Welcome back to The Food Chain, SFR’s regular Food feature in which we grill local chefs by tapping into their taste buds to find out where they dine when they clock out of their kitchens.
Like a fiddler on the roof, chef Katharine Kagel, original owner and chef at Café Pasqual’s (121 Don Gaspar Ave., 983-9340) for 34 years, has a profound respect for tradition—particularly in the kitchen. At home, Kagel says she cooks poultry in a traditional Moroccan horno. At Pasqual’s, she peels green chiles by hand, adhering to custom. When she eats out, she chooses venues like Jambo Café, where time-honored African meals lace the menu. “I adore the complexity of traditional ethnic foods…I love to make my world bigger,” Kagel says. Although housed in a nondescript strip mall, Jambo serves anything but ordinary food. The very distinguishable dishes, including Kagel’s favorite, coconut chicken curry and the encrusted curry-pistachio goat cheese salad, are typically Kenyan and they employ a variety of spices (ginger, curry, and coriander) to give the food a bit of bite. “The flavors are so terrific,” Kagel says.
Ahmed M Obo
Hailing from Lamu, an island off the coast of Kenya, Ahmed Obo, chef and owner of Jambo Café (2010 Cerrillos Road, 473-1269), is no stranger to the savory and the seasoned. According to Obo, his native fare (a Swahili fusion from European, Arabic and Indian influences) is very much reminiscent of New Mexican regional flavor: spicy, piquant, aromatic. “Since I moved here,” says Obo, “the green chile is one thing I’ve enjoyed about New Mexico. It produces a zesty flavor that is similar to that of the spices used in the food I ate growing up.” So, when Obo is in the mood to spice things up, he goes to La Choza for chicken enchiladas with a familiar kick—Christmas style, of course. But according to Obo, eating out is not always about the food; there’s a camaraderie that exists among Santa Fe’s tight community of culinary superstars. “I often like to dine where my fellow chefs work,” he says. “Some places include [but are not limited to] Ostería D’assisi, Terra at The Four Seasons, Luminaria at Loretto and Tanti Luce 221.”
Like Obo, head cook Jaime Chaparro of La Choza (905 Alarid St., 982-0909) is a Santa Fe transplant who craves the flavors of his homeland-, in his case, Chihuahua, Mexico. Importing fresh fish from neighboring states Sinaloa and Sonora, non-coastal Chihuahua has become a bountiful Mecca of fresh mariscos that are typically purchased by the locals from a profusion of carts parked throughout town. Similarly, catching fresh seafood from landlocked New Mexico has proven to be challenging, but Santa Fe’s Mariscos “La Playa”—which specializes in traditional Mexican seafood dishes—seems to have overcome the odds. According to Chaparro, “the fish is so fresh” you forget you are in the high desert. So when he eats out, naturally, he goes to La Playa, where the food allows him to “take a small trip” back to Chihuahua, sans the carts. Adds Sarah Carswell, third generation co-owner of La Choza, “food not only nourishes your body, but it also nourishes your whole being.” For Chaparro, LP serves up a nourishing combination of flavor, freshness and fond memories of home in every bite.
Hailing from Guerrero, Mexico, José Valenzuela, chef at Mariscos “La Playa” (537 W Cordova Road, 982-2790), knows traditional Mexican cuisine inside and out. But what he doesn’t know is Italian food. At all. Admitting he has never had it—ever—Valenzuela says he would like to treat his taste buds to their first Italian experience at Ostería D’assisi (58 S Federal Place, 986-5858). He has heard that the food is prepared as authentically as he prepares his Mexican fare, and plans to order the agnello ai mirtilli—New Mexico organic lamb loin seared with housemade herb salt, roasted veggies and red wine sauce, served with fontina pumpkin polenta. Now that’s Italian!
Hungry for more? Stay tuned for our next installment.