon a village to contribute the ingredients to enrich a dish, the Days quickly realized that not only would their proverbial soup be better if they pulled in a team, but it would also be better if they attempted other dishes as well, adding perhaps French wine, a pasta dish and a tamale. As they purchased the former Galisteo Bistro and Georgia, NM Fine Dining was born—in a landscape with a relative paucity of restaurant groups. Continue reading

Chef2Chef with Katharine Kagel

KatharineKagel-DSC_6761For those of us who calibrate a day by when and what we plan on eating, there are a few archetypal dishes that manage to reach deeply into our imaginations, stir our souls and cozy themselves within our seminal memories. They become foundational to our craft. For me, one of those dishes is crispy polenta with real maple syrup. I was introduced to that dish at Cafe Pasqual’s. It’s a privilege now, 35 years later, to sit around and talk with Katharine Kagel, the charismatic and playful visionary chef/owner of Cafe Pasqual’s, someone who impacted my food world as only a few have. We got to talking.

Mark Oppenheimer: What feeds you and what do you feed?

Katharine Kagel:  Opportunity and kindness feed me. Opportunity to be creative, to be healthy, to contribute, to explore, to give, to love, opportunity to work with people I adore. To have the freedom to do all the above. Continue reading

A Tale of Two Bakeries

DSC_1431If you suddenly find yourself hungry when you’re in the south end of Santa Fe’s South Capitol district, there’s a good reason for it. That fragrant aroma of baking baguettes, croissants, pastries, muffins and more wafting through the air comes from two beloved Santa Fe restaurants that are new to the neighborhood—the relocated Clafoutis and The New Baking Company, inspired by the old Santa Fe Baking Co., which closed in 2016.

Eateries have long populated this neighborhood, serving everything from Asian and Indian to Mediterranean, Italian and New Mexican cuisine. But the addition of these two spots—located catty-corner to each other—adds to the vibrant food scene in this neighborhood. This culinary corner draws locals and visitors alike for the comfort food and conviviality found in two restaurants with strong ties to the community.

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Chef 2 Chef with Mark Kiffin

DSC_2001The process and mechanism of an interview is a delicious little tidbit that stands on its own. While it’s not quite a profile, it is an intimate reveal, a portrait of both interviewer and interviewee. No two minds perform the same, thus, what I think is an interesting question to one subject falls flat with another. It’s like word association. I ask a question and the answers are the associations the mind conjures, while the questions are the vehicles that stir the mind—and hopefully, both reader and interviewer, along with the subject, come to learn something new about each other and themselves. What I hope to achieve is to sneak past someone’s protective self and meet them in the delicate landscape of their humanity. I’m humbled and excited; I hope he’ll trust me. We got to talking…

Mark Oppenheimer: What feeds you and what do you feed?

Mark Kiffin: There’s a passion to the craft, a great romance to cooking that is very personal. I feel that what I’m doing matters, that I’ve contributed to other people’s significant moments and memories. There’s a joy in understanding that my work is important to people I’ll never really know. I think the passion and love of what you do shows up in the food you serve.
I’m bilingual everywhere in the world. I can’t speak Chinese, but when I’ve been in China––and I’ve even done various stages in Singapore, Spain, North Africa––we don’t have the same language, but we’re in the kitchen cooking together, seeing what the other is making, and we communicate unencumbered by language differences. Everywhere I go in the world, there’s food, and I have a connection with someone because of it. It’s very exciting to continually be learning new techniques, to travel and see the world of food. I love the fact that food has taken me to so many places in the world. I think my job is unlimited, because it’s everywhere.

Food has only made my life better, through learning more about it as well as myself. It has given me a lot of great things that have happened in my life; it has introduced me to a way of life that I can’t imagine ever leaving. My life’s work has been expressing my joy of cooking for others. I’ve met my family, my wives through the joy of food. I’ve had the pleasure of watching my daughter, London, seeing and tasting things for the first time. That re-invigorates me and opens my eyes that here’s a one-year-old who has never seen this or had that and either falls in love with it or hates it. It’s the joy of watching that come about.

I prepared my father’s last meal. He was in hospice dying of cancer. He asked me three days before he died to cook his last meal for him. He said, “This is what I’d like for my last meal.” And he devoured it.

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The Root Cellar

LL The Root Cellar16The adage says it takes a village. Greg Menke, owner and chef of Beestro, The Hive Market and The Root Cellar, contends it’s not a village it takes—it’s a hive. That’s the model for effective, healthy communities—ones that renew and aid their landscape rather than deplete it—he’d like to see adopted. “The bee is really just a metaphor for how to live locally, live sustainably and give more than you take,” Greg says. And he’s taking over one storefront at a time on East Marcy Street to import it.

Greg inherited his infatuation with honeybees from his grandfather, an aeronautical engineer who studied honeybees and honeycombs, and applied those principles for lightweight strength to his work. Pouring through his grandfather’s old journals and workbooks, he found inspiration and answers to questions he hadn’t known he had. He’s come to see bees, providers of honey and beeswax for candles, as an emblem of sweetness and light, both of which are in need of spreading.

In Greg’s own work, those ideas have manifested in the form of the honey-centric businesses that have grown in recent years off the established lunch spot, The Beestro, which opened six years ago. The Hive Market, which opened in November 2015 in the former home of the Blue Rooster and the Rouge Cat, began as a holiday pop-up shop themed around “gifts from the hive.” The aim was to take a test run at the space and the idea of a store centered on honey-based products. It worked. Continue reading