Paper Dosa

Paper Dosa of Santa Fe

It’s 6:30 on a Wednesday evening and Paper Dosa is packed. Groups of people stand in the hallway or at the host stand, waiting for a table. The smell of frying onion, cumin, cilantro and mint fills the air while I sip a glass of Vinho Verde. A friend and I are lucky enough to get two seats at the bar, overlooking the kitchen. Our placemats are lost beneath an array of appetizers. We begin with handfuls of crispy pakora: thinly sliced red onion and jalapeño battered in rice flour, which we dip into a creamy eggplant chutney with a heady, earthy flavor. Next comes the cashew calamari, surprisingly not fried. Instead, discs of sliced squid are buried in a thick, spicy cashew curry. The flavor pairs beautifully with the strong, pungent ginger of a cold glass of Thistly Cross Ginger Cider. We lose ourselves in the spicy mango and goat cheese salad, crunching on colorful watermelon radishes and walnuts. Every so often we bite into lusciously ripe cubes of mango coated in spicy red chili.

Chef Paulraj Karuppasamy and his wife and business partner, Nellie Tischler, have found a home for their first restaurant and Santa Fe’s only eatery dedicated to south Indian cuisine. The couple spent the last year catering for private events and putting on pop-up dinners across town in an effort to build followers. After several events and an amazing 32 consecutive pop-up dinners at Café Fina, Paper Dosa has earned a reputation for its flavorful cuisine. The pair also received support from BizMIX, an annual startup and business plan competition that teaches aspiring business owners about financing and how to plan and pitch their business. The organization awarded the couple $13,000 towards opening their restaurant and in April they took over the old Mail Call space on Cordova Road, next to Maria’s.

Paper Dosa of Santa Fe

Paulraj (or Paul, for short) was born in Tamil Nadu in the south of India. There were no restaurants, so food was a big part of each day—his mother would begin cooking at 5:00 every morning. They lived across the street from a market where his father bought ingredients three times a week. Everything was made fresh from scratch each day and leftovers were thrown out for the dogs, cats and chickens. “Paul’s mom makes food that’s spectacularly bright,” Nellie says with a smile. “There’s always a little punch to everything, so Paul got that from his mom.”

After attending culinary school in India and working as a chef for a cruise line, Paul landed in San Francisco at Dosa, a south Indian restaurant that had just opened up. Paul had never worked cooking Indian food before. “Until I came to San Francisco I was not much into south Indian cooking,” Paul says. But as he experimented with new techniques and spices, he began to miss the food he grew up eating. “I really fell in love with south Indian cooking,” he says. At the same time, he fell in love with Nellie, who was working as a server. They got married two years later and eventually made their way to Santa Fe, where Nellie grew up.

Paper Dosa of Santa Fe

The white truffle masala dosa looks like a giant enchilada. But when it arrives at the bar, I can see that it’s delightfully thin, delicate and crispy. Fermented rice and lentil batter is artfully crafted into a giant crepe and then rolled around the masala, a stuffing of spiced potatoes blended with white truffle oil. Across the top of the plate three dipping sauces are lined up: sambar, coconut chutney and tomato chutney. The sambar, a hearty lentil and vegetable stew, is my favorite. I tear off pieces of dosa and dip them into the stew, searching for chunks of crispy vegetables. The coconut chutney sends my palate soaring in the opposite direction, cool yet spicy and chock full of fresh cilantro.

Paper Dosa of Santa Fe

South Indian cuisine is distinct from the cuisine in the north of the country. In the south, the climate is tropical and hot, so the food is based on rice and lentils, instead of the wheat-based dishes found in the north. The food, cooked in coconut and gingelly oil (Indian sesame oil), is light and fresh. Whole or ground spices and herbs are heated in hot oil or ghee and added to a dish, a process known as tempering. The hot fat of the oil extracts the aroma and flavor of the spices and herbs, enhancing their presence in a dish.

The couple envisioned a menu that was simple, streamlined and reasonably priced, so they included street food like dosas, vadas (doughnut shaped lentil fritters) and pakora. Prices range from $4 to $9 for appetizers, $9 to $13 for dosas and $13 to $18 for curries. Each dish is powerfully flavored and some are very spicy. “Heat is a big element in south Indian cuisine,” Paul explains. He uses an array of ingredients like mustard seeds, curry leaves and Thai chili in addition to generous amounts of ginger, garlic, onion and tomato.

The list of ingredients for the chicken curry alone is impressive: cilantro, mint, ginger, garlic, Thai chili, habanero, cumin, coriander, poppy seed, peppercorn, garam masala, bay leaves, cinnamon and cardamom. The restaurant goes through an incredible 60 bunches of cilantro each day. The food is made from scratch and can easily accommodate vegetarian, vegan and gluten free customers. “For south Indian cuisine you need spicy, tangy, bitter, salty and a little bit of sweet,” Paul says. “You’ll find those five flavors in multiple dishes.”

Paper Dosa of Santa Fe

It has always been the couple’s dream to open their own restaurant. “I know the kitchen,” Paul says, “and Nellie knows the floor.” But Paul was hesitant about opening a business in Santa Fe, where no one has exclusively offered south Indian cuisine before. The market is also much smaller than in San Francisco. “It’s hard to sell this business,” he explains. “People don’t know what south Indian cuisine is. If I can get them to try it once, they’ll become a fan. But how can I get them to try it?”

“We knew that once people tried the food, it wouldn’t be hard to sell,” Nellie says. “If you have a good product, all you have to do is get it out into the market.” Paul agrees. “Pop-up dinners and support from BizMIX really gave me the chance to get my product out to a lot of people.” The two have been surprised by an outpouring of support from the community and especially from other business owners who have brought the couple in for pop-up dinners and events, including Murphy O’Brien of Café Fina, Soma Franks and Fiona Wong of Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen and Mu Jing Lau of Mu Du Noodles.

Paper Dosa of Santa Fe

Support from these members of the culinary community shows an eagerness for the continued expansion and growth of Santa Fe’s culinary scene. “Other business owners have really supported us,” Nellie says. “We couldn’t have done it without them.” Customers have also contributed to the initial success of Paper Dosa, filling the restaurant every night. Paul says, “People are welcoming and grateful and really supportive. It’s just amazing.” The addition of Paul’s south Indian cuisine to the Santa Fe dining scene is a definite sign that our culinary community is maturing.

Back at the bar, we’re on the last course: tastes of three different curries. We begin with the vegetable curry, made with coconut milk and tomato and spiced with chili powder. I wrap pieces of uttapam, a thick south Indian pancake made from rice and lentil dosa batter, around crispy cauliflower, carrots and parsnips. The chicken curry with its long list of ingredients is one level up in heat, spiced with Thai chili. But my favorite is the very spicy lamb curry. Local lamb is seasoned with red chili, green cardamom, star anise, cinnamon, bay leaves and peppercorn. The result is an irresistibly pungent, earthy curry with a deep, broody flavor and lots of heat.

Paper Dosa of Santa Fe

“This food makes people feel alive,” Nellie tells me, and I agree. “Life can be difficult and sometimes our day-to-day life can run us down. People come here and for that hour and a half life is driven by food and the senses. That to me is fun—it’s exciting.” For Paul, sharing his cuisine is the most rewarding thing about his new business.

“When I’m cooking, when I see that people are happy with that first bite, that makes my heart happy.”

Paper Dosa is located at 551 West Cordova Road in Santa Fe. 505.930.5521. paper-dosa.com

Originally published in the May, 2015 issue of Local Flavor Magazine. Photography by Gabriella Marks.

The Ingredients of Great Service

My favorite breakfast in town is served on a simple diner-style plate, with paper napkins and no-fuss silverware. It comes with coffee served in a chunky white mug and ice water in a plastic cup. The green chile that smothers my eggs and the crispy potatoes served on the side are delicious, but that’s only part of why I keep returning. When I walk into the Pantry Restaurant, the servers and bussers and host smile and say hello—they know me by name. They know my eccentric order by heart (breakfast burrito with egg whites, vegetarian sausage, fresh vegetables, potatoes and an extra side of green) and what I want to drink. They ask about my family. I feel welcomed and appreciated and I’ll go back every week instead of choosing someplace new, just for this experience.

When it comes to choosing a restaurant, good food is important but good service is arguably just as imperative. Poor service can keep you from visiting a restaurant again, while great service and great servers will keep you coming back. But what are the critical ingredients for great service? As someone who’s worked on the other side of the table, from server to bartender to manager, I decided to ask colleagues from some of my favorite local restaurants to talk about what they think defines great service and what Santa Fe restaurant staff can do to foster great experiences for their guests.

During a busy Friday night or packed Sunday brunch at any restaurant in town, you’ve probably noticed the bussers and servers hustling through the dining room, on a sort of racetrack from the kitchen through the tables and back. A well-run restaurant is like a well-oiled machine and there’s a kind of dance between the employees as they work. This is what Luis Lozoya calls “the system.” Originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, Luis began working as a server at the Pantry 12 years ago and is one of the most recognizable faces of the restaurant.

At the Pantry, he says, everyone works as a team. The framework of service is a kind of cross training, where everyone knows how to do everything, so nothing falls through the cracks. “You have to have a good team,” he says, “and you have to know the system. We do everything here. If there’s food to run, you run the food, whether you’re a server or a busser. If you see a table that’s dirty, you clean the table.” He points out that Stan, the owner of the Pantry, and his son Michael, who currently runs the restaurant, are there working just as hard as the rest of the staff, wiping tables and running food and filling up drinks. “The food has to be good,” Luis emphasizes, “but the service has to be better.”

Owners and managers who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty are huge contributors to a restaurant’s great service and success. When I arrived at the Plaza Cafe downtown to talk about service, Jared Garcia, the manager and son of owner Daniel Razatos, was crisscrossing the floor, darting from table to table to speak with customers and running credit cards. “We all roll up our sleeves,” he said as we sat at the counter. “My father still busses tables, runs food, serves tables, takes back the bus tubs. We’re a big team and we treat it like a big machine and we’re all working together. It’s very important to do that.” Ester Najarro has worked at the Plaza Cafe for 32 years, after coming to the U.S. from Guatemala. She points out that a good manager also knows how to communicate with customers and is always present on the floor. “A good manager walks around the tables, asking how customers are enjoying their meals,” she says. “They ask visitors where they’re from, what they’re doing in Santa Fe. A good server should also communicate well with customers in this way.”

Communicating well with customers, working as a team and even knowledge of the menu items and wine list are all important aspects of service. But great service goes beyond these technical aspects, as my colleague Jay Hayden pointed out while we discussed the concept of excellent service. Jay bartended for nearly 20 years before landing at Geronimo restaurant, where he’s worked for 16 years, and La Boca, where he’s worked for seven years. If anyone knows great service, it’s Jay. He reminded me of the difference between technical service and hospitality, a distinction made by Danny Meyer, founder of Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern and Eleven Madison Park. Meyer says that service should be divided between the technical and the hospitable. Water glasses should remain full and food should arrive on time, but a server must also make the guest feel welcome and at home.

Jay believes the concept of hospitality applies no matter the style of service, whether it’s fine dining or a casual diner setting. “It doesn’t matter the level of service. The principles are the same. Even in different styles of dining, I’ve got to be spot on with service but I’ve also got to try to make that connection with customers.” Hospitality can be what separates an average dining experience from a fantastic one, and what makes you choose to go to one restaurant over another. Jay emphasizes that people have an endless number of choices when it comes to dining. “People can choose a multitude of restaurants. How do you get them to choose you?” Jared at the Plaza Cafe echoes this sentiment: “I explain to the staff that people choose us. They’re not only spending their money but they’re spending their time here and we want them to enjoy every minute.”

Hospitality is making customers feel welcomed and appreciated, not just keeping their water glasses full and the table clear. Jay says, “I want to figure out how to make it special so their experience is memorable.” Hospitality is all about how the customer feels, but it’s directly linked to how the restaurant staff, from bussers to managers, feel about their jobs. Some of the most hospitable people in the business are those who choose to work in restaurants as a career and are passionate about the work they do. I ask Luis at the Pantry why he loves being a server. “When you’re a server you know lots of people,” he explains. “There are people who come back every year, they ask about my family and they remember me. If you do this just for the money, it doesn’t work. It’s got to be your passion.” Ester at the Plaza Cafe agrees. When I ask what her favorite part of the job is, she doesn’t hesitate. “My customers. I have customers from all over the U.S. I love my customers.”

Matt Reynolds has worked at La Casa Sena for 15 years. He’s been a busser, a food runner, a head server, a bartender and is currently managing the restaurant. He considers working in the restaurant business a career, but points out that these days, there are a lot of people in the business who are just there for a quick buck. “There used to be more full-time workers,” he says. “Now, a lot of people have second jobs or they’re going to school for something else. Being in the restaurant isn’t their major focus.” Finding a restaurant with servers like Luis or Ester, who have passion for what they do and show us the meaning of hospitality, is something special. “In a restaurant like the Plaza Cafe, you can be a career server,” Jared says. “It’s not just a cafe, it’s something bigger than that. People keep coming in from all over the world. That’s something you can have pride in.”

As a server at two successful restaurants, Jay says that a staff’s attitude definitely contributes to a guest’s sense of hospitality. “I’m happy to be there,” he says, “and that translates out onto the floor. If you’ve got a happy staff and people are glad to be there, they’ll bring that attitude to the table.” He explains that dining culture has changed. These days, servers and managers aren’t just there to make sure your meal is delivered on time. People like Jay, Luis and Ester are the heart and soul of a restaurant and they have the potential to deliver a warmth and sense of welcome that will bring you back again and again. “You’re not just a waiter or waitress anymore,” Jay says. “You’re the host or hostess of the party.”

Originally published in the April, 2015 issue of Local Flavor Magazine.

Chef Andrew Cooper of Terra

Andrew Cooper always dreamed of becoming a chef. Although he’s worked with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts for 14 years, recently he has been awarded his first executive chef position at the company’s five-star resort at Rancho Encantado. But cooking for Terra, the gorgeous restaurant on the property, isn’t the only thing he’s been up to. Since moving to Santa Fe a year ago, Andrew has been busy working with organizations like Cooking with Kids and The Food Depot, implementing his philosophy of organic, local and sustainable foods within our community. He’s also busy raising his one- and three-year-old sons. It may sound like a lot for one person, but this is one chef full of energy and an insatiable appetite for all things cooking and community.

AndrewCooper1

As with many chefs, his love of food began with his grandmother, who made special meals for him and his family when they visited her in Brooklyn, New York. He cooked during Boy Scouts (once cooking over a campfire with a Danish cookie tin that exploded). In high school, he got a job at a country club where he cooked hot dogs, chicken and fish for golfers. When it came time to think about college, Andrew decided to pursue his dream of becoming a chef. “I spent more than eight hours a day thinking about food,” he says. “I wanted to get paid for it.”

He enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York. When it was time for his required internship, he decided to apply at Bouley Restaurant, in New York City. Dressed in his best (and only) suit, he knocked on the back door of the restaurant and told David Bouley that he wanted to be a chef and wanted to intern with him. Bouley asked him to start immediately—by making pasta with his sous chef.

“The first thing the sous chef did was take a whole handful of pasta and throw it across the table to me,” Andrew remembers, smiling. “I looked down at my suit and thought, ‘Oh well.’ I worked the rest of the day there. Bouley was so impressed that he took me under his wing and trained me.”

Andrew has traveled the world, learning about and teaching cooking in Switzerland, Italy, Australia and even Taiwan. In his 14 years with Four Seasons, he’s worked at hotels in New York, Hawaii and West Lake Village, California. One of Andrew’s strengths is his varied experience and willingness to learn from each new place he goes. When he worked for Four Seasons in New York, the food was all about indulgence: duck fat, butter and foie gras. But in West Lake Village, he had to relearn his techniques in order to make more healthy food that still tasted indulgent, like mayonnaise made from avocado. On the Big Island in Hawaii, Andrew’s focus shifted to what would become an important part of his personal philosophy as a chef: sustainable cooking.

“When you’re on a rock in the middle of the ocean,” Andrew says, “you have to be as sustainable as possible. You can fly food in, but it costs an arm and a leg.” When asked to write a sample menu, the resident chef responded by highlighting all the items that weren’t local—over half the menu. So Andrew started touring the island, visiting the more than 160 local farms that sold produce and meat to the hotel. He enjoyed getting to know the farmers and their families, as well as learning how they grew and prepared their produce—even how it was delivered. “It really made my love of cooking even more special,” Andrew explains. “I started to understand how and why something is grown and associate the produce with the farmer. So a tomato wasn’t just a tomato—it was Dave’s tomato.”

AndrewCooper3Andrew has brought his knowledge and passion for local, sustainable food to Santa Fe. When he arrived at Four Seasons at Rancho Encantado, he asked the folks in the kitchen where they got their apples. No one knew, and Andrew discovered that there weren’t many local ingredients on the menu. He took his kitchen crew to the farmers’ market, and they’ve been going every week since, buying as many local ingredients as possible to incorporate into the menu at Terra. He spends time getting to know our local farmers and learning to make the best use of local ingredients, especially green chile. “When I first came across Romero Farms and experienced the chile roasting,” Andrew exclaims, “the smell was intoxicating! The flavor, the taste—I fell in love!”

Andrew wants to share his excitement for local ingredients and sustainable food with the community, and he also wants to show people what Terra is all about. “People tend to avoid coming out here because it’s ten minutes out of town,” he explains. “Four Seasons is fine dining–focused, but I want to show people that we can be fun, down-to-earth and affordable.” Andrew took advantage of the Four Seasons taste truck, a food truck manned by different Four Seasons chefs across three states, to showcase “gourmet meals to-go.” Upon its arrival in Santa Fe, he took the taste truck to Tesuque Elementary School, where more than 130 kids were served homemade tamales, enchiladas and churros. He’s very excited to work with kids, especially after seeing his own three-year-old son’s excitement for what goes on in the kitchen. “He wants to be involved when I’m cooking,” he says, grinning. “It’s messy, but he’s so interested!” Andrew also participated in this year’s Souper Bowl and Pie Mania events for The Food Depot. “I want to share my passion and love for what I do with the community,” he says.

To show people what Terra is all about, he has created chef’s table dinners, where people can dine in the kitchen. “People told me I couldn’t do it,” Andrew says, “because it gets so crazy in the kitchen. But I said, why not? It’ll be like watching a Broadway show, but they’ll be in it.” He set up a table in the kitchen, and when a local family made the first reservation, no one quite knew what to expect. At the last minute, Andrew grabbed eight aprons and decided to get the family involved in the action. Instead of simply eating dinner in view of the kitchen, the family was able to help plate food and call out orders. Everyone had a blast, getting to experience the crazy dance of cooks and servers at work on a busy night. Andrew points out that these days, with the Food Network and the popularity of cooking shows, people are much more aware of food than they used to be. Now, at Terra, people will have the opportunity to get a real-life peek behind the scenes.

AndrewCooper2If you haven’t been to Terra yet, you should go. The restaurant itself is gorgeous, with a clean, modern feel and a cozy fireplace, behind which is a gorgeous glass-enclosed wine cellar. The restaurant has an open feel, with several windows that look out on a fantastic view of the surrounding mountains. With Andrew’s creativity and faith in all things local, his food—which he calls American regional with Southwest influence—is some of the most exciting in town. He told me about one dish he recently created using what was available at the farmers’ market—and green chile, of course, which he used to marinate some short ribs. He had pumpkin and chard from the farmers’ market and some local mushrooms. Thinking of ideas in the dining room at Terra, his eye fell on the fireplace, and he decided to smoke the pumpkin with piñon wood. He was also drinking coffee, and so he finished his dish with coffee syrup. The result? Green chile–braised short ribs with a smoked pumpkin purée, wilted Swiss chard and sautéed mushrooms with a coffee reduction. Are you getting as hungry as I am?

I ask if it’s easier, living in Santa Fe, to cook using local and sustainable ingredients. “It’s not easier, but it’s more important,” he explains. “Here in Santa Fe, people really care about their food and they ask where it’s from and if it’s organic.” He points out that what we eat really affects us and that we should have a say in what we eat. “We have a choice to know where our food is coming from and to understand what we’re eating.” Having his own kids has also changed his perspective on the importance of eating local, sustainable food. “Being a parent now, I’m very aware of what my kids are eating.”

To raise awareness about his own cuisine at Terra, Andrew lists on the menu several of the farms he sources from, including Old Windmill Dairy, Romero Farms, Pollo Real, Rancho Chonito Orchards and several others. “I want my food to be from here,” Andrew says. “I want that story.” By engaging with chefs, farmers and organizations within our community in an effort to create change and awareness, he’s now part of that story himself.

Terra restaurant at the Four Seasons Rancho Encantado Resort is located on State Road 592, just outside of Santa Fe. 505.946.5800. fourseasons.com/santafe.

Originally published in the December, 2013 issue of Local Flavor Magazine. Photos by Gabriella Marks.

Somms on the Rise

photo by Stephen Lang

Graciela Gonzalez of Restaurant Martin, Andrew Roy of Il Piatto and Mary Frances Cheeseman of La Casa Sena. Photo by Stephen Lang

Santa Fe may be small but our culinary scene is thriving. Behind this success is a dedicated group of beverage professionals committed to maintaining high standards for wine, cocktails and service throughout our city. These are the sommeliers and mixologists writing your favorite restaurant’s wine list or mixing your drink at the bar. While some have been at it for years, others are just beginning their careers and a few are on the path to become certified sommeliers. These young beverage professionals are excited about what’s new in the world of wine and cocktails, but they’re not just looking to other cities for trends—they’re setting trends themselves. In anticipation of the New Year, I spoke to a few of Santa Fe’s up-and-coming sommeliers about what they’re excited to drink in 2015.

Andrew Roy, the talented young bartender at Il Piatto, discovered the world of wine and cocktails when he worked as a bar back at Secreto Lounge at the Hotel St. Francis during college. “My parents are Southern Baptists and they don’t drink, so I knew nothing about alcohol,” he says. “But I really enjoyed working in the bar, so I started studying everything I could about cocktails, beer and wine.” His studying paid off last year when he passed the Court of Master Sommeliers’ first level exam, and he hopes to continue to the second level, or certified, exam. “From a service standpoint, the more I know, the more I can bring to the table and the better service I can provide,” he says, explaining why sommelier exams are important to him.

So what would he like to see people drinking in 2015? “ABC,” he responds. “Anything but Cabernet or Chardonnay.” While these two grapes produce some of the finest wines in the world, Andrew and other beverage professionals in Santa Fe want to turn people on to lesser known varietals and wine producing regions. Andrew is especially interested in southern Italian varietals like Catarratto, a white grape from Sicily. Lately, he’s been drinking a blend of Primitivo (aka Zinfandel) and Negroamaro, two grapes grown in Puglia in southern Italy. “I’m obsessed with it!” he says. “It’s delicious.” Another benefit to exploring new varietals and wine regions, besides their being delicious, is cost—there’s great value outside the realm of the widely known grapes.

Graciela Gonzalez, the manager and wine buyer at Restaurant Martín, agrees. “This year I’ve been focused on really great quality wines that are more accessible,” she says, also citing Italy as an area of interest. “We have a single varietal Corvina by the glass right now and personally I’ve been into Gattinara.” Gattinara is an appellation for the Nebbiolo grape in northern Italy near Barolo. While Barolo can be very expensive, Gattinara offers delicious versions of the same grape at much lower cost. Graciela is also enjoying Godello, a white grape grown in Galicia in northwestern Spain. The grape is well suited to barrel aging and produces intense, mineral-rich wines similar in taste to Chardonnay but at lower prices.

Traveling to Spain is what got Mary Frances Cheeseman, who works in the wine shop at La Casa Sena, hooked on wine. “In Spain, I found that young people my age were more into drinking wine” she says, “and that the food and wine there went hand in hand.” She decided to become a sommelier and is currently studying for her certified sommelier exam. “I love wine because to me, it’s the pinnacle of what good food is about,” she says. “I like food to be indicative of a place, a culture, a time and wine in particular represents an amalgamation of all the things that make a true artisanal product.” I ask Mary Frances why she feels sommelier exams are important for young people beginning their careers in the beverage industry. “Knowing how to serve wine is important,” she emphasizes. “I also like the idea that there are standards of excellence associated with studying wine. It’s such a deep subject that involves different languages, geography, history and sociology. The topic has such depth and breadth that there should be some sort of standard by which experts and novices alike are judged.”

Mary Frances hits on another trend in the beverage industry, which is that more people are becoming versed in wine and cocktails—knowledge isn’t limited to the sommelier. “A lot of the staff at Restaurant Martín are just as qualified in talking about wine as I am,” Graciela explains. “Every week we have staff tastings where distributors come in and talk to us about the wines,” she says. “I’m doing my very best to get everyone to be a part of the wine program.”

Tastings are requisite for servers and sommeliers alike, in an effort to make sure everyone on the floor during service can talk about wine and cocktails with guests. You could call it the democratization of the beverage industry. Graciela frames this trend as sharing an experience with a guest through wine, as opposed to “educating” guests, which can have the unappetizing affect of making guests feel intimidated or afraid to ask questions. Andrew and Mary Frances both emphasize that great service goes hand-in-hand with wine and Mary Frances points out that in a retail setting trust is a big part of the picture. “I enjoy the ability to connect with people on a deeper level at the shop,” she says, explaining that once you get to know a customer they may be more willing to try something new. “I feel like I’m in a unique position to change how people think,” she says.

Another trend all three of these up-and-coming sommeliers would like to set is turning people on to Riesling, a grape folks tend to avoid because they believe it’s overly sweet. But Riesling is widely considered to be one of the world’s greatest white wine grapes. It can be produced in a wide range of styles, from bone dry to sweet, late-harvest versions. It has a unique varietal footprint, full of captivating aromas and flavors. It is especially adept at expressing site and two vines grown in exactly the same way on different soils will taste completely different. It’s also capable of aging for decades in bottle, just like a fine Bordeaux or Burgundy. “I appreciate the drive towards drinking bone dry wine,” Andrew says, “but a lot of people have gone so far that they won’t accept any residual sugar.” Mary Frances agrees. “I’m really excited about Riesling right now and I wish I could get more people to drink it,” she says. “It’s very affordable and it’s such good quality wine.”

Riesling is a trend in sommelier circles everywhere, but how does Santa Fe compare when it comes to other trends in big cities like New York and San Francisco? “Santa Fe has its own unique set of cultural constraints that give it a very strong identity but that separate it from trends in larger cities,” Mary Frances explains. She points out that geographically, Santa Fe is harder to access and shipping wine here can be more expensive. She also feels that Santa Fe shouldn’t try to emulate bigger cities with its trends. “The food and wine scene here is strong enough on its own and I don’t think it should try to be anything else,” she says emphatically. Graciela points out that Santa Fe cares as much about its culinary scene as any big city. “I believe Santa Fe restaurants care to provide experiences that are on par with big cities,” she says, “and we have the same clientele. There’s a more relaxed atmosphere here, but we definitely care as much to give the same level of service.”

Just how much we care is evident in a trend towards purchasing wines from smaller producers and considering growing practices. Graciela tells me that she is becoming more concerned with purchasing wines she can get behind—she wants to know who’s growing the grapes and making the wines. “I want to know who they are. Are they stewards of the land? Do they take care of Mother Nature?” she asks. “I would like to see more estate bottling, terroir focused wines and small growers and producers,” Mary Frances says. “The food scene in general is trending towards farmers markets and farm-to-table programs and I would like to see that translating into the wine people drink as well.”

Andrew is a great example of a young beverage professional putting this trend into practice. His cocktail program at Il Piatto, although constricted to beer and wine, highlights drinks he’s created using homemade ingredients like his signature spiced shrub syrup, a sweetened vinegar-based syrup made from Balsamic, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and other (secret!) ingredients.

Santa Fe’s talented, young beverage professionals want to set the trends for what you drink in 2015. Lucky for us, their choices are delicious and affordable. They’re also setting the standard for great service because at the end of the day, great service is what being a sommelier is all about. Next time you’re out to dinner or need a bottle of wine to take home, look for one of these faces. They’re excited about beverages and excited to help you find something you’ll love. If you’re willing to branch out, you’re likely to fall in love with a new varietal or region. “Some amazing and beautiful wines of the world are going unnoticed,” Mary Frances laments, but I have a feeling these talented folks are going to change that.

Originally published in the December 2014/January 2015 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. cheesemongersofsantafe.com. 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.

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 http://gabriellamarks.com. 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. laposadadesantafe.com.