Santa Fe is a hybrid culture, a unique blend where the parts make up a greater whole. The traditions and foodstuffs of the pre-Columbian peoples, the stylistic influence of the Hispanic culture (both recent and hundreds of years old) and the modern fusion of contemporary upscale dining, all combine to form the distinctive and delicious elements of modern Santa Fe food.
The Puebloan peoples that inhabited the area we now ca3l Santa Fe were, in many ways, defined by their diet and their farming activities. Other tribes and peoples that relied on subsistence hunting and gathering were forced to engage in a constant migration as they followed the brief periods of seasonal abundance, while the peoples who engaged in agriculture were able to become settled and develop agricultural surplus. These factors led to the complex society we call today Anasazi with its later development into the myriad Pueblo peoples that make up New Mexico.
The Puebloan diet was dominated by their staple crops of corn, beans, various gourds and chiles. Seeds and nuts such as acorns and pine nuts would be gathered to supplement the Anasazi diet. Despite domestication of the turkey and the dog, neither of these species seemed to have made up a significant source of dietary protein. Meat seemed to come predominantly from small pest species like mice and rabbits, with larger prey like deer or bighorn sheep being rarer.
Food required a great deal of preparation. Corn would be processed into a more nutritious form through an alkalization process that involved repeated soakings and boilings in solutions of lime chloride requiring significant amounts of labor. Following the process, known as Nixtamalization, the kernels were ready to be ground. Daily hours were spent grinding dried corn or seeds into flours which could be cooked over hot flat rocks, forming the precursor of today’s tortilla. The usage of pottery in cooking indicates that stews, soups and porridges likely made up most of the prepared diet. During the harsh New Mexico winters the Puebloans would rely on their stored and dried food, predominantly corn.
The Spanish brought with them their own cultures and food habits. They introduced multiple species of domesticated animals which greatly increased the proportion of meat in the native diets. They introduced crops like rice and brought the technology of cheese making with them.
The dominant Hispanic culture, with its emphasis on meats and cheeses, influenced the native cuisine and was, in turn, influenced by the agricultural innovations of the native people. Hybrid cuisine developed. The New Mexico enchilada, for example, is a prime example of this fusion. Traditional indigenous chili sauces and corn tortillas were melded with European foods such as cheese and chicken or pork to create a delicious hybrid cuisine.
For nearly 300 years the New Mexico territory was a largely neglected colonial backwater of New Spain, which led to isolation and the development of local culture and cuisine. This isolation accounts for the differentiation between New Mexico cuisine and the more familiar hybrids found in California and Texas.
The evolution of tastes and dining following the incorporation of New Mexico into the United States provided the final element in the hybridized cuisine of this region. Throughout the 20th century, new people brought their tastes and left their imprint on the diets of Santa Feans. In 1944, for example, Rosalea Murphy brought elements of traditional French and American cooking to Santa Fe in the form of the Pink Adobe. French Onion soups and Tournedos of Beef met Chili Rellenos and the resulting fusion cuisine continues to be popular. In 1978 Upper Crust Pizza brought the Italian-American classic to the city, incorporating local elements like Green Chili and Piñon nuts. Many chefs have brought their unique perspectives and influences to Santa Fe and have left their mark on the tastes and appetites here.
Today we like to think we exemplify this hybrid cuisine at our Agoyo Lounge restaurant. We pride ourselves in producing a well-balanced menu based on locally grown regional cuisine, presented artistically, to assure a memorable and nurturing dining experience. Regional classics like the chicken enchilada or empanadas with mole sauces meet dishes like the Alsatian Tart or the baked encrusted goat cheese. Specialties like the New Mexican Cobb salad coexist next to excellently realized classics like Caesar salads or onion puffs. Come visit us, say “hello” and experience Santa Fe’s “Food Done Fine!”
One of New Mexico’s signature scents is the roaring open fire, burning bright with Pinon and juniper. At the Inn on the Alameda we’d like to also include the tempting scents of hot cider cocktails and Toddies.
Toddy Stick & Jerry Thomas
Hot drinks are an American tradition. Early Colonial era gatherings were enlivened with the tradition of “Flipping” drinks, adding a hot iron to the cocktail to make it froth and “flip” about. The earliest recipes consisted of a blend of beer, rum and sugar. Over time, eggs were added and the beer was reduced. Eventually this drink evolved into the now familiar nogs.The father of modern Bartending, the famed Jerry Thomas, included many variations of flips in his influential books on cocktails.
No discussion of hot drinks would be complete without mentioning the traditional Irish balm: the Hot Toddy. Mixing whiskey with boiling water, sugar or honey, lemon and spices provides a revivifying effect. The vitamin C and honey help explain the soothing efficacy of the drink in treating the cold effects of winter. The toddy can be fine tuned in many different ways to individualize the drink. In the Midwestern United States it can be made with the addition of ginger ale, a decidedly non-traditional preparation.
It is good naturedness that provides the final element of hot drink perfection, the quality of welcome, which you will find at the Inn on the Alameda. Cultures around the world have terms to refer to this ineffable quality. For Germans it’s called Gemütlichkeit, the quality of a situation or location that induces a sense of welcoming coziness and unhurried warmth. That’s a standard we’re proud to offer – come see us soon for a soul-warming beverage of your choice.
Santa Fe School of Cooking, 125 North Guadalupe, Santa Fe, NM 87501
As many of our friends no doubt know, for many years, the Inn has partnered with the Santa Fe School of Cooking to offer our tasty and ever-popular Muy Sabrosa Cooking School Package. The School has settled in nicely to their ample new facility at 125 North Guadalupe and has made a wise choice in bringing Tracy Pikhart Ritter on board as the new Culinary Director. Tracy is well-know to Santa Fe foodies as the chef/owner of the late but still lamented Whistling Moon Cafe. We thought we’d take some time to introduce this inventive chef to those who love the unique cuisine of New Mexico.
Tracy Talks Chile!
Q. Who inspired you to cook professionally?
A. I had cooked for many years in NYC, yet never really took it all that seriously…I was planning on going back to accounting or textile’s. It was a good friend, Stacy Crespi, that suggested we walk to Soho to see the new French Culinary Institute..The rest is history…Then Marcy Blum encouraged me..She became my mentor.
Q. What brought you to Santa Fe?
A. A visit to a friend after I left the Golden Door Spa in CA, and Rancho La Puerta in Mexico. I came here to help her plant trees, the beauty of the land, and a job offer from Bobby & Judy to be executive Chef at SantaCafe.
How Much is That Cookware in the Window? The Ones with the Waggly Tails!
Q. What is your favorite cooking utensil?
A. Currently a micro-plane and a vitamixer and La Chamba cookware available at the Santa Fe School of Cooking.
Q. What was your most unforgettable kitchen disaster?
A. Losing a lobster claw during New Years Eve service – they were all accounted for! It was a challenge. I eventually found it.
Q. If you could have a meal prepared for you by any chef, who would it be and why?
A. I would enjoy a meal prepared by Maxime Bilet, for his approach and contribution to modern cooking technology. He is also a graduate of the culinary academy I attended many years prior. I would love to see the change in styles.
Q. If you could cook for someone special, who would that be and why?
A. My mom – she passed away right before I started to cook. I think she would have been very proud, since I never cooked as a child.
Q. What do you do to relax when you’re not whipping up a culinary masterpiece?
A. I like to bike ride, spin and hike…a fun meal out is always nice
Q. Do you have a special autumn harvest favorite to share?
A. Pumpkin anything really…I kind of like pumpkin cupcakes that we decorate for the kids.
Tracy and Noe Check It Out!
Q. The State question, red or green?
A. Christmas…unless it is my chef de cuisine Noe’s Red Chile…