My first visit to Santa Fe, New Mexico, was over 25 years ago. I was there to attend The American Chefs' Association conference. Also attending the conference was Sam Arnold, chef/owner of the Fort Restaurant in Denver, Colorado. He invited us to his house in Santa Fe for cocktails and unforgetable peanut butter stuffed jalapeno peppers and we became friends for life. Eating up the Santa Fe Trail (subtitle: the Recipes and Lore from the Old West) is his book. His daughter Holly Arnold Kinney, also a dear friend, has taken over the Fort and just this year wrote her first cookbook Shinen' Times at the Fort.My other favorite food memory of Sant Fe was eating at my friend Mark Miller's Coyote Café. Mark sold the Café about two years ago but for old time's sake we made a pilgrimate for our first night's dinner. We were totally delighted with the food. We both ordered the special house margarita which had an exceptionally billowy egg white, lime, and salt, foam topping. The secret turned out to be gelatin that gave it body and stability and a nitrogen foaming device. Elliott plans to try this out back home. For openers, we shared a perfectly cooked crisp soft shell crab with a spicy mayonnaise, and then the justifiably famous tower of "Fiery Hot and Sweet Mexican White-Prawns" set atop a sautéed rice cake. For dessert we chose a creamy bittersweet ValRhona chocolate flourless cake but what intrigued me the most were the accompaning raspberries stuffed with mascarpone. I was so impressed by the food I asked to meet the chef, Eric DiStefano. He is also the chef at Geronimo, which is considered to be one of the top restaurants in town and for good reason--we had a wonderful dinner there, a few nights later, with our friends the Kricheffs. We shared everything giving us the opportunity to taste many delicious dishes. This past May, at the Beard Awards, I met Jennifer Rios, wife of chef Martin Rios from Martin's restauran. Chef Martin was a semifinalist for "Best Chef of the Southwest Award" and after tasting his "dish" I was determined to visit the restaurant. What an awesome family! Jennifer hails from the NY/NJ area. Martin is one of 8 children and grew up in Mexico. He worked in various restaurants in both France (Georges Blanc) and Santa Fe (Geronimo). When Jennifer learned that his dream was to attend the CIA in Hyde Park, NY, she encouraged him take the leap. After graduating from the CIA they opened Martin's. We had a lunch outdoors that was so fabulous and filling we hardly could contemplate dinner even hours later.We shared a burger, on an airy and flavorful brioche bun, that was loaded with deliciousness including cheese and jalapeno peppers. It came with a warm chipotle potato salad and we ordered a paper of cone of incredibly crisp and flavorful fried onion rings. Chef Martin also makes the desserts and they offered us a sample of the lemon poppyseed cake with berries and sorbet. We were most impressed with chef Martin's astonishing ability to blend and harmonize many disparate flavors. I was totally charmed by the two Rios daughters, Emma and Anneliese. Our grand finale was at Amavi which means love of life. I met chef Megan Tucker just a few weeks before on my blog! I went to update an older posting regarding the Spanish edition of The Cake Bible and found her posting. It turns out she has already translated a good part of the book for her staff! When I saw that her restaurant was in Santa Fe I immediately called to make a reservation. She invited me to come to a demo she was doing shortly before dinner at the Farmer's Market. She demoed a crisp which was a fabulous combination of bing cherries and plums and told the large audience that it was inspired by my book The Pie and Pastry Bible. (Her father gave her this book when she was in high school!) Chef Megan Tucker is committed to the Farm to Restaurant movement exemplified by her use of products produced locally in New Mexico and surrounding states. Chef Tucker sits on the board of the Farm Alliance and strives to work with local farmers to bring her guests the freshest and most healthy foods available. She is a graduate of the CIA. Back at the restaurant for dinner we met the delightful manager and sommelier, Mark Johnson. He writes the wine column for the local paper and is soon going for his master sommalier designation. We shared a seafood stew that was out of this world! Each ingredient, including shrimp, squid, and mussels, was cooked to perfection and the broth was exquisitely flavorful. Mark chose a lovely pinot to accompany it. We also discovered one of the most flavorful olive oils ever which I lost no time in ordering soon after returning home. Google Martinis Kalamata extra virgin olive oil. Here is a link to their site where they are offering a free bottle of olive oil to anyone who writes a letter to his or her local supermarket requesting them to carry the oil! Having already tasted the cherry plumb crisp before dinner we opted to avoid ordering dessert, however, the Apricot Tart with creamy Banana Ice Cream and miniature Chocolate Oblivion with vibrant Berry Sorbet that made a surprise appearance were utterly irresistible. Chef Megan said they were inspired by my books. Interestingly, for the pastry crust that was crisp, flaky, and tender, she used unbleached all-purpose flour explaining that more strength is needed due to the lower pressure at high altitude. What a wonderful group of chefs and food related people in this town. I felt utterly at home and am now looking forward to a return visit in the not too distant future.
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