Chef2Chef with Jennifer James and Nelle Bauer  

DSC_1857What happens when a shy girl from the heart of the Midwest meets a fast-talking Texan? You get frenchish, the current restaurant project of Jennifer James and Nelle Bauer. What you also get are two very generous and affable women who aren’t afraid to tell it like it is or hide who they are. We enjoyed a delightful afternoon of deviled eggs and rabbit terrine as Nelle and Jennifer, dressed for work in their chef’s whites and Crocs, shared a few memories and their vision for the future. I asked a few questions and tried to stay out of the way. We got to talking.

Mark Oppenheimer: I heard a chef once say, “In the end, it isn’t only about eating; it’s about discovering.”

Jennifer James: To me, it’s more about nostalgia than discovering. Food creates these memories of, “Oh my gosh, my mom used to make this!” Or, “This tastes like this memory from my childhood.”

To Nelle Bauer: You’re kinda young to have a whole lot of memories.

Nelle: And you’re so old, you have so many…. [Everyone laughs.] Continue reading

Mark Miller

Mark Miller

Mark Miller

Editor’s note: The following words belong to Mark Miller; they’re his answers to the questions asked by Mark Oppenheimer, and we felt they stood strongly on their own. 

Whether ordering a meal in a restaurant or preparing a favorite meal at home, do we ever stop to consider the sensual experience of taste and flavor, or how perceptions, beliefs and expectations contribute to our appreciation of food? Mark Miller does. Since leaving the rigors of the restaurant kitchens he’s created, Mark, a James Beard Award-winning chef and anthropologist, has been an indefatigable world traveler who seeks out the latest cutting-edge research on eating, cooking, perception and the brain, and asks us all to pause just for a moment, breathe deeply and be present for what happens in the body and mind when we eat. We got to talking.

People used to think that the end of the season was the Burning of Zozobra, but much like the Japanese idea of autumn, when things come into their totality and fruition and are at their most intense and complex. Thus was born The Wine and Chile Fiesta. We thought we should have an event to celebrate fall—the changing of the aspens, gorgeous light, the ripeness of the end of the summer, and the culture and culinary heritage of New Mexico—based on the most famous thing we have here: chiles. We thought it would be interesting to put two things together that at first don’t seem to go together—chile and wine. People are interested in wine, and we would get great wineries and local chefs to come in, and every dish would be cooked with chiles. The original format was designed by Gordon Heiss, the director of Casa Sena (he’s no longer with us) and Al Lucero and myself. It’s turned out to be the most successful culinary event in Santa Fe. Continue reading

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

Singing in the Rain at Prairie Star

Prairie Star; The Poire

Prairie Star; The Poire

Monsoon season has a way of keeping you on your toes––especially when it comes to outdoor events like the longstanding Music on the Patio series at Prairie Star Restaurant & Wine Bar in Santa Ana Pueblo, now in its seventh year.

Every Friday evening from late April to mid-October, some of New Mexico’s biggest name musicians, from Hillary Smith to Cathryn McGill to The Real Matt Jones, perform on the wine bar’s scenic patio, which looks out past the manicured greenery of the Santa Ana Golf Club’s 27 holes to the looming Sandias, somehow even more monumental from this vantage point.

“The views that we have are probably the best in the state,” says Executive Chef Chris Olsen, who took the helm at Prairie Star five years ago after stints at Standard Diner, Seasons Rotisserie & Grill, Marcello’s Chophouse and other area restaurants. “You tie in good food, good wine and good music, and the overall experience is amazing. That’s why our patio is normally packed, and Fridays are crazy busy.”   Continue reading

Back Stage at Restaurant Martín

RestaurantMartin_DSC2255Restaurant dinner service is usually an elegantly organized chaos, as servers and chefs prepare multiple-course meals, adapt to last-minute additions to the party, and navigate diners’ ever-growing dietary restrictions. Jennifer and Martin Rios take this orchestration to the next level during the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta, presenting four events, as well as maintaining their usual restaurant hours. During the five-day event, Martin will present a demo and tasting; they’ll host a luncheon with Rick Bayless; present a wine dinner; and participate in the Grand Tasting—serving nearly 4,000 plates of food between special events and normal operations. And the owners/operators pull all this together mostly through phone calls during their respective 15-minute drives home to Tesuque after closing the restaurant at 10 p.m.—on a good night.  

Martin has been a part of the Fiesta since the first year, 27 years ago, and he’s doubled down since opening Restaurant Martín with his wife/business partner Jennifer eight years ago. The Fiesta stalwarts see the event as a way to introduce new customers to the restaurant and connect with devotees who attend their wine dinners annually. For Martin, it’s a chance to experiment—a bold move, since he’s doing so with the palates of hundreds of discerning customers—and learn from the other notable chefs who pass through his kitchen. “We like to create something different than the ordinary,” he says. “When it comes to the Wine & Chile dinners, we really do something special. I try new ideas and concepts. It’s a lot of fun for me because it takes me away from my everyday life.” Continue reading

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