Get Out the Hard Stuff!

Everywhere I look, trees have thrown off their colorful robes. Crackly piles of yellow leaves lie everywhere, piling up in corners and covering the ground between tree trunks. The afternoons, ever shorter, have a wonderful crisp feel and most days I can smell piñon and cedar fires burning in nearby kivas. Wool sweaters and hats are being pulled down from the top shelves of closets and we’ve all got our eyes on the Santa Fe ski basin, waiting for snow. It’s here: winter has crept up on us. I’ve traded in my salad bowl for the Crock-Pot and likewise it’s time to retire mojitos and mint juleps in favor of darker spirits and warming winter cocktails. I asked some of northern New Mexico’s most talented bartenders for their favorite cold-weather creations. Their original recipes and twists on old classics will have you feeling warm and fuzzy through the holidays and beyond.


The Velvet Bee

From Quinn Stephenson of Coyote Café and Geronimo

A bartender’s a bartender, right? Not anymore. Perhaps no one embodies the idea of “mixology” better than Quinn Stephenson, partner at Coyote Café and Geronimo restaurant. While a bartender may be well versed in the art of preparing classic cocktails, mixologists specialize in creating their own libations, using ingredients like homemade infusions and bitters. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Quinn in the past and what I remember most took place not behind the bar but in the kitchen, removing seeds from green chiles to use in spicy margaritas, cutting up lemongrass for a new recipe and creating, like scientists, tiny “pearls” of blood orange destined to bounce around in a glass of Champagne. It takes a real mixologist to carry creativity from bar to kitchen and back.

This year, Quinn was chosen by Patrón Tequila to participate in its Aficionado program, which sends mixologists to cities throughout the U.S. to represent the brand and show off their own unique recipes created using the company’s products. This Thanksgiving, get your egg nog fix early with the Velvet Bee—homemade egg nog blended with Patrón XO Café and silver tequila infused with coffee.

8 eggs separated

8 ounces sugar

8 ounces heavy cream

8 ounces Patrón XO Café

8 ounces Pyrat Rum

1 Tablespoon vanilla

garnish: ground nutmeg and cinnamon

In a mixing bowl blend egg yolks, slowly adding the sugar. Mix in the tequila, cream and rum. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until fluffy and then add the vanilla. Fold the vanilla and egg white mixture into the first mixing bowl and place in the fridge until ready to use. Pour straight from the fridge into a chilled martini glass. Garnish by dusting the top of the filled glass with equal parts nutmeg and cinnamon.

Flor de Maria

From Natalie Bovis, editor of The Liquid Muse and author of “Edible Cocktails: From Garden-To-Glass”

Natalie Bovis is a force to be reckoned with in the world of mixology. She is the author of three cocktail books and runs The Liquid Muse, a consulting, educational, cocktail catering and editorial resource for beverage and spirit companies, bar professionals and beyond. She’s also co-creator of OM Cocktails, a line of certified organic vodka-based libations available in a range of flavors. Santa Fe is lucky to lay claim to Natalie, who moonlights at the Anasazi Restaurant and Bar. This winter Natalie’s Flor de Maria cocktail will warm you up, with complex flavors of hibiscus, orange and cherry.

1 ½ ounces reposado tequila (try Gran Centenario Rosangel hibiscus tequila)

½ ounce Luxardo Maraschino liqueur

¾ ounce fresh lemon juice

¾ ounce hibiscus-Cabernet syrup

dash of orange bitters

garnish: orange flower water, edible flower

In a shaker filled with ice, add all the liquid ingredients. Shake and strain into a chilled martini glass. Spritz the top of the cocktail with orange flower water and garnish with an edible flower floating on the surface of the drink.

Hibiscus-Cabernet syrup:

1 cup hibiscus tea

1 ½ cups white granulated sugar

½ cup Cabernet wine

Bring hibiscus tea and sugar to a low boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Let cool slightly, then add the wine. Store in an airtight glass bottle. Refrigerate.

Mulled Cider

From Chris Milligan, beverage manager and mixologist at Secreto Lounge at the Hotel St. Francis

Chris Milligan has learned a thing or two in his 26-year career as a food and beverage professional (23 of those behind the bar). Some of the best classic cocktails I’ve ever had were made by Chris—no one can make a proper Manhattan or martini better than him. After a visit to his bar, you’ll understand the difference between shaken and stirred (stirring cocktails is best to maintain viscosity, unless you’re integrating an element other than booze, like fruit juice or egg whites). Chris has trained bartenders, managers and restaurant owners all over the Southwest and has helped to create training material for some of the top restaurants in the country. Like a true mixologist (or chef!), he emphasizes local ingredients and organic spirits and carries all the bartenders’ tools he needs for the creation of fabulous cocktails to and from work in his own special bag. His mulled cider recipe is a must this winter. “I love this recipe,” he says. “I serve it during Thanksgiving and throughout the holidays so I can relax with family and friends. It’s warm and soothing and I love to use locally made cider.”

64 ounces unfiltered apple cider

3 cinnamon sticks

30 cloves

2 medium oranges

2 pieces star anise

1 bottle of your favorite whiskey, rum or scotch (try Colkegan single malt whiskey from Santa Fe Spirits)

Slice the oranges into 4-5 slices each and stick the cloves into the slices. Place all the ingredients in a Crock-Pot on high heat and warm. Reduce heat to low if it begins to boil. If desired, leave out the booze so kids can enjoy as well. Adults can spike their own glasses individually.



From Adam Kerr, food and beverage director, and Holly Suazo, assistant food and beverage director, at Doc Martin’s Restaurant at the Taos Inn.

If we’re talking cocktails, a visit to the Taos Inn, an iconic venue and registered historic landmark (open since 1936) is in order. This summer, the Inn’s Doc Martin’s Restaurant redesigned its cocktail list to emphasize classic recipes, joining other bars across the U.S. that have seen a revival in classic cocktails. There’s nothing as bad as a poorly or incorrectly made vesper, negroni or sazerac. On the same token, there’s nothing so good as a well-made classic cocktail (there’s a reason these recipes have persisted for more than a century). What’s even better than a fantastic classic cocktail? One that features local, small batch spirits from KGB Spirits, distilled in Alcalde, New Mexico. Adam Kerr and Holly Suazo, the folks behind the beverage program at Doc Martin’s, shared their recipe for the sazerac, a drink that dates from the mid-1800s. It’s also perfect for warming up on a cold November evening.

2 ounces KGB Spirits Taos Lightning single barrel straight rye whiskey

splash of KGB Spirits Brimstone absinthe

3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters

1 Tablespoon sugar

garnish: lemon twist

Rinse a rocks glass with absinthe, discarding any excess absinthe that doesn’t stick to the glass. In a shaker with ice combine the whiskey, sugar and bitters. Roll the ingredients—shaking will cause the drink to become cloudy. Strain into the rocks glass rinsed with absinthe. Garnish with a lemon twist.


Duke of Earl

From Oscar Nieves, head bartender at Zinc Restaurant

Zinc Restaurant in Albuquerque is another must-visit spot if you’re looking for a great classic cocktail with a bit of a twist. Head bartender Oscar Nieves takes classic recipes like the Manhattan, cosmopolitan and gimlet a bit further by using ingredients like house-infused cinnamon whiskey for Manhattans and cranberry-infused vodka for cosmos. He also emphasizes local ingredients including Viracocha vodka and Hacienda Gin from KGB spirits. For the Duke of Earl cocktail, Oscar creates layers of flavor by using Bombay Sapphire gin (infused with ten exotic botanicals including almond, lemon peel, juniper berries, coriander and licorice) and earl grey syrup. Another perfect pick-me-up during the chilly holiday season.

1 ½ ounce Bombay Sapphire gin

½ ounce earl grey simple syrup

1 ounce lemon juice

garnish: ground cinnamon & sugar

Prepare a martini glass by chilling it with ice. Next, use a lemon slice to wet the edge of the glass and drag it through the ground cinnamon and sugar. In a shaker with ice, combine the gin, earl grey syrup and lemon juice. Shake and strain the martini glass.

Earl grey syrup:

1 cup water

1 cup white granulated sugar

1 bag earl grey tea

Bring water to a boil and then remove from heat. Steep tea bag in the water for 3-4 minutes and remove. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Let cool. Refrigerate.

Cinnamon-infused whiskey: Add several cinnamon sticks to a bottle of Jim Beam and let sit for 2 weeks in a cool, dry place.

Originally published in the November, 2014 issue of Local Flavor Magazine. 

Cheesemongers of Santa Fe

The small adobe building on East Marcy Street, previously home to an office space filled with cubicles, now houses the very last thing you might expect and something you’ll be delighted to discover: several enormous deli cases soon to be filled with more cheeses than you can name. I’m surprised by the large, open room, saturated with sunlight from rows of windows and skylights that cast reflections off the glass case fronts and light up the pale mint-colored counters. When I arrive to meet John Gutierrez, one of the partners behind Cheesemongers of Santa Fe, he’s moving from case to counter and back again, grabbing different cheeses and expertly slicing them into an array of shapes.

My mouth is watering while I open the bottles of Valpolicella Ripasso and Albariño I’ve brought along. John is putting together a beautiful cheese board with seven different cheeses and an array of condiment dishes filled with fresh persimmon, chestnut honey, grain mustard and pickled beets. Suddenly, he pulls out an enormous leg of jamón ibérico, slicing it by hand to add to the board. In anticipation of the shop’s grand opening in early November, John and I sit down for a tasting to talk about what we each know best, cheese and wine.

Before we dive into our feast, I ask John about his background and how he became an expert in cheese. “In 2006, I was a student at the University of Oklahoma. I got a job at a sandwich shop to help pay for school,” he explains. “I ended up being a regular customer there. I’d come in with my paycheck and sit in front of the cheese case for hours, tasting though all the cheeses.” Eventually he was hired at a cheese shop nearby and he’s been hooked ever since. From Oklahoma, John moved to San Francisco where he helped a colleague open a cheese shop and worked as a cheese buyer. “I fell head over heels into the world of cheese,” John says. “I can read scientific documents about cheese and dairy science more easily than I can sit down and read a novel.” His family is from Taos and John decided to move back to New Mexico to open his own shop. “I’m really happy to be here,” he says, smiling, “because it’s what I’ve always envisioned.”

John believes Santa Fe is a great place for a venue like Cheesemongers because there’s already such a rich food culture here. He explains that the city’s isolated location has been the main obstacle for shops like his. “We’re not along the main distribution paths for cheese in the U.S.,” he explains. “A lot of my work with the shop has to do with logistics. I have to plan orders six to eight weeks in advance.” Cheesemongers will carry about 200 different cheeses during peak season, half domestic and half international, as well as several cheeses made here in New Mexico, including selections from Camino de Paz in Santa Cruz and The Old Windmill Dairy south of Albuquerque. Another deli case will hold a variety of cured meats, pâtés, terrines, galantines and mousses. The shop will also offer crackers, which John plans to source from local bakers, and artisanal mustards, olive oils, chutneys and vinegars.

The integrity and sourcing of products at Cheesemongers is hugely important to John, who points out that farmstead cheeses are the real focus of the shop. “We are really committed to working with smaller producers,” John says. “There’s a big difference between small, farmstead cheese and big, commercial cheese. I’m really big on small cheese and I believe in the power of small farming and sustainable agriculture. I want to be the mouthpiece for the small farmers we represent and tell their story.” Cheesemongers will provide small dairies with venues other than farmers markets and grocery stores to sell their products, as well help local chefs get their hands on cheeses that are difficult to find. “I’ve spoken with several chefs who are very excited,” he tells me. “We’ll be working with local restaurants to get them products that are really hard to find in New Mexico.”

As a sommelier working in the thriving food and wine business in Santa Fe, I believe Cheesemongers will be a fantastic complement to our local culinary scene, especially when you take into account the similarities between fine wine and fine cheese. The amazing thing about cheese is that, like wine, it encompasses a variety of different fields, including science (think mold, bacteria and the process of aging), geography and history. The craft of making cheese begins with the quality of the milk and involves many steps along the way, each of which has an impact on the final style and flavor of the cheese. This, to me, sounds just like the process of making wine, although the main ingredient in wine is, of course, grapes. They are both ancient processes. As John points out, “Some of the cheeses we’ll sell in the shop have been made continuously with very little recipe change for up to 6,000 years!”

In fact, what John does with cheese is very similar to what I do with wine: we both use our knowledge to help customers find something they’ll love. “I want to demystify cheese,” he says. “I abhor the cult of the expert and lording your knowledge over people to make them feel intimidated about the complexity of what’s in front of them. I want people to be inquisitive but to feel comfortable, instead of being afraid and just asking me to tell them what to get.” He points out that although there are tens of thousands of cheeses in the world, there aren’t that many different styles of cheese. “I want this to be a conversation with people. I want you to go home with a cheese that you love.”

That shouldn’t be difficult with the large selection at Cheesemongers and John’s willingness to talk cheese with his customers. During our incredible tasting, he took me through seven very different cheeses, explaining where each one comes from, how it’s made, the aging processes involved and what each cheese might pair well with. We tried a broad range of cheeses from all over the world made from cow, goat and sheep’s milk, including Caña de Cabra, Robiola due Latti, Cabra Blanca, Tomme de Savoie, Comté, Fiore Sardo and the elusive Roquefort, a sheep’s milk blue cheese from the south of France targeted by the FDA for high bacteria levels. Don’t worry, I ate plenty of it during our tasting and felt just fine!

I was surprised to find that the Albariño was very cheese-friendly—Albariño and Roliola due Latti is my new favorite pairing! The two came together beautifully, with the wine bringing out the unique goat flavor of the cheese (it’s made with cow, goat and sheep’s milk), and the cheese highlighting a gorgeous, creamy mouthfeel that wasn’t apparent in the wine at first sip. The Ripasso was pure heaven with a bite of Tomme de Savoie and jamón ibérico. The wine brought out the cheese’s rich texture and the savory, umami flavors of the thinly sliced meat. There were endless flavor combinations laid out before us. Each cheese showed different nuances depending on which wine we sipped and which condiments we added.

I asked John if he believes there’s such a thing as a perfect pairing. He explained that while there are classics like Roquefort and Sauternes, Gruyere and Champagne and Côtes du Rhône with Brie and Camembert, cheese and wine pairing is, like any pairing, ultimately subjective. “There are very few hard and fast rules,” he explained. “You can have a bad pairing that makes you want to pull your tongue out of your face. Then there are pairings that don’t just compliment each other, but bring out flavors and nuances that you wouldn’t otherwise achieve.” The bad pairings can be just as important as the great ones, because they remind you why you’re putting together cheese and wine in the first place.

After making our way through the beautiful cheese board, John and I agree that pairing is less about searching for one fabulous combination and more about the process of trying many different wines and cheeses together, paying attention to all the nuances of flavor. “Tasting cheese is just like tasting wine. It has so many flavors and you experience it with all of your senses.” For a sommelier, introducing someone to a wine they love is a great moment. The same is true for John, who can’t wait to teach people about why cheese is so special. I look forward to attending classes hosted by Cheesemongers, where John will talk about pairing cheese with wine and other beverages. “There’s very little in the world that I value more than food,” John says with a smile. I think he’ll find that many of us in Santa Fe agree.

Cheesemongers is located at 130 East Marcy Street in Santa Fe. 505.795.7878. Be sure to call ahead to confirm that they are open!

Originally published in the November, 2014 issue of Local Flavor Magazine. Photos by Gabriella Marks.

Gruet Winery

photo by Gabriella Marks

Nathalie and Laurent Gruet. Photo by Gabriella Marks

When I walk through the front door of Gruet Winery in Albuquerque, I’m hit with the wonderful smells of wine production: the sweet, fragrant aroma of freshly pressed grapes and the earthy smell of oak barrels. I can hear the gentle, high-pitched clinking of bottles as they move through the bottling line. Laurent Gruet, the son of founder Gilbert Gruet and the company’s winemaker, shows me around the winery.

There are several containers of fresh Chardonnay grapes just in from the vineyard waiting to be pressed. Nearby, a giant hydraulic grape press reaches nearly to the warehouse ceiling. Rows of tanks, the largest of which can hold 60,000 bottles of wine, fill one room. Workers scurry across the wet concrete floor busy with various tasks. Bottles ready to be sold move like little soldiers through the bottling line. Each bottle is disgorged, topped up, corked, labeled and prepared for sale—a thousand cases per day. It’s a beautiful, circular process that symbolizes how far Gruet has come in 25 years. I sat down with Laurent to talk about the history and future of Gruet, and to find out what the future may hold for the wine industry in the Land of Enchantment.

Gilbert Gruet was born in Bethon, France, in 1931. He dreamed of making high-quality Champagne and in 1967 he started a co-op in Bethon where he convinced farmers to tear out sugar beets in favor of vineyards. After successfully making Champagne in France, Gilbert decided to open a winery in the U.S. but found that land in California was too expensive. After traveling through the Southwest, Gilbert discovered that New Mexico had ideal conditions for the production of sparkling wine. The price was right and in 1984 he planted vineyards in the town of Engle, in southern New Mexico. His children, Laurent and Nathalie, moved to New Mexico to help and Laurent has been making wine here for the last 29 years.

So what is it, exactly, that makes New Mexico ideal for the production of sparkling wine? Laurent says there were several factors that drew his father to plant vineyards here. “New Mexico is special because we are at a high altitude,” he explains. This creates a large swing in temperature from day to night, which results in grapes that retain acidity, a key factor in the production of sparkling wine. “The climate is also very dry,” he continues, “so it’s disease-free. There’s no mildew or rot, which means that the quality of the crop is very consistent.” Last, and possibly most surprising, is the soil in New Mexico. “The soil is very poor,” Laurent says, “which is great for vineyards.” The poorer the soil, the deeper the vines’ roots must dig into the subsoil in search of nutrients, which results in concentrated, flavorful grapes and better wine.

Gruet has come a long way in 25 years. When the company released its first sparkling wine in 1989, produced in a rented facility in Albuquerque, people thought they were a bit crazy. But the Gruet family never doubted. Laurent says, “I knew we could make great wine here because of the soil and the climate.” Others weren’t so sure, but the quality of the sparkling wine spoke for itself. “Taste the wine,” Laurent said to people, “and then tell me I’m crazy.” Then and now, Gruet holds its own against other sparkling wines and Champagnes in blind tastings.

In the beginning, Gruet produced only about 2,000 cases. “Now, we are making 125,000 cases a year,” Laurent says, laughing. “It’s great!” This year, Gruet partnered with Seattle-based Precept Wine, a large family-owned wine company that will provide sales, marketing, public relations and events services for the growing company. Gruet is hoping to increase production to 250,000 cases in the next five years and to broaden its market to include other countries. All this means more work for Laurent, but he’s full of passion for winemaking and very excited to increase production. He tells me with a smile that he’s spent his whole life working 18-hour days in the winery but still loves it. “When harvest arrives, I smell the wine and it’s happiness for me. I love what I do.”

Growing the business also means Gruet will be able to make more of its high-end wines, which are currently only offered in limited quantities. Although Gruet is most famous for its Brut and Blanc de Noirs labels, the winery also produces a vintage Blanc de Blanc, a grand reserve that’s aged seven years on the lees and a Grand Rosé. Laurent says, “These wines are the next level. Of course, the price is higher so we don’t make much, but it’s another step in terms of quality to make more of these high-end wines.”

For Laurent, the future of Gruet boils down to quality. “My expectation for more volume is to make wines of even better quality. And improving the quality of Gruet means improving the value.” Price is an important factor for the company, which needs to stay competitive in a crowded market that Laurent describes as wall-to-wall. “You cannot be too expensive,” he emphasizes. “You can always find wine from countries like Chile or Argentina with amazing value. If you are too expensive, people will buy something else.”

Quality is key for the future of not only Gruet but the wine industry in New Mexico as a whole. Although grapes have been grown here for hundreds of years, modern day commercial wineries have only been around for the past 25 years or so. “When I first came to New Mexico, I couldn’t drink the wines because they weren’t made very well,” Laurent remembers. “Now, slowly, we have some wineries that are starting to be driven by quality.” He believes that quality wine produced in New Mexico must start in the vineyards. Wineries should plant their own vineyards because “it means a big difference in quality,” he explains. The idea is that the quality of the fruit will be higher and more suited to the purposes of a specific winery if that winery has control over the fruit. More New Mexico vineyards will increase quality and, also, growers and winemakers will begin to discover which varietals work best here. “Which grapes will make the best wine in New Mexico?” Laurent wonders. “In 100 years, it will be obvious, but right now, we are in the process of discovering.”

Gruet is hoping to be part of this process by planting more of its own vineyards in addition to those it already owns in Engle. The company does purchase grapes from growers in Deming as well as other states, including California and Washington. But this year, Gruet planted a new vineyard near Santa Ana Pueblo (you’ve probably noticed the vines if you’ve driven from Albuquerque to Santa Fe recently). The Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Munier grapes will become part of the blend for Gruet wines in the future.

While I walk with Laurent through the winery, I ask him if he thinks others in New Mexico will follow in Gruet’s footsteps and start making sparkling wine. He doesn’t think so. The process of making sparkling wine is very specialized, especially if it’s made by the methode champenoise, the traditional process used in Champagne and the process used by Gruet. It involves a secondary fermentation in the bottle and an extended aging period, which ties up inventory. Gruet, for example, ages its non-vintage wines for 18 months. This is great for the quality of the wine—aging on the lees (dead yeast cells) is what gives sparkling wines and Champagnes their distinctive biscuit aromas and creamy mouthfeel. But this means that the grapes harvested in 2014 won’t make it to the shelves until much later—so profit is delayed. The specialized equipment required for sparkling wine production is also very expensive.

So how does Gruet make such great sparkling wines while maintaining reasonable prices? “When you make sparkling wine,” Laurent says, “you are in the wine business for a lifetime.” It takes years of investment and hard work to succeed in sparkling winemaking, but Gruet has done just that. The winery has achieved a presence on the national scene and even earned a spot on the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 List in 2011. As with New Mexico’s wine industry as a whole, Gruet’s future is all about quality. “Our wines are very good,” Laurent says, “but for a winemaker, the goal is always to make better wine. We want to push production to a new level of quality. That’s the drive and it’s exciting,” he says, adding, “and it is possible.”

The Gruet Winery is located at 8400 Pan American Reeway NE in Albuquerque. 505.821.0055. 

Originally published in the September, 2014 issue of Local Flavor Magazine.

Interview with Tim Gaiser, MS: Blind Tasting & Submodalities


Tim Gaiser is one of the world’s top wine experts and educators. One of only 219 people in the world ever to achieve the title Master Sommelier, he is the former Director of Education and Education Chair for the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas. Tim is also an adjunct professor at the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley. In the course of his more than 25-year career, he’s taught thousands of students at all levels about wine and spirits. Tim is one of the most influential teachers I’ve had the pleasure of working with. He was a great resource for me when I was studying for the Certified Sommelier Exam, particularly when it came to advice on how to become a better blind taster. The Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta is proud to host Tim each year for the week’s events, including the highly anticipated Guest Chef Luncheon and Master Sommelier Throw-down as well as various wine seminars.

In 2010, Tim worked with the Everyday Genius Institute and behavioral scientist Tim Hallbom to deconstruct his own wine tasting strategy. Since then, Gaiser has researched how we subconsciously process our sensory experience of the world, a concept known as submodalities. He believes an understanding of how our minds subconsciously work can be used to improve sommeliers’ sensory memory for blind tasting as well as to help other professionals whose careers depend on the olfactory and gustatory senses. I sat down with Tim to talk about how his research on submodalities has changed his own tasting process as well as how he teaches tasting.

Erin Brooks: What exactly is blind tasting?

Tim Gaiser: The premise of blind tasting, specifically for the Court of Master Sommeliers, is about the sommelier being able to describe wine to a guest at a table in a restaurant. We do this using a deductive tasting grid which is an outline that helps us describe the sight, nose and palate of a wine. When tasting a wine blind, all this information can be used to help us come to the best conclusion of what the wine could be. We also ask students to describe and identify wines using this same tasting grid.

EB: Why is blind tasting an important part of the sommelier’s profession?

TG: Blind tasting, again, helps sommeliers describe a wine to a guest. It also speaks to a sommelier’s overall experience and skill. They have to be able to perform all the necessary components of wine service as well as knowing about the theory of wine. But one of the measures of skill for anyone in the wine industry is how well they taste.

EB: What are submodalities?

TG: Submodalities are basically the structure of our internal experience. It’s literally how we think. “Moda” in Greek refers to the senses. Modalities are our five senses as we experience the outside world: sight, sound, feel, smell and taste. We use these same modalities internally to process our experience but these modalities also have structural qualities. For example, everybody thinks in pictures and movies but these pictures have location, size, dimension and other qualities to them. If you feel fuzzy or dull, chances are the pictures in your head are also fuzzy and dull. There are infinite examples like this but usually we’re not aware of them because they’re at the unconscious level.

EB: Why has discovering the concept of submodalities been so important for you?

TG: Realizing we do this stuff inside our heads and paying attention to the structure and qualities of what goes on internally is almost as important as the content itself. Being aware of internal process also allows you to have more control over your own experience. I think the best thing about submodalities is that you can figure out what makes you feel good so you can do it consciously more often. At the same time, you can take things that you don’t feel good about and alter them so they have minimal, if any, impact on you. Submodalities are probably the most profound thing I’ve ever learned in terms of being able to control your experience in the world and how you can alter your thinking—for the better, hopefully.

EB: How do submodalities apply to blind tasting?

TG: Submodalities apply to blind tasting in terms of being able to accurately identify aromas and flavors in a wine. They also help in accurately calibrating how much acid, alcohol and tannin is in a wine. They can even help us to identify grape varieties and wines. Something I discovered using submodalities over the last couple of years was that I visually calibrate the structure of wine—the levels of acid, alcohol, tannin and finish. When people first start tasting and they’re asked about the structure of the wine it’s really a crapshoot. What’s medium-plus versus high tannin? What does that feel like? I think people do much better with some kind of visual confirmation. What I discovered I do internally is that I literally see a scale in my mind’s eye. It goes from low to high with markers along the way and it has a red button positioned in the middle on “medium” that moves. So when I taste for acidity, for example, I mentally watch the red button move until it stops. Then I mentally point to it and say to myself, “It’s right there—it’s medium-plus.” So I have a physiological match to a visual confirmation.

EB: How has learning about submodalities affected the way you taste and teach others to taste?

TG: Awareness of it has made me not only a better taster but also a better teacher. It’s given me another language to teach tasting. Before, I was trying to teach students using my own experiences and how I taste, but that doesn’t work because everybody’s thinking processes—and memories—are so different. The concept of submodalities gave me the tools to let students know exactly what they do and how they can use what they already have to be successful with the Master Sommelier tasting grid. That’s very exciting. Now when I teach students, my first mission is to find out what they already do internally and what’s easy for them. When you’re doing something in a way that’s easy for you it means you’re doing it right. The only thing I care about is to give talented students tools to have more success and to make it easier to taste wine.

EB: What do you say to someone who argues that blind tasting is just a parlor trick?

TG: Not true. Blind tasting is a skill that’s practiced and it’s all about our internal memory, primarily olfactory memory, which is usually attached to visual memory. But kinesthetic memory is important too in terms of calibrating the structure of the wine. So even though we talk about getting the identity of a wine correct, being able to describe the wine intelligently is anything but a parlor trick. It’s a skill that’s accumulated with experience over time.

EB: Where is your research on submodalities taking you now?

TG: In August I’ll be in Seattle for the Society of Wine Educators Conference, where I’ll give a presentation on my tasting project. So far I’ve conducted about 18 formal interviews that are about 90 minutes to two hours long each in which I deconstruct people’s tasting strategies. I’ve also worked with a couple of expert-level perfumers to do the same thing and soon I’ll be speaking to a tea expert. The whole project is about memory strategies and how these experts use submodalities to remember what things smell like. But in working with really good tasters I hope to discover strategies that anyone at any level can try. Imagine trying somebody’s strategy and finding out that tasting is suddenly so much easier.

The next thing I plan to work on is helping people who have test anxiety and creating strategies for overcoming those fears. There are a handful of students at both the advanced and master level I’m working with who haven’t done well in exams simply because they have issues with testing. I’m going to work with them and figure out strategies that can help with test anxiety.

 Story by Erin Brooks

Published in Local Flavor Magazine, September 2014

Wine Folly

There are all kinds of wine blogs (mine included) with varying levels of wine geekiness. As an aspiring wine educator and writer, I’m working to learn how to effectively teach people about wine, especially folks who are new to the subject.

This week I discovered Madeline Puckette’s, a great website full of information intended to help novices understand the world of wine. There are interesting articles on the Wine Folly blog, and the site also includes Wine 101 tips (like how to open a bottle of Champagne) and a store where you can order posters of wine regions and even food and wine pairing tips. Pretty sweet!

Madeline Puckette of, who won the International Wine & Spirit Competition's 2013 Wine Blogger of the Year award

Madeline Puckette, who won the International Wine & Spirit Competition’s 2013 Wine Blogger of the Year award for

I was honored to be a part of winefolly’s article on esoteric grape varietals. I’ve been thinking a lot about these lesser-known varietals and how they provide great value in the wine world. I also blog about these wines in my Great Wines Under $30 articles.

Check out to learn more about the world of wine!

Bottled Poetry

The author of Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde knew the strange and wonderful properties of wine, including the way trying to describe it often parallels poetry. I’ve never read any of Robert Louis Stevenson’s works, but I’m intrigued that he understood wine as well as pirates, treasure and split personalities. Stevenson, you’ve made it to the top of my literary queue.

You know it's true when the cat is on board

Haku the cat

Chef Carmen Rodriguez

Chef Carmen Rodriguez

Chef Carmen Rodriguez

Story by Erin Brooks. Photos by Gabriella Marks. To see more of Gabriella’s work, visit First published in the November issue of Local Flavor Magazine.

Korean Tacos

Korean Tacos

I make my living from food. As a server at a local restaurant, I spend several nights a week talking to customers about particular dishes, making recommendations and bringing food from the kitchen to the table. As a freelance food and wine writer, I spend lots of time writing about food and eating at restaurants. You, as a reader of this magazine, are probably also part of the food industry in some way, or perhaps you’re simply passionate about cuisine. Santa Fe is home to a thriving culinary community.

But what if you didn’t have enough to eat, or you had to choose between buying groceries and getting medical treatment?

Hunger is something that Carmen Rodriguez, executive chef of the Four Diamond award-winning Fuego at La Posada, thinks about often. His experience, if laid out in miles, would span the width of an ocean. As a poor young man growing up in Chicago, he was a gang member; nowadays he’s a successful chef who was voted New Mexico’s Chef of the Year in 2012. It goes without saying that his food is delicious. He’s created a unique “global Latin” menu with Santa Fe flair at Fuego. Carmen’s dishes are a fun mix of interesting and sometimes unexpected ingredients, like the marinated flank steak with Gochujang-avacado sauce and Napa cabbage in the Korean tacos or the yam and plantain fufu, chipotle-tamarind sauce and fresh vegetables that accompany the grilled rib eye. But Carmen wasn’t voted Chef of the Year just for his skills in the kitchen; he’s earned his status by giving back, tremendously, to our community.

Carmen tells me he’s been involved with food his whole life, and he’s not just referring to working in a restaurant. “I was born and raised in Chicago. I’m half Cuban, half Mexican. I was a migrant worker with my parents at a very young age. My mom was pregnant with me in the fields, and my grandmother used to carry me around in a makeshift carrier while she picked.” Carmen’s mother worked three jobs, and the family depended on welfare and food stamps to get by. Carmen says, in a matter-of-fact tone, “I grew up poor and I grew up hungry. Sometimes our dinner was candy from one of my mother’s jobs.” At fourteen, Carmen went to work as a dishwasher to help support his family. Because life was tough in inner city Chicago, he also joined a gang.

Two things happened to the young Carmen that profoundly affected his life. First, he met the man who would become his mentor, Chef Giovanni of Giovanni’s in Chicago. “My true cooking ability came from my great-grandmother and grandmother,” Carmen explains. “I learned the old-fashioned way, from family recipes and hands-on apprenticing, like Mexican sauces and my Nana’s chocolate mousse. But Giovanni taught me a lot of what I know about the business.”

Next, although Carmen had found a mentor, he later got in trouble with the law. A judge gave him a choice: join the air force or go to a correctional facility. Carmen took the first option and became a kitchen fixer, working with the civilian organizations that run military kitchens to get them back in order if they are failing. Later, he moved to California, where he became widely recognized for his cooking abilities and made a name for himself as a chef. His menu at Fuego is a result of both the influence of his family and of his travels in the Air Force, where he learned to prepare ethnic foods.

Penny and Carmen

Penny and Carmen

But his story doesn’t end there. Although he had found success as a chef, Carmen wasn’t happy. “Growing up in the inner city, I always had a chip on my shoulder,” he says. “I was always watching my back, because there was no one else there to watch it for me.” After moving to Santa Fe, in 2000, he met Penny, who became his wife. “When I met Penny,” he remembers fondly, “she brought the balance back to me that I needed. She rejuvenated my cooking career. She made me realize again the talent that I had. And she believed in what I did. When we started working together as a team to give back to our community, I knew it was meant to be.”

Penny, who runs a full-time medical practice, was also searching for something more. She’d worked with several nonprofits and volunteered for three years for the Buckaroo Ball. She even considered bigger organizations like the Red Cross. “I always wanted to join the Red Cross,” she says, “but I never did. I could never find a real connection with any of the organizations I worked with.” But when she and Carmen had an unrelated meeting at the Food Depot, she knew it was just what she’d been looking for. “Things like the Buckaroo Ball were doing great things in Santa Fe County by raising and distributing funds to many nonprofit organizations that serve at-risk youth, but they also threw glamorous events (to raise money) and it just didn’t feel as hands-on and essential as feeding people.” A few weeks after their meeting at the Food Depot, Carmen and Penny were on the board of directors.

Chef Carmen Rodriguez - Fuego

Penny points out that people don’t always realize there is a real problem with hunger here in New Mexico. I decided to do a little research and discovered some startling facts. According to the New Mexico Association of Food Banks (NMAFB), almost 40,000 New Mexicans seek food assistance every week. Large percentages of people requiring food assistance have to choose between paying for food and paying for other necessities—like utilities, rent or mortgage, and medicine or medical care. Food banks like the Food Depot are integral in providing food for those who need it. The Food Depot collects food through collaborative relationships with the food industry, our government and the community. It then distributes it to 135 partner agencies, including food pantries, youth programs, senior centers, shelters and hot meal programs. The NMAFB also states that 83 percent of the food distributed by food pantries in New Mexico is provided by food banks like the Food Depot.

Listening to Carmen and Penny talk about their work over tea in the library room of La Posada, I can hardly keep up with the charitable organizations they’ve become involved with. Along with the Food Depot, they’ve worked with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northern New Mexico, ¡YouthWorks!, Gerard’s House, Delancey Street Foundation and Salaam Zindagi in Chandigarh, India. This month Carmen and Penny collaborated with their good friend Chef Ahmed Obo, of Jambo Café, on a fundraiser for his new Jambo Kids Foundation, an organization that will work to raise money for new health care facilities on the island of Lamu, off the coast of Kenya, where Ahmed is from. Although Carmen cooks at many charitable events, for him it’s not about the cooking or the status of being a successful chef. “It’s about what my great-grandmother taught me, ‘con amor y respeto en tu corazon, siempre vas ha tiener alegria en to vida.” I truly love and respect every person we try to help, and we are happy doing the work that we do. Being poor, growing up in inner city Chicago in a poor Hispanic family, we always got help from somebody, whether it was the church, a neighbor or family members,” Carmen says. “I realized that as a chef, I can do something for my community.”

Carmen points out that he is one of only a handful of Hispanic executive chefs for a resort in New Mexico. Besides engaging with a multitude of charities, he works hard to encourage Hispanic chefs in the industry. “When you put that chef’s coat on, you’re not Hispanic, you’re not Anglo, a man or a woman. You’re a chef. Period.” He believes in teaching others to believe in themselves, just as Giovanni did for him. “Thirty-one years ago Giovanni took a little snot-nosed gang member off the streets. Just because you make one mistake doesn’t mean your life is over.”

Chef Carmen Rodriguez - Fuego

I ask Carmen what it means to him to be named New Mexico’s Chef of the Year for 2012. His answer catches me off-guard. “It means nothing—at least, the food part means nothing. Knowing my peers thought I was good enough really surprised me. And it showed me how much my community was watching me,” he says. “I didn’t know that. But I didn’t win because of my food. I won because I was giving so much back to my community.”

For Carmen, being a successful chef is just another tool to give back to our community. “I was one judge away from the fate of some of these people I’m trying to help,” he explains solemnly. “That’s why I do it. That’s why sometimes I work seven days a week, even when I’m dead tired. I see the love of people like Ahmed, of Jambo Café, who cares so much about his cause. It fuels me.”

During a time of crisis that was thousands of miles away a stranger, now a dear friend, once told them, “It’s our duty in life to take care of each other,” and Carmen and Penny believe this with all their hearts. Smiling, Carmen reminds me that La Posada donates one turkey for each confirmed Thanksgiving Day reservation at Fuego. “We’re not trying to save the world,” he says. “Penny and I are just trying to make it better, for those that we can.”

Fuego is located in La Posada de Santa Fe Resort and Spa at 330 East Palace Avenue in Santa Fe. 505.986.0000.