Red or green? Order most anything off a menu in Santa Fe, New Mexico and that’s the inevitable follow-up question. Translation: Do you prefer green or red chile sauce with your meal? If you aren’t well-versed in chiles, haven’t yet discovered your personal preference, or don’t know that you can answer “Christmas” to get a swash of both sauces served side-by-side, expert guidance is available at The Santa Fe School of Cooking.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, The Santa Fe School of Cooking boasts a line-up of demonstration and hands-on classes plus walking tours. With its commitment to showcasing local food traditions, cooking styles and ingredients, it’s an ideal place to gain an understanding of New Mexican cuisine. Utilizing cooking techniques and ingredients found across the United States including corn, beans, squash and chile peppers, New Mexican cuisine is at once familiar yet different. With its unique mix of cultural influences, especially Native American and Spanish, “New Mexican is different than Texan, Mexican and Southern Californian cuisine,” says Chef/Instructor Danny Cohen. Taking a cooking class means you’ll not only find it easier to navigate local menus, you’ll also be able to recreate the flavors at home.
Whether you’re a newbie or aficionado of New Mexican cuisine, the chance to eat top-quality authentic fare is a key reason to visit. “Santa Fe ranks highest in number of restaurants per capita,” says Chef/Instructor Rocky Durham. “There are 70,000 residents in the city of Santa Fe (about 150,000 including the surrounding county) and 241 restaurants.”
To share his hometown’s dining scene—where options range from casual fajita carts alongside the historic plaza to upscale contemporary bistros tucked into swanky hotels to hole-in-the-adobe-wall bistros to cafés helmed by award-winning chefs—Durham helped create walking tours for the Santa Fe School of Cooking. Each three-hour, mile-long walking tour is an opportunity to gain insider, behind-the-scenes information at four restaurants while savoring wine and food menu samples. Restaurants included in the tour are selected by The Santa Fe School of Cooking staff members. “Every place we visit makes everything from scratch,” says Durham. “They also support local producers. This is my hometown. I’m a fiercely proud New Mexican.” Because tour stops vary and each host chef creates treats exclusively for participants, each walking tour experience is a one-of-a-kind progressive meal.
To satisfy customer requests as well as encourage repeat visits, “our classes do change,” says Susan Curtis, founder of the school. Each year’s roster of demonstration classes offers approximately 30 different menus that showcase traditional New Mexican, contemporary Southwestern, Native American and Mexican cuisine. Demonstration classes run for three hours and include recipes and a full meal. Hands-on classes allow participants to roll up their sleeves and work with ingredients while a professional chef instructor offers step-by-step guidance.
Two of the most popular hands-on classes, Chile Amor and Salsas, are about 90 minutes and include tastings. With a reputation for fun, practical learning, The Santa Fe School of Cooking classes attract both local residents as well as tourists. An average of 75 percent of participants are from out of town; Curtis says that students hear about the school “mainly by word of mouth advertising.”
Recipes vary by course and the chef instructors are eager to work with novices as well as experienced cooks. “Some people are visual learners, some read, some taste,” says Cohen. “In our classes we do it all in hopes that something sticks.”
The Santa Fe School of Cooking exclusively partners with The Inn on the Alameda to offer the “Taste The City Different” and the “Muy Sabrosa” packages, two culinary travel getaways perfect for food lovers. The “Taste The City Different” package includes three nights’ accommodations, walking tour plus demonstration cooking class with lunch at The Santa Fe School of Cooking, shopping discounts for the school’s market, daily breakfast and wine and cheese reception. Of all the packages offered by The Inn on the Alameda, “Taste The City Different” is most popular. The “Muy Sabrosa” package includes two nights’ accommodations, a demonstration cooking class with lunch at The Santa Fe School of Cooking, a $40 gift certificate to dine at Mucho Gusto, daily breakfast and wine and cheese reception.
“The Inn on the Alameda has a great reputation,” says Steve Lewis, public relations for the Santa Fe Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Its pricing is right in the middle. It’s a bargain in terms of staying downtown, a good value.” Indeed, “forty percent of our guests are repeat clientele,” says Deb Swanson, general manager. Located three blocks away from the historic plaza, The Inn on the Alameda offers a quiet reprieve within convenient walking distance of the city center. It’s the closest hotel to the popular Canyon Road art gallery district, just one block away.
Deluxe guestrooms at The Inn on the Alameda are spacious and boast necessities like a soft bed and deep bathtub as well as upscale extra amenities like a fireplace, private balcony, free Wi-Fi, complimentary parking, plush robes, in-room coffee maker and mini-refrigerator. Design details such as Mexican tile, handmade furniture, hand-woven rugs, local artwork and rich colors lend warmth. After a day spent exploring Santa Fean cuisine, The Inn on the Alameda offers a welcome respite that’s so cozy you won’t want to leave.
Fortunately, when your culinary getaway to Santa Fe does come to an end, you’ll have more than just memories to take home: you’ll have the skills honed at The Santa Fe School of Cooking and a fist full of recipes.
Red or Green?
To jumpstart your discovery of New Mexican flavors at home—and help you answer the ubiquitous Santa Fean question—try these salsa recipes. (Recipes courtesy of The Santa Fe School of Cooking)
Roasted Tomato Salsa
Yield: 3 cups
2 lbs. ripe plum tomatoes
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 large red onion, finely diced
2 to 3 serrano chiles, minced or 2 Tbs. pureed chipotle chiles in adobo sauce to taste
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1 tsp. dried Mexican oregano, crushed
splash of balsamic vinegar to taste
coarse salt to taste
pinch of sugar (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil to taste
1. Place a stove-top grill over high flame and char the plum tomatoes on all sides. Put them in a medium bowl and set aside to cool.
2. Peel and core the tomatoes. Place the tomatoes and their juices in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse to a coarse puree, keeping the tomatoes as chunky as possible. Pour the puree into a medium bowl. Add the garlic, onion, chile, cilantro and oregano; season to taste with the vinegar, salt and sugar. Let stand for 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Drizzle with a little olive oil, stir and serve.
Roasted Tomatillo Salsa
Yield: 2.5 cups
1 lb. tomatillos (about 10 to 12 medium), soaked, husked and dried
2 to 3 fresh Serrano chiles, stemmed
1 small white onion, peeled, cut into half-inch thick slices and separated into rings
2 to 3 garlic cloves, peeled
2 Tbs. Olive Oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
pinch of sugar to taste (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Position the rack on the second-highest level from the top of the oven. Place the tomatillos, serranos, onion rings and garlic cloves in a bowl and toss with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and coarsely ground black pepper. Pour the ingredients onto a foil-lined baking sheet, distribute evenly, and roast for 10 to 12 minutes, until the ingredients are soft and lightly browned. Remove from the oven and cool.
2. Coarsely chop the serranos, onion and garlic by hand and place in a medium bowl. Pluse the tomatillos with their juice to a coarse puree in the food processor, then add to the bowl with the chile-onion-garlic mixture. Add the water and stir in the cilantro. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding a pinch of sugar if needed. Serve.
If You Go
Inn on the Alameda
303 E. Alameda
Rates from $125. “Taste The City Different” packages range from $675 to $1302 based on double occupancy. “Muy Sabrosa” packages range from $376 to $938 based on double occupancy. Check website for details including dates of availability.
Santa Fe School of Cooking
The Anasazi Restaurant & Bar
113 Washington Ave.
The atmosphere as well as the food preparations by Executive Chef Oliver Ridgeway are elegant yet rustic.
Las Fuentes Restaurant & Bar
1297 Bishop’s Lodge Rd.
Executive Chef Carmen Rodriguez describes his creations as “Nuevo Rancho,” showcasing flavors that are natural to the New Mexican environment with French and Spanish influences.
The Burrito Co. Café
111 Washington Ave.
Serves fresh, authentic Mexican food in a casual setting.
121 Don Gaspar
This award-winning café has attracted fans for 31 years.
227 Galisteo St.
Chef/Owner Robert Chickering says that he “believes in minimal processing and creating flavor layers.” His upscale menu features local organic fare seasoned to perfection.
72 W. Marcy St.
Chef James Campbell Caruso, a James Beard Award nominee for Best Chef Southwest, says that his menu at La Boca “features a lot of bold flavors with Spanish and Moroccan influences.”
Mucho Gusto Mexican Restaurant
839 Paseo de Peralta
Excellent Mexican fare at prices that are more than fair. I still daydream about the blue corn enchiladas with shrimp and green chile sauce.
526 Galisteo St.
Chef Martín Rios serves innovative, finely crafted dishes that catapult New Mexican food traditions to creative heights.
231 Washington Ave.
This favorite among locals since 1983 serves unique dishes with Southwestern flair.
Santa Fe Convention & Visitors Bureau
Top photo: Inside a hands-on salsas class at The Santa Fe School of Cooking. Credit: Hope S. Philbrick.