Organizers applied the paddles to Taste of Santa Fe, found signs of life, and were once again able to offer festivalgoers a sampling of the city’s best restaurants. On July 16, the New Mexico History Museum – the beneficiary – hosted a gala in their Palace Courtyard to kick off the weekend’s festivities. We encountered scattered showers, sea scallops and griddled tortillas, and that was all within the first 15 minutes of action.
Rivera chef-owner John Sedlar, a hometown hero in Santa Fe, prepared Mayan inspired tortillas with help from a pair of cowboys, who showed up in black hats and bolo ties.
His Tortillas Decoradas are pressed with pansy and chive, lavished with creamy avocado-centric Indian butter and garnished with Peruvian red amaranth, which is unavailable to the chef in L.A. His Tortillas del Sol offered a twist on the tortilla, featuring Kalamata olives and capers studding the masa, a fresh-pressed rose petal, Indian inspired raita and diced cucumber.
Sedlar provided a handout that better explained the inspiration behind his divine tortillas. “Color and design were important elements in the MesoAmerican kitchen,” writes Sedlar. “Anyone who thinks that Latin foods are one-dimensional or unrefined need only consider the special-occasion tortillas that are still a tradition in Mexican states such as Queretaro.”
“Natural food dyes were used to color the masa and corn cobs or plant stems were favored to apply them and to “imprint” the dough with nature-inspired designs,” he continues. “Tortillas were used as eating utensils, in lieu of cutlery, as well as providing additional nutrition and flavor to the meal.” He even included a photo of tortillas pressed with shapes like stars and squares, with a rustic dazzle factor that nearly equalled his updated takes.
Inside the museum, guests experienced multiple tastes from four different local chefs, including Hug. Hotel St. Francis executive chef Estevan Garcia – who worked with Sedlar at St. Estephe in Manhattan Beach – prepared one of the night’s best dishes, a Chile Relleno del Cielo: “heavenly green chilies” filled with minced mushrooms and served in a broth crafted from pinto beans and garlic. He also made a looks-better-than-it-tastes Torta de Carnitas, a beef patty flavored with jalapenos, onions and mint, plated on tomato salsa.
Embudo Station chef Shawn Ensey had only been with the restaurant for two weeks prior to Taste of Santa Fe. At the gala, he employed a seemingly simple salad to dazzle the crowd, dressing the pristine greens with cotija, tomatoes, an herb balsamic reduction and olive oil.
The gala offered so much food that I unfortunately was never able to sample La Casa Sena chef Patrick Gharrity’s wild King salmon “tamales.”
In the short gap between dinner and dessert, Santa Fe restaurant critic and cooking instructor Johnny Vee interviewed Chef Sedlar, who discussed returning home, and early cooking memories, including working next door at The Bull Ring and joining his aunt in the kitchen while she cooked for local legend Georgia O’Keeffe.
The bulk of dessert came courtesy of Estevan Garcia, who made lemon torte with candied peel and shortbread crust; and raspberry tres leches cake with two different sauces and a trio of milks: sweetened, goat’s and evaporated.
Embudo Station chef Shawn Ensey provided the night’s best dessert, a local twist on the completely overexposed cupcake. He spiked tiny chocolate cupcakes with Chimayo red chile creme fraiche and topped them with wild New Mexico cherry frosting.
After dessert, the hosts auctioned off prizes and were supposed to crown a chef champ based on ballot box judging. Apparently the organizers never tabulated votes. If they had, based on the night’s consumption, I would have voted for Chef Sedlar, since both of his offerings were impressive, though Gharrity made an argument with his salad and cupcakes. Garcia’s Chile Relleno del Cielo was impressive, but his torta was equally unimpressive.
Thanks to the organizers of Taste of Santa Fe for hosting us at the event and to Kokopelli Property Management for providing accommodations to me and my fellow bloggers during our stay in Santa Fe.