Why I Cook

(Story by Mark Oppenheimer)
Asking “Why?” is both a personal and philosophical question. In the asking, there’s an innocence, a sense of wonder, an encounter with the mystery. Sometimes, to question “Why?” is simply enough; it’s part of the endless search for who we are. Twelve chefs, 12 whys. We got to talking.

Mark Oppenheimer: Why do you cook?

Chef and Writer Cheryl Alters-Jamison: I cook because I have to. It’s what I love, it’s what I do. It’s what I do when I’m happy and sad, when I need to think, or when I don’t want to think, how I express who I am, and it’s how I make use of my creativity. It’s just really everything to me, absolutely central to my existence, and it has been that way since I was a little kid. My parents weren’t adventuresome cooks––they were very much Midwestern, straight-meat-and-potatoes style of cooking, and actually that’s part of what inspired me to cook. I felt like there was a lot more out there, and through cooking different cuisines you’d learn about what they were eating in other parts of the world.

Chef Joel Coleman of Fire and Hops: It didn’t start off as a love for it. In the beginning, I didn’t know what I was doing. My first love was music. When I started cooking, I was still serious about pursuing a career as a music producer. My Mom always reminds me, I was just born with it: “You’ve had it from the beginning; I’ve know for a long time this is just what you’re supposed to do.” I feel like there’s the emotional side that’s really meaningful, knowing your work has touched people deeply, and it creates a memory that they’ll have forever. It warms my heart to have that effect on people.

Photo by Richard K White

Photo by Richard K White

Chef Ahmed Obo of Jambo Café: In our culture, men don’t cook. With my dad, we would go to work, to cook lunch, we would bring corn meal, water, salt and dried fish. We called that Ugali. We’d collect firewood, boil water, mix it up and grill the dried fish. We would eat, and that was the day. Sometimes, the tide would be low and we just put a pile of wood and make a fire and the tide would rise and come right through the fire while we were making the Ugali. So those are memories.

I also remember hunting for small crab, and right there, we would grill and eat them with Ugali. My dad taught me how to work hard. You got to go for it––be tough. He doesn’t tell you to be tough, but he made me carry that heavy load, pulling the boat, bailing the water. He taught me how to manage, controlling the flow. Here in Santa Fe, being a chef, I don’t do that kind of thing, but still you have to manage people, food, creativity, what it takes to get it done. Cooking gives me joy. I’ve created those things, so now I am comfortable that I can cook. I can feed people and they appreciate that. I love that I can jump into the kitchen, create something out of nothing, and then I feel like, Wow! It feels good, and what it gives me is that it drives me to the next stage. I am seeing it. I am grateful for the journey, all that it guided me to be.

Chef Jose Kiko Rodriguez of Izanami: I cook because cooking together was always a big part of our family tradition. I wanted to give people something that I created and share my cooking with them. I also like to show them the good things that cooking creates such as the bonds that are made while working together. I love to watch people enjoy my food and see my love and passion for cooking in my dishes. When they compliment my food, it helps me to build more passion and love for what I do.

Chef Joseph Wrede of Josephs of Santa Fe: I cook to please others. I cook to bring honor to my house and the house shall honor you. I cook because I can. The discipline suits me like a chef’s coat. It’s very reassuring to have place and purpose to bump cult and culture.

Chef James Campbell Caruso of La Boca: Food matters, hospitality matters, the social aspects of dining out and sharing food and drink are an important part of how we interact with each other as a community. Making sure, when people come in, they are going to have a good time is an intimate relationship I take very seriously. That’s why I cook. It’s a real, ancient, primitive act to say, “Come to my house, I’m cooking something, please join me.” That’s what we do [as chefs]––it’s a way we continually engage with each other as a community. One of the ways I have a conversation is everything I do—every decision I make before our guests arrive is inextricably fused with that goal. That’s the big thing as a chef and a restaurateur––people are coming to the house, [and] I want to treat them very well. So I cook.

Chef/Baker Annamaria OBrien of Dolina: I simply cook because I love the process. Great connections and conversations usually happen around the table with friends over sharing a wonderful meal, and I love that I am able to provide that and share pieces of myself and my Slovakian culture. I’m doing what I love to do. Baking is very fulfilling and gives me an outlet to be creative in a way that I love, and it’s very rewarding to see people eating food and being thankful for the experience. It’s an instant satisfaction to see someone eating food that you put your love and energy into.

Chef Mark Connell of State Capital Kitchen: Sometimes, I wonder why. It’s just one of those things. When I was 7 or 8 years old, living in Montana, we ran out of peanut butter and we wanted to make some PBJs. I looked at my friends: “I got this!” I put a bunch of peanuts in a plastic bag and ran over them with my bike a bunch of times [laughs]. It didn’t work. But I had the idea.

I think there’s always been a real interest in cooking, it comes naturally, and I really like making people happy, and I’ll bend over backwards for vegetarians and vegans, anybody with dietary issues––because that’s what I’m trying to do is make people happy. I’m not making this dish for myself. It’s not for myself, it’s for other people, and I’m hoping to leave them with a memorable experience.

Chef David Sellers of the Street Food Institute: I really started cooking after I cooked my way through every page of all three of the Chez Panisse Café Cookbooks. That is what lit my fire, and from that point on, I started cooking more and more seriously. To me, the basis for my cooking became this existential awareness––the authenticity of the craft.

If you don’t love cooking, you can’t do it in a professional manner. You have to be able to live it. During the time I had my restaurant, I lived the restaurant. It was literally part of my being, I lived it 24/7. That’s what it was. That’s what my family’s life was. For the first three years, it was the most unbelievable thing I’d ever done. Because what happened was, there was nothing like that feeling––as the Chef, when you walk out from the kitchen into a full dining room and people are having such a good time and it’s vibrant energy that’s simply unexplainable. It was a soul-feeding moment.

Whatever it is you’re making, make it the best you possibly can. I’ve been a chef now for 25 years, and still every single time I make a dish, I try to make it better than I did the last time. The authenticity of craft has been there the entire time––even when I cook for the kids or that steak on the grill at home––that thought is always present. How perfect can I make this steak? How much better can it be? Every single time. That’s the idea that always drives me.

Chef Olive Tyrrell of The Kitchen: It’s simply to give pleasure. It’s my way of making the world a little bit better one meal at a time and leave the world a better place. That’s what we should be doing, and food to me is doing that. It’s imparting a little bit of happiness to somebody, even for an hour, and hopefully they’ll take that happiness out to the world.

A huge part of it for me is that I get to support local farmers. I get to be part of that whole game. There’s some young people who started farming last year, I buy their produce and that’s awesome, as well as growing our own food at the nursery. Every morning, I’m out there harvesting the freshness––people eat it and they’re jazzed about it. In my little restaurant, I get to be a part of that conversation, and that makes me really happy because it’s real.

 Private Chef and Writer Mark Oppenheimer: There were times in my life when I remember saying to myself, “I wish I were as fearless in life as I am in the kitchen.” I am an amateur. From the beginning, I made it all up, with no idea of what I was doing. I wandered there because the idea of cooking anything kept the memories of my grandmother close to my heart. I’ve never had a cooking lesson, unless you consider reading cookbooks, cooking magazines and inadvertently watching others. When I was 12, on a Boy Scout overnighter in the middle of winter, completely happy in a frozen landscape, while sitting alone on a log, I made fried chicken on an open fire for the troop. I figured I knew how after watching Mary Gaffney, our housekeeper, make it for my brothers and I: 1/2 Crisco, 1/2 bacon fat, flour, salt, pepper, garlic salt and a paper shaking bag was the basic recipe. I quickly learned that cooking pleased others––but it also taught me that at some basic level I would always be able to take good care of myself. Later, after college, I’d seek out local ethnic dives. I became good at reverse engineering any meal––I’d break down the components then try to imitate it at home. My friends continually tease me that every story I tell would not be complete unless it includes what meal I might have cooked. Few meals ever go by without my planning the next one.

Photo by Gabriella Marks

Photo by Gabriella Marks

Chef Cristian Pontiggia of El Nido: First of all, I like to eat. Second, it is a more complete form of art. In cooking you have everything. Think about [how] an artist makes a painting. You have the color, the paints, the frame, the picture in their mind. And with the food there are similar things: the plate is a frame, we don’t paint just with the color and the presentation, but we incorporate every sense––smell, taste, visualization, everything. The process is unique. Everything is on the plate; you can see it with your eyes, you can smell it, taste it. Sometimes, you can hear it, too. For me, it’s the most complete form of art ever. It satisfies my creative and artistic intentions, but in a more complex and amazing way. I can create something and destroy it right away by eating it. For me, it is pure poetry. You can buy a painting and everybody can see it forever. With the plate, we can recreate the same dish, but it’s never going to be exactly the same. It’s just for you.

Ah, An After Dinner Drink

cognacbackweb(Story by Caitlin Richards)
romance: noun
a quality or feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life.

Step aside, hipster cocktails; take the empty wine bottles away, it’s time to make space on the table for an after dinner drink (or digestif). Why? you ask?  Because there is nothing more enjoyable, more romantic, more of a remoteness from everyday life, than extending the intimacy. In these times of fast food, meals on the fly with electronics in hand (remember in the 1970s when Amy Carter made headlines for bringing a book to the dinner table?), and skipping mealtime altogether, sometimes, we need a reminder to slow down, to stop and smell the cognac. To allow ourselves to linger.

The digestif was created to be taken at the end of a hearty meal in order to aid digestion. To simply look at it that way, one might just take an Alka-Seltzer and call it a night, but where is the romance in that? Just as there’s a language to flowers, there’s a language to dining. Everything from where you dine to what you wear to dine sets a mood. So when you’ve had the perfect meal, the table set with linen, flowers and candles, Louis Armstrong in the background singing “A Kiss to Build a Dream On” and the evening is drawing to a close, (Too soon, too soon!) what do you do? This is the time to look into someone’s eyes and suggest an after dinner drink, and to have that suggestion means, “I am here with you now, and there is nowhere I’d rather be.” And to accept that offer is to say, “Nor am I ready for this night to end. Let us linger on.”

But as everything romantic is at once simple and impossibly hard, so, for the novice, is this choice. What do I choose? Bitters and herbals are traditionally known for their ability to aid in digestion (bitters is often called “the bartender’s Alka-Seltzer”). Our ancestors used to eat bark and bitter herbs as a regular part of their diet. Later, the herbs were made into a liquid and put in a bottle, and were known as restorative tonics; now, they are gaining popularity as something to sip rather than an ingredient in a drink which is mixed to mask their bitter taste. On the other hand, dessert wines are often thought of as too sweet, and people can shy away from pairing them with a sweet dessert thinking it might be too much. (Not so.) Then, of course, there is Cognac, steeped in romanticism, bringing to mind Downton Abbey with women draped in pearls, men in dinner suits, secret liaisons all around and evenings that lasted late into the night.Camus_XOweb

Time for a few suggestions from some experts. Mark Spradling and Karen Easton of Kokoman Fine Wines tell us they have a huge amount of digestifs to offer, many unusual and hard to find. A few of their favorites are Jan Becher Becherovka, a Czech herbal liqueur, with its own romantic story that includes princes and pirates; Sibona Amaro, Amaro is Italian for bitter—though there are similar products made throughout Europe, only those from Italy can be called Amaros; and a Mexican herbal liqueur, Fernet-Vallet created by Henri Vallet who emigrated to Mexico from France. They like Gaston Rivière Pineau des Charentes as a dessert wine, “not too sweet, it has some tart as well!” And they suggest Nocello, a walnut liqueur, which the better-known Frangelico aspires to be. For Cognac, Mark says Camus Borderies XO is “absolutely incredible, why drink any of the others after trying this.” (It’s $175.00 a bottle, that’s why.)  They also make a VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) and VS (Very Special) at a lower price. (The other Cognacs and digestifs mentioned are in the $25 to $40 range.)

Jasper Jackson-Gleich and Aline Brandauer of Susan’s Fine Wines and Spirits also had some suggestions: Green Chartreuse, which is “syrupy and herby” (and made by monks, who seem to know their alcohol); Amaro Montenegro, which Jasper describes as a “beginner’s approach” to Amaro.  Fernet Branca from Italy; and Noble Dame Calvados (France). Calvados is an apple brandy that can trace its roots back to Charlemagne in the 8th century. Their Cognac pick is Delamain, which Aline describes as “light and refined’” ($117.99) Delemain is one of the oldest Cognac producers.

Back to our evening around the table (it doesn’t have to be a table for two): Louis Armstrong is singing “Cheek to Cheek” in the background, the candles are getting shorter, the dinner plates are gone, the wine is empty, it’s getting late but we don’t notice because the company is good, the conversation is flowing, the evening is not ready to be over, yet it doesn’t feel right to open another bottle of wine. Or let’s imagine ourselves dining al fresco in Tuscany on a warm summer night, or at a tapas bar in Madrid. Or in fancy dress at Downton Abbey. Our phones are put away because the only people we want to share our evening with are at the table with us, and everything else can wait for the moment. Or let’s go further back, to our ancestors who have just discovered fire, to the first man who handed a piece of bark and some herbs to his dining companion. Let’s embrace the feeling of mystery, excitement and remoteness from everyday life, because that is romance. Let’s linger. And back at the table for two, which one of us will look the other in the eye when the wine is gone and the plates are cleared, when what remains is the yearning to linger, and wonder, as did T.S. Eliot in his “Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”

The Mighty Buzz

(Story by Mia Rose Poris / February 2018)

ALBUQUERQUE: That’s right. The Old Duke is among the hippest cities in the nation. So declares thisisinsider.com, which cites Albuquerque among other hip cities to which folks under 30 would like to move. The site calls the Que a “more under-the-radar hipster city,” ranking cities based on factors that make them appeal to young people, like “density of tattoo parlors, vegan stores, microbreweries and thrift stores, as well as any increases in rent,” according to the Dec. 1 story at thisisinsider.com. Albuquerque came in at No. 19 after Reno, Nev., and ahead of Seattle, Wash. “Downtown Albuquerque is full of breweries, cafes, and art galleries,” the article reads, “making it the perfect spot for young people to explore and enjoy the local culture.” Hey under-30s, what do you think? Are they right? What makes ABQ rad for you? Buzz us.

Many would say, for example, that Effex Nightclub on Central Avenue contributes to Albuquerque’s cool. And now we have another awesome addition from Effex Co-owner Carri Phillis at 6001 Osuna Road NE, Ste. A, just east of San Mateo Boulevard, where Carri’s Blue Agave Republic recently made its home. As of press time, B.A.R.’s Facebook page said they’d be opening soon—and a Jan. 18 post reads: “We had fun playing in the Sysco kitchen yesterday! How do you feel about a build your own Guacamole and Salsa Bar to go with your Tequila?!?” Well frankly, we feel pretty great about that. The tequila and tapas bar joins the likes of Breve Crepes and Coffee and Devons Pop Smoke Wood Fired Grill at the Osuna spot in Northeast Albuquerque. We’re excited to check B.A.R. out. You can find them on Facebook.

While we’re on a roll here, we’ve got another reason why the largest city in the Land of Enchantment is out of this world. Aside from an elevation of 5,300-some-feet, the Duke City is, of late, home to its very own astropub. The restaurant, called The Kosmos, and owned by Jerry Miller, is located at 1715 5th St. NW in the Wells Park area. With a great local beer celestion—oops, selection—plus “high quality comfort food,” as a five-star Jan. 2 Facebook review puts it, the service is also stellar and the atmosphere extra-terrific/terrestrial. Earthlings, visit the Facebook page of “the home of the Kosmic Burger,” or visit the spaced-out (in its galactic sense, of course) dig in person.

And get this. While The Kosmos may be out of this world, upon this very planet, only 246 terrestrials claim the title: Master Sommelier. With that said, big congrats to Albuquerque-area resident Tim Gaiser for being among such wine elite. The process involved in passing the Master Sommelier exam may be “more arduous and difficult than studying for a medical or law degree,” a press release says. And Greg O’Byrne, executive director of the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta, adds, “Tim has been an instrumental part of the success of the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta. For the past 20 years, he’s traveled here from San Francisco to lead wine seminars and instruct industry personnel at annual Court of Master Sommeliers Introductory classes and Certified Sommelier exams. I speak for many of us in the New Mexico wine community in that we can’t be more excited for the wine-related educational opportunities with Tim now living here full-time.” Among other endeavors, Tim’s an internationally renowned wine expert as well as adjunct professor at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley. You can find his blog at timgaiser.com/blog.

Word has it a double whammy of delight is arriving on Montgomery Boulevard just in time for Valentine’s Day. We’re talking about Tap That, a taproom of local brews, owned by Huy Nguyen, which opened last month, and its neighboring Sweet Tooth—owned by Dao Pham, who also happens to be Huy’s sweetie and business partner—which will open up on or around Valentine’s Day. With love in the air and spring around the corner, Sweet Tooth, with its front and back patios, might just be the perfect spot for sunshine, ice cream and some Boba Tea. Therefore ladies, after your man treats you to something sweet next door this V-Day, might as well buy that bro to a beer at Tap That.

Photo by Kim Jew

Jim Long / Photo by Kim Jew

And if you’re looking for a local haunt away from home this Valentine’s Day night, consider Hotel Chaco. Last month, the Old Town hotel made the list of the Best New Hotels in USA Today’s “10 Best Readers’ Choice” travel award contest, ringing in at No. 10. The 118-room luxury hotel, part of the Heritage Hotel & Resorts group formed by Jim Long, “celebrates American Indian heritage through a collection of works by contemporary Native American New Mexican artists,” according to USA Today. “The hotel features a rooftop restaurant and lounge, outdoor swimming pool with hot tub and 24-hour fitness center.” Wm. Mulherin’s Sons in Philadelphia, PA, came in first, followed by Lodge Kohler in Green Bay, Wis. Hotel Chaco opened in 2017, and we’re super excited for the 2019 opening of Heritage’s Sawmill Market, an artisan market of restaurants, food vendors, galleries and beyond, in the old lumber warehouse just across from the hotel. Visit hotelchaco.com.

SANTA FE: Lest you worry about those post-Valentine’s Day blues (surely someone must have this worry…), a mere four days afterward, Restaurant Week returns to Santa Fe, before heading to Taos on the 25th. From Feb. 18 through 25, restaurants all around the capital city (we counted 40 of them) are participating in the most delicious week of the year. The event is an awesome way to check out restaurants you might not otherwise have tried—or simply love way too much—and save a little dough while you’re at it. Plus, you don’t need tickets to attend, though definitely consider making reservations, since after all, we all want to partake of this tour de taste. As nmrestaurantweek.com puts it, “Restaurants get to ‘put their best food forward’ in order to gain new fans and can experiment with menu items. Above all, it showcases New Mexico as one of the world’s premier dining destinations.” Most restaurants offer a three-course, prix-fixe dinner option that ranges from $15 to $45 per person (you can order off the regular menu for the regular price, too) depending on the restaurant, and a specially priced, two-course lunch offering, to boot. After the trek to Taos, Duke City’s restaurant week begins March 4. Visit nmrestaurantweek.com to see the lineup and learn more.

March 1 and 3 bring us three events made possible by the Châine des Rôtisseurs and the Santa Fe Community College Foundation that your taste buds won’t want to miss. On the 1st, a Guest Chefs Culinary Arts Dinner, with paired wines(!), supports the SFCC Culinary Arts Scholarship Fund/Châine des Rôtisseurs Endownment Scholarship and celebrates the  college’s culinary students who’ve been selected to compete in the Châine’s Far West Regional Young Chef Competition. With that said, the $100 price tag is totally worth the splurge—not to mention, there are only 100 such golden tickets to be had…therefore hurry! But if you can’t make the dinner, on the 3rd, free of charge, the Châine’s Far West Regional Young Chefs Competition is followed by the Châine Culinary Arts Ribbon Cutting. And the guest-chef lineup is impressive, comprising local faves Jen and Evan Doughty of the Palace Restaurant and Saloon; Mark Connell of State Capital Kitchen; and Cristian Pontiggia of El Nido, who join SFCC Co-Lead Chef Instructors Patrick Mares and Jerry Dakan. Made up of nearly 25,000 members, the Chaîne “is an International Association of Gastronomy,” reads its website, that brings “together enthusiasts who share the same values of quality, fine dining, the encouragement of the culinary arts and the pleasures of the table.” Visit sfcc.edu/foundation/events for tickets to the dinner.

Meow Wolf is making big moves. Few locals and tourists—it’s after all top among myriad reasons to visit Santa Fe, right?—are unfamiliar with the interactive art installation located in the old Silva Lanes bowling alley, which has garnered national attention and help from the likes of George R.R. Martin. And the ever-expanding art collaborative is branching out to the Mile High City, with an opening of a new concept set for 2020, as well as to Las Vegas, Nev., set to open late 2019. The Denver exhibition will be even larger (by far) than that in the City Different, with 60,000 square feet of exhibition space—we’re talking triple the size of the House of Eternal Return here—while the Vegas permanent exhibition (more details will be available later this year) is looking to be about 40,000 square feet. The Santa Fe install opened in March of 2016, and is going ever strong. Exciting stuff for our homegrown art scene! Look out for more project updates throughout 2018, and check out meowwolf.com.

Photo by Gaelen Casey

Leonardo Razatos / Photo by Gaelen Casey

Plaza Cafe Southside’s doing the impossible. And it’s bloody delicious. Or at least, alt-bloody delicious, but delicious nonetheless. The Café’s bringing in “a much-hyped meat alternative that looks, cooks, tastes, smells, and yes, even bleeds like the real thing,” the folks at the Cafe tell us. Their Impossible Burger is a 100-percent plant-based alternative to the real deal (with an even higher protein content) that, according to “chefs, farmers and scientists,” recreates “the experience that meat-lovers crave.” Plus, the creation of such Impossible patties calls forth fewer natural resources than does beef. Leonardo Razatos and Belinda Marshall, whose family’s been serving tourists and locals at their Plaza Café locations since 1947, plan to offer tasting samples before adding the Impossible Burger to their menu full-time. Visit plazacafesouth.com or find them on Facebook and Twitter to make sure you’re among the first to grab a bite!

What’s really, literally quite hot in Santa Fe? Louis Moskow’s homemade hot sauce. Seriously, since the Buzz is all about what’s hot, let me just tell you, you might want to to hit up 315 Restaurant and Wine Bar for some of that sauce…which you can purchase ($5) and bring home and enjoy on just about everything. And while you’re there, the dinners are darn good, often locally sourced, the wine list is amazing, and the half-off happy hour oysters (try one with that hot sauce) are so fresh. Last time I was there, I heard a diner put it like this: “If I’m not on my couch, I’m here at this table…” To which I’ll just add: If I’m not on my couch eating hot sauce, I’m here eating oysters.

Guess what, guys. Santa Fe Brewing Co. has gotten approval to open a new—that’s to say, its fourth!—taproom on Galisteo Street. According to Brewing Co. General Manager Alana Jones, it’s looking like they’ll open the doors of the new downtown dig in March. “It’s exciting to have a little spot downtown that fits our taste,” she tells us. The brick Galisteo Street building, which recently housed Santa Fe Cigar Co., has about 1,600 square feet of space, a central bar and a shaded outdoor patio—just perfect for upcoming spring and summer sips outside (plus, Alana says, they’re thinking of having food trucks stop by, too). Speaking of sips, on Jan. 20, the Brewing Co. launched their Black IPA 2.0, part of the Winter In & Out Series. It’ll be on the shelves for a couple months, Alana says, so grab it while you can. Checkout their Facebook page or visit santafebrewing.com.

Have you heard of the Double Up Food Bucks program? It’s a truly wonderful opportunity for folks with SNAP/EBT benefits to make use of a dollar-for-dollar match to get free New Mexico-grown produce at participating markets, groceries and farm stands. “It’s an awesome thing, to take out $50 in tokens and then be able to buy $100 worth of fruits and vegetables and beans, for example,” a local customer at the Santa Fe Farmers Market tells us. It works like this: if you spend $10 (or any other amount) from your SNAP EBT card at a participating outlet, Double-Up gives you another $10 to buy fresh fruits and veggies grown in New Mexico. Double-up’s available even in the winter, when something fresh out this local earth tastes as sweet and fresh as ever. Check out doubleupnm.org to learn more about the community wide program and find participating locations across the state.

TAOS: In January, Chokolá Bean to Bar, among 20 national finalists, was a winner of the Good Foods Awards for its Guatemala, Verapaz 70% & Maya Mountain, Belize 70%. The awards are “a three day-long celebration of the exceptional food and drink crafters who are pushing the envelope in both craftsmanship and sustainability,” according to the Good Foods website. Owned by wife-and-husband team Deborah Vincent and Javier Abad, Chokolá’s been around since 2012, and Javi and Deborah have since taken the shop to true chocolatey, Taos-style heights. “Every morning, the pure Alpine air is laced with the rich aroma of our freshly roasted cacao beans,” their website reads. “By ethically sourcing beans of the highest quality and by crafting small, select batches, we follow the bean to bar process to bring out each bean’s unique, nuanced flavors and aromas, yielding our premium single origin chocolate bars.” Visit chokolabeantobar.com or stop in for a treat and watch them in action in their open kitchen—they’re just off the Plaza. And check out goodfoodawards.org to learn more. Congrats!

And don’t tell anyone, but… Chef Chris and Valerie Maher of Cooking Studio Taos have a secret supper up their sleeves. This means participants know they’re in for a treat, but they won’t know the supper spot until the day of the event. Go solo and meet new friends or bring your sweetie along for a belated Valentine’s treat. Learn more and book your spot for the Feb. 16 dinner ($78 per person, plus tip the night of) at cookingstudiotaos.com. The rest is a secret, so we’ll leave it at that.

Albuquerque’s Rooftop Patios

Hotel Chaco, on of Albuquerque's top rooftop spots

Hotel Chaco, on of Albuquerque’s top rooftop spots

With bright, sunny days that ease into cool, clear evenings, Albuquerque’s weather earns its much-lauded reputation this time of year. ’Tis the season for the outdoors, from shopping in plein-air farmers markets to imbibing on patios. With their lofty vantages, rooftop terraces level up the favored bar pastimes of people-watching, city-viewing and stargazing. Here are a few spots that offer a breath of fresh air. Continue reading

Ponderosa Valley Vineyards and Winery

HK & Mary w Moses“Henry Street was good at growing grapes, good at making wine, and good at selling wine,” Ponderosa Valley Vineyards and Winery Winemaker Mark Matheson says. “Each one of those is difficult, and it’s rare for one man to possess all those skills.” Though Henry, who co-founded the winery with his wife Mary, passed away two and a half years ago, it’s fair to say his spirit of joie-de-vivre lives on in every bottle of hand-crafted, award-winning wine the winery produces—about 2,500 cases a year. Their two-dozen or so wines—reds, rosés and whites—are made from New Mexico grapes, largely grown on the eight-and-a-half acres of their vineyards in the Ponderosa Valley.

Though not on the official wine trail, the winery is accessed via N.M. 4, a route that’s been designated a “National Scenic Byway,” and with good reason. Any way you approach, either from the timeless Jemez Pueblo or the charming hamlet of Jemez Springs, the mountainous landscape with its old conifer forests, red rocks and outcroppings, holds an almost spiritual beauty. When they first decided on the location, Henry told Mary that if only one out of 100 cars making the drive for the sheer drama and magnificence of the scenery stopped to sample their offerings, their enterprise would be successful.

With two children apiece from prior marriages, Henry and Mary hitched up in 1974, bought the land for the winery in 1975, and planted the first grapevines in 1976. They were witnesses and participants in the resurgence of winemaking in New Mexico that recommenced in 1978. Continue reading

My friend, Jim Allen

Jim Allen photoSanta Fe lost one of its larger-than-life wine figures on March 5, with the passing of Jim Allen, founder of Sequoia Grove Winery. Jim came to Santa Fe in the early ’70s as a sociology professor at the College of Santa Fe. He built his home atop a hill on Camino San Acacio and planted a small vineyard on the slope below it, mostly to hybrids like Baco Noir. He started making wines from those grapes in the early ’70s. The wines were…not very good.

About that time, Jim helped found the New Mexico Vine & Wine Society, along with John Balagna, John Lilley, Bruce Noel (Los Luceros Winery), Len Rosignana (Santa Fe Vineyards), Richard Jones and me. It was a group of mostly home winemakers who met once a month for potluck lunches, endless bottles of homemade wine and spirited camaraderie. These pioneers pushed the New Mexico wine industry to where it is now.

  About that time, Jim heard of my Los Alamos wine tasting group and started attending weekly. As he was exposed to wines from around the World, he became totally smitten by the subject. He realized New Mexico was not the ideal venue to pursue his winemaking dreams—his ambitions were far greater. Continue reading