NOTHING is more warming than Santa Fe's cuisine. A direct
descendent of its three cultures, Santa Fe cooking celebrates and
blends the flavors of its American Indian, Hispanic, and Anglo
history. The main industry here is the tourist trade and the many
restaurants cater to it, ranging from the inexpensive and delicious
tofu tamales at the Baja Tacos stand to moderately priced
Tomasito's hearty fare to the high art of La Casa Sena or Santacafe.
Indians discovered and cultivated the foods of the region:
pinon nuts, chilies, corn, tomatillos, tomatoes, cactus, black
beans and pinto beans, many squashes, even potatoes are all New
World contributions. Local fish and game like trout, antelope,
venison, buffalo, poussin (similar to a game hen), rabbit,
pheasant, and more grace the better restaurant kitchens. But what
really sets Santa Fe cuisine apart is the expansive use of chilies
in great variety. Chilies show up in sauces and marinades, in sweet
chutneys, jellies, and delicious breads, in extravagant potato
dishes, and in stuffing, salad dressing, salsa, and soups.
"There are 20 varieties of chilies in regular use at Casa Sena,"
says restaurant president Gordon Heis. The influence of
Southwestern cuisine has spread to California, he says, and many of
the products used in nouvelle cuisine really began in Santa Fe.
Casa Sena's chef, David Jones, says ve learned the traditional
fare inside out, studied the ingredients. You really have to search
out the chilies. I use a lot of northern New Mexican chilies from
Chimayo and Dixon. The big jims, a dried red chile, come from
Chimayo, for instance."
Local farmers experiment with varieties of chile under Mr.
Jones's tutelage, sometimes allowing chilies normally picked green
to ripen to a rich red - always risky in a high altitude climate
where a snap frost can kill the plants overnight.
The chilies most often used among Casa Sena's 20 varieties are
the pablano (fresh and moderately hot), chipotle (smoked red
jalapeno, very spicy), and mild anaheims. Chef Jones uses even
"Many people think all chilies are hot," says Santacafs owner,
Jim Bibo. "They're not. Some are sweet, some bitter. Many are hot
- some very, very hot." Santacafs signature dish is a chile brioche
that combines fresh pablano with dried red chilies and red bell
peppers. It's a tasty, surprising bread served with butter and a
cooler, whole-grain bread at all meals.
Mexican cuisine, which combines Indian and Spanish tastes, is
heavily in evidence in Santa Fe. …