Walking uninvited through the swinging doors into a chef’s kitchen is like wandering into someone’s walk-in closet. Either you’re curiously welcomed, or unceremoniously tossed out. That’s how I first met Joe, breaching the swinging doors of Joseph’s of Santa Fe in the middle of service, and strangely asking to meet and shake the hand of the chef. Crazy, I know.
But slowly over the last few years, we’ve gotten to know each other––talking about food, life and, of course, baseball. My Cubs won it all this year, while his Big Red Machine floundered.
In preparation to interview Joe, I proposed I work in the kitchen for a few nights. He agreed. So one night, I showed up with my knives and got to work. Afterward, we got to talking. Continue reading
In early January, Modern General, the store and eatery in Santa Fe owned by chef/farmer/innovator Erin Wade, sent out an enticingly cryptic announcement stating they were launching “a new wellness concept…sweet and savory…a twist on everyone’s favorite childhood breakfast.” As one might guess, considering the kind of playfully fundamental cuisine Erin brings to salads at Vinaigrette, her latest tantalizing concoctions are thoroughly Modern General.
These days, Erin is bi-Southwestern, splitting time between Austin, Texas, where she’s opened her third Vinaigrette in a trifecta with Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Late on a Saturday afternoon in February, it’s serendipitous to catch a glimpse of her in Modern General. Having given a lead cook a vacation during the “slow time,” she’s at the stove because the place is slammed. “It’s been like this all day,” says Robin Schoen, long-time maven and manager for Wade enterprises, referring to the line at the counter and the full tables. “So Erin jumped into the kitchen.” During a lull, Erin greets guests. Picture a young Katherine Hepburn ever so charmingly disheveled. “I don’t do the cooking regularly, but every once in a while, it’s good to check in,” Erin says, with an ebullient smile. “I didn’t expect to see people! My apron is covered in batter.”
Batter up! Erin’s hit a homerun with creations she calls “Modcakes™.” Made from several varieties of heritage flours, the cakes are topped with a variety of classic and unique ingredients, sauced and garnished in imaginative combinations, complexly textured, at once satisfying and provocative. Reasonably priced, sensibly portioned, a single serving stays the stomach, though any hiker worth her boots could easily handle a duet of dishes. “We’re super excited about savory pancakes,” Erin says. “Pancakes make any day special.” Continue reading
As 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
Fernando Ruiz’s story is one of inspiration and hope, but this is just to know the half of it. In meeting Fernando, a barrel chested, tatted up, bald executive chef with eyes so deep and blue, he captures every bit of your attention. Even so, if you think, He’s probably just like all the other tattooed chefs, you’d be dead wrong. Nothing can ready you for meeting Fernando in person. He’s an endless beam of light.
I first came to know him as a ‘friend’ on Facebook through another local chef’s posts, while following his cooking exploits. When I ran into him at the recent Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta, I could see those deep blue eyes from 25 feet away. I was immediately drawn in like a Star Trek tractor beam. I tried to greet him with an out-stretched hand, but we hugged like two old friends. We said few words and parted, but I knew a friendship had been made. It was the highlight of the event for me.
While putting this interview together, it was easy to fall in love with this most beautiful man. I hope after reading this, you’ll love him as much as I do. Continue reading
As 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
Eclectic; Daniela and Maxime Bouneou
What I love about food is the same thing I love about writing about food—there’s always more. More stories to tell, new opportunities to explore. Just when I think, “What else could a person possibly do with half a chicken?” I try Chef Maxime Bouneou’s version with pasilla chile and lime, roasted in a brick oven and served with green mango chutney. Amazing. What’s more amazing, is I’m eating this at a pizzeria, where the owners Maxime and Daniela Bouneou want me to be clear when I write this article: Tell people we are a tap house. Stop by for a Pink Elephant on Parade (a local Bosque Brewing witbier, one of 16 craft beers on tap), or a few beers and a game of giant Yahtzee on the patio. Yes, really––there is giant Yahtzee. And hopscotch outside the restrooms so patrons can, you know, hop and scotch while they wait in line. This is Eclectic, where wide-ranging ideas and tastes run amok and people dance the samba, flirt with everyone and laugh and laugh. This is the type of atmosphere the Bouneous originally envisioned when first opening a restaurant years ago in Santa Fe: casual, sociable, relaxed, fun. Somehow, this idea slipped away from them when they began their workdays at 4 am after going to bed at midnight, making the pasta fresh everyday and the gnocchi by hand at the original Torino’s, and even further away when they listened to customers who wanted stemware, linen tablecloths and reservations at the Torino’s @ Home in Albuquerque. Continue reading