I went to Santa Fe in November for a non-food-related committee meeting, but expecting to fully appreciate the unique cuisine of northern New Mexico. Indeed, I had the good fortune to be invited to attend FUZE SW 2013, the first food and folklore festival in New Mexico, organized around the exhibit “New World Cuisine: The Histories of Chocolate, Mate Y Mas.”
Held in the Museum of International Folk Art on November 8-10, the conference saw an ingathering of cooks, farmers, historians, scientists, folklorists, poets, and artists (not always exclusive categories) – all focused on the influences that led to the development of the cuisine we enjoy today. A wonderful weekend! Lots of talking about food, and, of course, lots of eating. Although I missed the opening reception Friday evening, there was still plenty of conference to appreciate.
Saturday started off with breakfast burritos. There were four varieties, several with the famous green chile there would be a whole lot more of during my stay.
The burritos were catered by Posa’s El Merendero Restaurant, locally famous and rightly so. It was my first confrontation with the Official New Mexico State Question (“red or green?”) My companion and I split the two we selected, one with red chile and one with green, thus avoiding a premature decision. They were both delicious. (The Official Answer will be discussed later in this report.)
The opening keynote was delivered by Maricel Presilla, a historian specializing in medieval Spanish history and James Beard award-winning author of Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America. She had just returned from a chocolate conference in Europe, so could report on the extraordinary quality of microbatch chocolate from guess where? “We in the New World are doing better work than in Europe!”
After a coffee and art break with poetry readings, a session of lightning (FAST Food) talks covering the history and farming of chiles and the tradition of matanza (pig slaughter parties) in northern New Mexico, the mid-day keynote was presented by Gustavo Arellano, author of the blog ¡Ask A Mexican! in which answers are amusingly supplied to clueless questions, and recently of Taco USA, the story of his quest to explore the origins and current state of tacos in America. Take another look at the first picture in this article (click on it to enlarge the image). He’s the cover story on the Santa Fe Reporter, the free local arts paper, portrayed as the Patron Saint of Tacos.
At the question and answer session after his talk, someone actually asked the Question: “Red or green?” And yes, he know the Official Answer: “Christmas!”
His talk made us all want to buy his book, but a miscommunication with his publisher had rendered them unavailable. We consoled ourselves with an excellent lunch catered by the Museum Hill Cafe from their special menu celebrating the New World Cuisine exhibit. Corn custard, Jalisco sopes (polenta with bean sauce), nopal (cactus) salad, chicken with mole sauce, and chocolate tart.
After lunch we were treated to a guided tour of the exhibit given by the curator. In a weekend full of highlights, this was one of the best! Nicolasa Chavez, in addition to being a curator at the museum, is a student and practitioner of tango and flamenco dance. I had to concentrate mightily on her words, to avoid being distracted by her graceful gestures, as she described how the exhibit traced the path of ingredients and cooking methods from Old World to New and vice versa.
The exhibit is not to be missed. Any foodie traveling to Santa Fe before it closes on April 13, 2014, should plan a trip to Museum Hill. You won’t be disappointed!
Three kitchens and a parlor full of artifacts, as well as vitrines and wall displays tell the story of ingredient migration and adaptation. A table of recipe cards for taking and blank cards for contributions invites interaction with museum visitors – and it’s on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NewWorldCuisine
After lunch, there were more panel sessions, and more food (!): a paella tasting break. James Caruso, a chef and author, made a paella with just about everything: sausage, chicken, mussels, shrimp. Delicious.
Then another panel, and yet more food. “Cooking Culture” focused on empanalitas: small, stuffed savory pastries made at holidays by all the women in the family together. Each family has its own filling recipe, usually containing raisins, brandy, and pinones. Afterward, there was a tasting of empanalitas and pork belly tacos.
Then, just in case we hadn’t eaten enough during the day, there was a tasting hosted by the Santa Fe Culinary Academy with drinks from the local Santa Fe Spirits distillery.
We staggered out (not drunk, you understand, but sated), looking forward to returning on Sunday. Stay tuned for Part 2: FUZE SW Sunday.