As a child of the 1970s who grew up in a household with carob rather than chocolate and whole-grain rice rather than Cap'n Crunch, I was not given access to competitive board games. Monopoly, as an obvious tool of the capitalist oppressor, was verboten. Instead, we had The Ungame—a deeply unsatisfying activity billed as "a non-competitive game of conversation that fosters listening skills as well as self-expression."
For the cutthroat world of childhood in America, I was unprepared—my Ungame skills didn't manifest as an asset until I realized that vocalizing what's important to me and listening to others with an expression of deep fascination provided an edge in the hyper-competitive world of picking up chicks. My postpubescent subversion of The Ungame's pure intent was the first indication of rebellion against my mother's early attempt to inoculate me against the win-or-lose mentality of the dominant paradigm. I mean, I want to win, and that can only happen if someone loses.
Though I'm not into most sports, I am addicted to Top Chef—mostly because it's basically a blood sport, but with delicate sauces. So when I heard that Luminaria—the restaurant that chef Matt Ostrander commands at the Inn and Spa at Loretto—was hosting a wine dinner with six different chefs squaring off in one meal, I signed up for eating (and drinking) duties. Who would stand victorious at the end of the night?
The dinner was organized around a visit to Santa Fe by Sara Moulton—a genuine food celebrity from the time before food celebrities. Although Moulton is as charismatic (and young-looking) as anyone on television, she also has the chops to back it up: Among a long list of accomplishments, she served as chef in the kitchens of Gourmet magazine for 25 years. Moulton was here to promote her cookbooks and to stump for Chantal Cookware—all of which are fine products—but I was looking forward to the end of the night when, presumably, she would turn a thumb either up or down, and the losing chef would be decapitated.
But there was a problem. All the chefs got along. They were hanging out in the kitchen being all playful and mutually supportive. I was thinking "no quarter asked and none given," and they were back in the kitchen playing some kind of culinary Ungame. No one, it seemed, would be decapitated.
Still, a six-course meal prepared by Moulton and great Santa Fe chefs is not something to frown upon just because no one gets hit with a frying pan. In addition to a minisoufflé by Moulton, Ostrander, Joseph Wrede (who is moving to Santa Fe to helm the new Palace Restaurant), Mark Connell, Andrea Clover and John Vollertsen all prepared dishes. I was left wanting more from each chef, which is a good sign.
It was evident from applause that Santa Feans are rabid for Wrede (of Joseph's Table fame) to operate a restaurant here, and can barely wait for the early autumn opening date. I think the crowd might have torn him limb from limb in frenzied adoration if he'd lingered too long in the dining room. Moulton, for her part, worked the room like a gracious celebrity and had intelligent, thoughtful questions and comments for all the other chefs. Even after the six alluring wine pairings by Natasha Aasgaarden, Moulton kept her composure and refused to divulge any secrets about what it was like to seriously party with Julia Child or whether or not Ruth Reichl is any fun at all.
And, predictably, she declined to declare a winner to what was only a competition in my childish fantasy. But I give the nod to Clover, Luminaria's pastry chef.
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