Cooking Up Santa Fe Flavor

The Santa Fe School of Cooking is located at 116 West San Francisco Street , Santa Fe, NM  1-800-982-4688 or 505-983-4511 On Facebook at

When people think of Santa Fe, frequently the first thing they think of is the food. And with good reason! While both chile and beans may be ingredients in regional food around the world, our New Mexico cuisine is definitely like no other. Once you’ve tasted it, you’re hooked, and the next logical step is learning how to bring it all back home with you. And no one in Santa Fe has done more to help foodies bring the taste of Santa Fe to the home kitchen than Susan Curtis, founder of the Santa Fe School of Cooking and her daughters, Nicole Curtis Ammerman, currently managing the school, and Kristen Curtis Krell, who runs the team-building unit, Cookin’ Up Change. The Authentic Guide took some time this week to speak with Susan and Nicole about the school’s 20 years of sharing the flavor of Santa Fe.

Nicole Curtis Ammerman

Susan Curtis

How did the Santa Fe School of Cooking come into being, and what were the early years like?

Susan Curtis: The birth of the cooking school was the result of a SERIOUS midlife crisis. My last child was going off to college and what was I to do with the rest of my life? The early years were terrifying, but determination carried me through.

Since 1989, the Santa Fe School of Cooking has been whipping up a delicious experience for travelers in search of spicy tastes. Ever wanted to take a relleno and replace that gooey cheese filling with something new? You can learn! Perhaps the sustainable cooking traditions of the Native American culture intrigue you; if so, time in the kitchen with Lois Ellen Frank should be on your agenda. With classes that range from tasty home-made tortillas all the way to a lime-marinated salmon, the schedule has something to offer to both novices and experienced home chefs.

What are some of the most popular recipes the school has prepared through the years?

Nicole Ammerman: Our most popular recipes are the really authentic traditional New Mexican ones, such as our carne adovada, chiles rellenos and our red and green chile sauces. We also do a smoked pork tenderloin with an apple pinon chutney that is fantastic!

MMMMM...Chicken Enchiladas!

Were you surprised that both your daughters have kept the cooking flame (pun intended) burning in their lives?

Susan: No, I would have been surprised if they did not make food an important part of their lives.  I grew up on a ranch where we raised and aged our meats (pork, beef, sheep), raised chickens, had a dairy farm, and planted a huge garden. I knew where food came. As a result, good food has always been important to our family both at home an in our travels.

After you “put on the apron” to lead the school, Nicole, what new ideas excited you the most?

Nicole: I have had a really fantastic time in the last 5 years implementing some fun new programs. I started running the Restaurant Walking Tours five years ago. The concept is that one of our chefs leads a tour on foot through downtown Santa Fe to visit four different restaurants where you meet the chef and taste some of the food that is made especially for our group. Our guests spend the afternoon eating, drinking and meeting some of Santa Fe’s top chefs….how can you beat that? We now have four different routes, so we are working with 16 of Santa Fe’s top restaurants!

Walking - and Eating - Your Way Through Santa Fe

As a veteran of the walking tour, I have to say that this is an excellent way to encounter some of the best Santa Fe restaurants without having to dine at each one individually, especially if your schedule only permits a short Santa Fe getaway. The tour literally gives you fodder for dining choices on your inevitable return visit to Santa Fe. For those with three nights to stay, the Inn’s Taste the City Different package combines the walking tour and a demonstration class into a culinary double-header. If a two-day hop is all you have time for, our Muy Sabrosa Cooking Experience can give you a taste of what’s cooking in Santa Fe.

Can you describe an event at SFSoC that was even more perfect than you hoped? Or one that simply did not go as planned?

Susan: I really can’t think of one event. I am so deeply grateful that the school has been so popular and made so many people enjoy our  local food and culture. On a funny note, one of the most memorable experiences was when somehow salt got placed in the sugar container, and our dessert was made with salt rather than sugar. The reaction by our guests was as you might expect.

A Chile Amor Class at the School

What are the hottest- (again, pun intended) selling items in the market store?

Nicole: We pride ourselves on selling the finest quality chiles and herbs. They are the same ones we use in the classes….so they are great and a lot of interesting varieties. We also really promote local New Mexican farms and products, so we sell lots of posole, blue corn meal and specialty food products. Also, the black clay cookware is so beautiful and functional, and we can’t keep those in stock!

The  Santa Fe School of Cooking has always included supporting local, New Mexican businesses at the core of its mission. From the wild-crafted herbs available at the School’s Market to the sell-out Santa Fe Farmers Market classes, visitors will always find new paths to discovering New Mexico’s unique culinary traditions. The beautiful black cookware is oven to table – no surprise that it is often out of stock!

What adult beverages complement our spicy cuisine?

Susan: I like margaritas and wine that is not too dry with spicy food.

One of the school’s good friends is Dan Murray of Southern Wines and Spirits. For white wine lovers, he recommends a German Riesling such as J.J. Prum or Urban-Ohff or an Oregon Pinot Gris such as Bethel Heights.  Red wine fans should simply seek out a Beaujolais. For those who have a margarita in their sights, Dan suggests Chamucos Blanco for a smoother taste or the Reposado for more tequila flavor and bite.

As a working mother, what’s your go-to menu for the kids after a work-day already spent in the kitchen, so to speak?

Nicole: I will admit that I am not very creative  with my dinners at home, but my kids don’t really like their food “mixed’ with any other ingredients. So lots of roasted chicken, broccoli, rice and pasta. I do really pride myself on how healthy my family eats.  My kids have never had fast food. No matter how tired I am, I always get a healthy dinner on the table for us!

If you could meet one famous chef, living or dead, who would it be why?

Susan: Julia Child, however, I did meet her at an IACP conference. I was speechless I was so intimidated.

If you could eat at one fabulous five-star restaurant, anywhere in the world, which would it be and why?

Nicole: The Thomas Keller restaurant,  French Laundry in Yountville, CA – wine country! I think I must be the only person I know in the food biz that hasn’t eaten there….and I have heard people I know say it was the best meal of their lives!

Private Dining at the French Laundry, Yountville, CA

The New Mexico state question: Red or green, and where?

Nicole: Christmas, of course!  I like the green chile at The Guadalupe Café and the red chile at Atrisco!

Susan: I love both red and green. I ALWAYS stick with red at the Shed and green — there is a little road side take out place in Embudo called Sugars. They have the best green chile burrito that I have ever had.

Both the Shed and the Guadalupe Cafe are withing walking distance of the Inn, and our Front Desk can give easy directions to Atrisco and the village of Embudo, in northern New Mexico.

Red Chile - We Love it!

Green Chile - Hotter than It Looks!

Drooling yet? We are! Food talk always gets the juices going, so if you’re intrigued, check the Inn’s website for more information about either of our two cooking school adventures. And be sure to say “buen provecho” to our friends at the one and only Santa Fe School of Cooking!

Photos from the Santa Fe School of Cooking by Eric Swanson, all rights reserved.

Photo of the French Laundry, courtesy of Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, all rights reserved.

The Galisteo Basin Preserve

The vast and beautiful Galisteo Basin, south of Santa Fe

After a rather turbulent early spring with freezing nights, cold winds, and almost no moisture, the days are finally warming up here in Santa Fe. It has looked like spring since mid-April, but it certainly hasn’t felt like it. But now May has arrived and the sun is beginning to triumph, and the west wind can bring a sudden taste of the desert to the city. If you’re here for a visit conditions couldn’t be nicer. (If you’re trying to get the garden started, you may have another opinion).

It’s always important to take a break from washing windows and putting up the screens and getting the soaker hoses laid in the vegetable patch, and on Sunday a friend and I drove about 16 miles south and east of Santa Fe to check out the relatively undiscovered Galisteo Basin Preserve. We took along a picnic lunch rather than the usual backpack fare:

Picnic under a grizzled old juniper

One can be civilized even in the Wild West.

The Galisteo Basin is a basin in two senses of the word. Geographically it looks like a basin: a vast open bowl of juniper-grassland with pinon-dotted hills, surrounded by blue ridges of low mountains. No canyons gash its gentle lines. The surrounding highlands give it a protected feel, unlike the exposed and open spaces of the Great Plains further east. People feel comfortable here. There are old villages like charming little Galisteo, and modern housing developments of an open plan are springing up, and no doubt there are ancient pueblos hidden from view by the passage of time.

Geologically the Galisteo Basin is a basin as well. When the Rocky Mountains were first born around 65 million years ago, the uplifts of ancient continental crust were paired with areas of subsidence that received the sediment shed from the growing highlands. The birth of the modern Rockies is called the Laramide Orogeny by the geological crowd, and the Galisteo Basin is a classic Laramide Basin. The climate was warm and mild in those days, subtropical with moisture blown in from the Pacific, unblocked by the Sierra Nevada (or for that matter any of California, which hadn’t been assembled yet) and rivers, lavish by our current New Mexico standards, brought plenty of mud, sand, and gravel down from the verdant new Sangre de Cristo. You can still find fossilized palm logs in the tiny riverbed of Galisteo Creek.

Conditions are much different now. We’re high and dry, and there’s not a palm tree to be seen:

The view southwest from our picnic

As more people move into this pleasant part of New Mexico, efforts are being made to preserve the Basin’s viewscape, and to give opportunity for public access and recreation.

A good example of sensitive multiple-use planning

Although our picnic was nice, gusty and nonstop winds brought on by afternoon warming put just a few too many positive ions into the air for human pleasure, and neither one of us felt like lingering after our repast. But the views were wonderful and the break in routine welcome, and no doubt we’ll be back out this way on a calmer day, to explore the trails so carefully laid out in this beautiful piece of the Old West.

The view back toward Santa Fe and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains

Getting there:

The Galisteo Basin Preserve is south and east of Santa Fe, off of State Road 285, about 16 miles from town. 285 leaves Interstate 25 east of Santa Fe, after about 9 miles, and heads south through the planned community of Eldorado. The unpaved pullout to the Galisteo Natural Preserve can be found just off to the right of 285 very shortly after you cross the rail spur that cuts across the road (clearly signed with overhead signals). The entrance to the Preserve is also signed.

A link to activities.

Simply Santa Fe South of Town

The Allan C. Houser Compound is located at 26 Haozous Road, 22  miles south of Santa Fe on Highway 14


“Simplicity appeals to me in a land where the simple things are respected and appreciated – simplicity is a way of life.” Allan Houser

Simplicity IS appealing, especially in our increasingly complicated, task-filled lives. Sometimes we become so habituated to our routine and our surroundings that we neglect to simply visit our neighbors. A good illustration of ignoring what’s in your own backyard? The Allan Houser Compound and Sculpture Garden! Fortunately, my neglectful behavior has recently been rectified by a morning spent exploring this stunning piece of land, enriched in every direction by the sculpture of the late Apache artist, Allan C. Houser, whose hours of painstaking work were distilled into deceptively simple forms.

Mr. Allan C. Houser, Always on the Property

Born as Allan Haozous in 1914, this renowned New Mexican (whose name change came courtesy of the US government) was a member of the Warm Springs band of Chiricahua Apache, originally based in the area near Truth or Consequences, NM. Led by Geronimo himself, the Warm Springs tribe, driven south to Mexico, eventually surrendered to the US Army in 1886 and was speedily transported acroos the country to a prison in Florida as retribution for their recalcitrant refusal to acknowledge superior firepower. The Haozous family itself  is descended from the great Mangas Coloradas, a leader of the eastern Chiricahua in the late 1800’s. The Chiricahua were scattered in locations around the southern states; Allan’s father was among those jailed in Florida, and his mother was born in a prison camp in Alabama where surviving members of the tribe were sent in 1887. The remainder of the Chircahua were sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma where they remained as captives for what have been 23 very long years. Finally freed in 1914, members of the tribe returned west to join with the Mescalero Apache, for whom a reservation had been carved out of public lands in south-central New Mexico. Allan’s parents, however, were among a small group that elected to remain in Oklahoma, and Allan was their first child born out of captivity. From these roots of struggle and privation arose a talent that continues to inspire generations of artists, Native and non-Native alike.

Warm Springs Apache Man: Allan C. Houser

Although he was raised in an agricultural lifestyle, Mr. Houser became interested in imagery at an early age and soon tried his own hand at creative endeavors. His artistic fire was further fueled by a 1934 notice for an art school located on the campus of the Santa Fe Indian School. Thanks to his talent and the hard-working ethic of his forebears, Allan became the most notable graduate of the Dorothy Dunn School, and by 1939, his artwork was being exhibited around the country.

Mr. Houser was a Painter First!

Mr. Houser and his wife, Anna Marie Gallegos, moved to Los Angeles in 1941 with three young sons, where Allan found work as a ship-builder during the busy years of the Second World War. This was a fortuitous decision, since it was here that he honed 3-dimensional skills that would later serve the sculptural forms of his work, and at the same time, encountered museums rich with the work of European modernists that satisfied his desire for a greater knowledge of art and art history.

Horse: Allan C. Houser

In 1951, the Houser family moved from L.A. to Utah, where Allan taught art at the Inter-Mountain Indian School for the next eleven years, all the while continuing his own work on canvas and in wood. In 1962, his family heritage came full circle with a move to New Mexico, when he agreed to join the Santa Fe faculty of the newly created Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), currently the only four-year institution with a fine arts degree dedicated to Native arts. Mr. Houser created a sculpture department from the bottom up and in the process, turned his own artistic focus toward three-dimensional work. By the late 1960’s, exhibitions of his sculpture became a regular occurrence, and both national and international recognition grew along with his output. In 1975, after having influenced several generations of Native artists, Mr. Houser finally had the opportunity to retire and devote himself to his own work, producing close to 1,000 sculptures through the next two decades. His dedicated work ethic never left him, as he continued to create right up until his death at age 80 in 1994.

Wood Ceilings and a Welded Circular Staircase Inside the Houser Home

The compound itself is perched between the villages of Cerrillos and Galisteo on 109 acres of pinon- and juniper-studded land 22 miles south of downtown Santa Fe off Highway 14, the Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway. The property was originally discovered in 1976 by Allan Houser’s son, Phillip Haozous, who invited his father to settle there and who faithfully and respectfully maintains his father’s work and legacy. Phillip, a quiet, modest and self-effacing gentleman, deserves much credit for planting the seed that grew into this beautiful artistic environment, as well as being responsible for the handsome landscape design. Father and son collaborated on the layout and construction of a group of studios and residences, slowly adding the sculpture gardens, as well as dance grounds and outdoor amphitheaters.

The Dance Grounds at the Houser Compound

In addition to the ten acres of sculpture gardens and gallery, in 1995 the compound was expanded to include the Allan Houser Foundry, a traditional lost wax process operation, begun to help the Houser family complete Allan’s lifetime work. By casting works of select artists since 2002, the foundry has grown to be  a welcome presence in the Santa Fe art world.

This is Where It All Happens: The Foundry

Although the Allan Houser Compound is a private facility, owned and maintained by the family and staff, throughout the year, tours can be arranged by appointment only, weather permitting. In addition, the grounds and select buildings are made available for those who want to create a special event that will be both unique and memorable. For more information or to treat yourself to a spot where the spirit of art flows with the breeze through the rocks and trees, call (505) 471-1528; you will leave feeling richer in spirit than when you came.