Paulraj Karuppasamy’s food story doesn’t begin with a sweet or savory memory from childhood that led him into the kitchen, or from dishwasher to a hardboiled apprenticeship in a Michelin-starred restaurant in Europe. With no plans of becoming a chef or cook, Paulraj’s trajectory from working the line in a cruise ship kitchen to the chef/owner of Paper Dosa in Santa Fe was not by design, but rather the serendipitous happenstance of overhearing the name of a friend from his past spoken in a bar half way around the world.
With humility and grace, the need to survive and help his family, all the while carrying the family’s dream of emigrating to the U.S., Paulraj caught the spice route from India to America. His is a story of courage and survival. We got to talking.
Mark: Living in a foreign country with different ingredients and food customs, how has cooking the foods of your village helped maintain the emotional link to your heritage?
Paulraj: Just eating a food like Rasam, I connect with my mom. I would ask her for some of her recipes when I wanted to cook certain foods I remember from the village.
Once I finish my shift, eating my dinner, whether it is the Pepper Chicken, or it’s a new curry, I’ll be reminded of my friend [from Dosa]. Whenever I eat that food, it reconnects me with family, friends and then memories come. When I started working in San Francisco, I asked my mom how to make Rasam and I just followed her recipe. When I think about those things, not just with my mom’s cooking, I feel connected. Also, some of the dishes I got from her, I put on our specials menu.
Before Marja Martin was the catering maven of Santa Fe, she spent evenings in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, listening to the crooning song “Cucurrucucú Paloma” at a tiny bar. The ballad tells of a broken-hearted man whose mourning sounds like a dove. It’s a far cry from the bright, vibrant restaurant that would later borrow its name from the tune, but Paloma hails from authentic nights like these.
Marja only opened the Santa Fe Railyard-adjacent Paloma in July, but the restaurant has already inspired a following. Marja says diners frequently tell her, “Santa Fe needed this.” Indeed, Paloma has found a sweet spot: It draws inspiration from traditional Mexican ingredients and flavors—a rarity in a town smothered in New Mexican cuisine. The crave-able fare walks the fine line between fatty and fresh, and the price point settles between taco trucks and high-end restaurants. Both mature diners and millennials eager for a night out in the pricey capital city appreciate that balance. “We want Paloma to be a once- or twice-a-week restaurant, not a special-occasion restaurant,” Marja says. That Paloma has so gracefully taken off on the winds of the Santa Fe culinary scene comes as a result of a decades-long journey.
Marja grew up going to the Dallas farmers’ market with her mother, “before going to the farmers’ market was a thing,” she says. Her parents encouraged her to pursue her bachelor’s degree. Unfortunately for her well-meaning parents, the budding foodie landed in New Orleans, where the city’s culinary charms only cemented her passion. After culinary school and stints in San Francisco and Washington D.C., Marja landed in Santa Fe, where she ran Marja Custom Catering for two decades.
As the Drury Plaza Hotel’s Eloisa hovered between catering bookings and an unfinished restaurant space, Chef John Sedlar enlisted Marja and her commissary kitchen. In turn, Marja called upon Nathan Mayes, who moonlighted in the catering business after day jobs at The Betterday Coffee Shop and Arroyo Vino. Continue reading
In the pages of Local Flavor, we’ve long celebrated chefs, artists and other luminaries who place Santa Fe squarely in the international spotlight. Now, in this two-part series, we celebrate the unsung heroes—volunteers who feed the homebound, teach literacy, work with troubled teens, maintain pristine mountain trails and even lead tours through the city’s crown jewel, La Fonda. We’re lucky to have these volunteers in our community who, through the act of freely giving, give the city its heart. This is our way of saying, Thank you.
“A working musician is all I ever wanted to be,” Alejandro Escovedo says. That he is, and you can hear him in an intimate setting at GiG Performance Space courtesy of AMP Concerts. Roots-rock, punk rock…he always sounded like a version of Dylan to me. I’m not saying he’s derivative, not at all, but just as honest and poetic as ol’ Bobby—that’s what I hear when he writes and sings his own stuff. Alejandro’s on his Burn Something Beautiful tour, and Santa Fe will embrace him. One of the cuts on this album is “I Don’t Want To Play Guitar Anymore.” Don’t believe it. Nov. 4, AMPconcerts.org, holdmyticket.com
Because FUSION Theatre Company always sells out its shows, include Fulfillment Center in your early November plans at The FUSION Forum, the newly re-christened Cell Theatre (plus) in ABQ. This play is fresh from The Manhattan Theatre Club, but playwright Abe Koogler is from New Mexico; his parents live in Santa Fe. FUSION was searching for a Santa Fe venue as of press time. Continue reading
El Nido Restaurant
Before El Nido closed its doors in 2010, Anthony and Wendi Odai were regulars. And like countless other couples across the decades, they celebrated their wedding anniversary there every year with the famous oysters, steak, lobster and beer. Now, they own the landmark Tesuque restaurant—along with friends Rob and Michelle Bowdon—and they couldn’t be happier.
“Back then, El Nido was a run-down restaurant, but we loved it,” Anthony recalls, sitting with Wendi in a booth on a bustling Tuesday night. “So when it closed, we were sad. It sat empty forever.” El Nido had been a special place to both couples, and not just because they lived in the neighborhood—they loved its community ambience, rich history and fine food. So when the opportunity arose for them to bring back the landmark restaurant, they quickly embraced it, devoting themselves to making it better than ever.
“There are such iconic restaurants here—Maria’s, The Shed—and El Nido is one of them,” Anthony says. “When we were building this place, we’d leave the doors open and people would wander in who remembered the days when it was a roadhouse with chairs lined up against the wall so there was room for dancing and a jukebox in the corner. We have brought back so many of the El Nido regulars. People who live up the street and are in their 80’s. It’s fun to hear the stories and to see these regulars come in and say they’re happy to be back.” Continue reading
There were serious offers on the table from five potential buyers for El Farol on Canyon Road, a Santa Fe icon and one of America’s hundred most historic restaurants. Four of the bids were from out of state. Lucky for Santa Fe, the winning offer, from lead investor Richard Freedman, was not only local, it was hyperlocal. Rich also owns The Teahouse, right across the street.
“Lately, I’ve been wearing out a path between the two places,” Rich says on Day 12 of the newly refurbished and reopened El Farol, which translates from Spanish as “The Lantern.” “We let the lantern idea guide us as we chose every detail of the design,” part owner and General Manager Freda K. Scott says. “The warmth and light, the sense of welcoming that a lit lantern symbolizes, and which historically signaled the cantina was open for service.”
Rich and Freda eschewed the services of a professional designer, preferring to make their own selections of casual comfortable, dark wood furniture, locally sourced lighting fixtures and sconces, the new modern and elegant logo, the flatware and other décor details, down to the alabaster candleholders on every table, which are meant to convey: “You’re home, you’re invited, you’re welcome here.” Continue reading