We had a light breakfast of pumpkin empanadas at the coffee shop attached to our casita rental office, and arrived back at the MOIFA atrium in time for the opening keynote. Jeffery Pilcher, professor of history and author of Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food, expounded on the evolution of tortillas. We learned how the Spanish introduced wheat to the New World, resulting in a divergence of materials, and a parallel evolution of corn and wheat-based tacos. Now there are new variations being rung on the old model. There have been reported sightings of a corn-wheat blend tortilla, and even one made with Vietnamese rice flour.
(As an aside, I learned later in the week that making tortillas is not as easy as I had thought! A further installment of this thrilling series will report on my taco-making class at the Santa Fe School of Cooking.)
Then there was a delightful surprise. The day’s first Art Break brought us poetry by Damien Flores of Albuquerque. His readings were performance art of the highest level. “El Cuento de Juana Henrieta,” the title poem of a slim volume of his verse, is a riff on the John Henry legend, telling of a cocinera‘s face-off with a tortilla-making machine.
Afterward, he was lionized in the hallway. All the copies of his book were sold, and he signed them with a becoming modesty.
Then, an outstanding series of talks, each too short: first up, the famous cookbook author Deborah Madison, a resident of Santa Fe but veteran of Greens and Chez Panisse restaurants in San Francisco, talked about local vegetables. (Introducing her, the moderator said, “Raise your hand if you don’t own a Deborah Madison cookbook.” No hand moved.)
Patricia Crown, Professor of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico, analyzed potsherds from Chaco Canyon and discovered the earliest traces of cacao north of the Mexican border – one of those potsherds was on view in the New World Cuisine exhibit. She described how archaeologists study patterns of food migration by analyzing food residue and human artifacts. The composition of bones and teeth can tell both what individuals ate and whether they moved from where they were born.
She brought along a reproduction of the cylinder jars from Chaco used for drinking chocolate (until the 19th century, chocolate was always consumed as a liquid).
The shape of these pots is entirely impractical for drinking. Yet, 110 of them were found in one room in Chaco. The theory is that the shape was deliberately distinctive to indicate to any observer that the drink contained was the pricey and exclusive chocolate, therefore denoting the high status of the consumer.
The last talk before lunch was given by Chef Juan Jose Bochenski and his wife, Mercedes, about mate customs. They also conducted a demonstration and tasting. Best: mate gelato, made with mate and fruit juices. And the chef’s amazingly cute kids.
For lunch, we were directed to the staff parking lot, where two food trucks were waiting to serve us local specialties. The weather was mild enough to eat outside, on the museum’s plaza.
We ate in the company of two schoolteachers, who were at the conference happily gathering ideas for projects to share with their students. Tere and Paula gave us several tips about food-related things around Santa Fe. They were great company!
We had goat tortas (sandwiches), which were a little too generous with the spicy chile for me, but the green chile stew was delicious, also the chiliquitas. There was locally-bottled ginger beer and lemon soda to drink.
Local chef Josh Gerwin is boss of Dr. Field Goods food truck. The other truck was a production of the Four Seasons hotel chain. Formally: Four Seasons Rancho Encantado Executive Chef Andrew Cooper’s Four Seasons Taste Truck – quite a mouthful! The food from both was tasty, but the Four Seasons offerings had just a slight edge.
After lunch, the chocolate panel (¡Holy Mole!) was moderated by Nicolasa Chavez (see Santa Fe Part 1 ) Maricel Presilla, Saturday’s keynoter, who was having so much fun that she had extended her stay to be at the conference’s second day, was a surprise addition to the panel.
The other panelists were Patricia Crown, Rocky Durham from the Santa Fe Culinary Academy, and Tony Bennett from the Kakawa Chocolate Shop. They each brought a different perspective to the discussion.
Maricel mentioned, during an anecdotal history of chocolate, that Che Guevara established a chocolate refinery in Cuba. Patricia remarked that the Church did not consider chocolate a food, and therefore it could be consumed on fasting days. Tony serves a drink at Kakawa based on Thomas Jefferson’s recipe, and Rocky considers chocolate a superfood.
And then, there was a chocolate tasting! Both solid and liquid forms were laid out for our delectation.
And for the final presentation of the conference, John Sedlar, a local legend. Maricel called him “the father of modern Southwestern cuisine,” and the conference attendees showed him due deference. Although transplanted to Los Angeles, Chef Sedlar remembers his roots in his development of the Latin food journey. He expounded on his vision of food as a sensory and visual experience.
A” sensory and visual experience” is great way to describe the whole conference! Add intellectual stimulation and interaction with fellow foodies, both local and from the wider world of culinary exploration. I hope to return for next year’s edition!
Note: My thanks to Steve Cantrell and Shelly Thompson, conference organizers, for their kind invitation to attend and write about FUZE SW.