Santa Fe School of Cooking Director Susan Curtis is a dynamo of adrenaline and apologies. "We're expanding," she explains, though no explanation is necessary. To the eyes of a visitor, SFSC's staff appears cheery and composed. Now that the summer season has begun, SFSC is what's cooking on San Francisco Street.

With an enthusiasm at once familiar and magnetic to anyone interested in great food, Curtis gestures to her newly procured bounty of organic beef tenderloin steaks from La Montañita Co-op. Nearby, an enormous cardboard box bearing the Los Poblanos logo sits, brimming with emerald-green leaves and stalks. "We haven't looked to see what they've sent us yet, but that's part of the fun," she says. "The vegetables will be integrated spontaneously into a seasonal menu for the Contemporary Southwest class."

Curtis founded SFSC in 1989, not long after Santa Fe's culinary cachet was propelled into orbit by Mark Miller's legendary nouveau interpretation of Southwestern food. When the movement retreated into a lurid sunset of mango salsa and prickly pear purée, most Santa Feans took note, observed a moment of silence in its honor, then went right back to eating their green chile stew. New Mexicans take their grub seriously, and the backbone of regional cuisine has remained intact despite the ebb and flow of food fads. Curtis knows this, and is serious about ensuring that participants get the opportunity to sink their teeth into authentic cooking and dining experiences.

The school's auspicious downtown location may act as a beacon for tourists and a deterrent, or—let's be candid—a possible red flag, for locals. So what does SFSC offer the local food fold? Family-friendly cooking classes are reason enough to brave the urban pilgrimage to the Plaza, soaring temperatures notwithstanding; just bring the kids and a healthy appetite. Out-of-town guests will find an interactive way to learn more about Santa Fe: SFSC's classes offer palpable and often edible insight into our state's enchanted history, traditions and culture.

Moreover, SFSC's Fine Dining Santa Fe Style tour allows for small tastes at four iconic restaurants—at a price that rivals the cost of dinner at any one of them, whereas The Culture Tour focuses on Mexican, Native, Spanish and Contemporary Southwestern cultures and cuisines. Both are part of SFSC's Insiders' Culinary Adventure! offerings.
Curtis credits her daughter, Nicole, manager of the school, and  veteran SFSC chef Rocky Durham with the revitalized curriculum for this summer's Insiders' Culinary Adventure! tours. SFSC's most ambitious project, however, is its annual Culture & Cuisine Tour, which offers a refreshed view of modern-day Santa Fe as a destination for food and wine aficionados. The tour is the brainchild of happenstance and curiosity that resulted from a visit made by the Curtises and Durham to Los Poblanos Farms and Casa Rondeña Winery, both in Albuquerque. "We'd always gone north before, so this opened a whole world of possibility to us. It's magnificent down there," Curtis says.

The 2008 tour is already booked solid, but the Curtises are looking forward to a similarly successful 2009 tour. Red, green or Christmas may be the ABCs of regional cuisine, but Santa Fe and its environs are a delicious co-mingling of local color, flavor and spice.

The study of how and what people eat is arguably the most universally relatable window into how a culture operates as a whole, from its values and perceptions to its pleasures and customs. Nothing transcends a cultural barrier like sharing a meal, as food is the one language that everyone speaks. At SFSC, it is the only language spoken.

Santa Fe School of Cooking
116 W. San Francisco St.
1-800-982-4688 or 505-983-4511

SFSC offers classes that may be of interest to locals who have a keen sense of adventure or out-of-town guests to entertain:

2009 Culture & Cuisine Tour
SFSC is accepting reservations for its 2009 Culture & Cuisine Tour on Aug. 31-Sept. 3. Call to reserve a space.

Sundowner Hikes & Outdoor Cooking Class: $150 per person
For this class, SFSC collaborates with Santa Fe Mountain Adventures for bimonthly culinary expeditions into the Santa Fe National Forest. After a hike, enjoy a traditional northern New Mexican meal al fresco.
The Insiders' Culinary Adventure!: $115 per person for each tour.

Choose from Fine Dining Santa Fe Style or The Culture Tour.

Fine Dining Santa Fe Style participants visit Amavi, Rio Chama, La Casa Seña and Santacafé. Each stop includes a private tasting and an audience with the chefs.

The Culture Tour takes participants on a walking tour of select downtown restaurants: Los Mayas, the Institute of American Indian Arts, La Boca and Coyote Café. These restaurants represent the breadth of what Santa Fe has to offer: Mexican, Native, Spanish and contemporary Southwestern cultures and cuisines.

Around the World in 80 Dinners: The Ultimate Culinary Adventure: $45 per person.
Local cookbook authors Cheryl and Bill Jamison share slides, samples and stories about the 800 dishes they sampled during their travels in 2005