As part of a new weekly column, SFR takes a gander at Santa Fe's culinary landscape through short interviews with those at the helm: chefs. This week, we put La Boca executive chef and owner James Campbell Caruso in the hot seat to learn what he's cooking, where he eats and even what's in his home kitchen. ---
Caruso became interested in cooking as a child growing up in a Basque, Italian home in Boston, Mass. There, he watched his mother, grandmother and others in his family whip up a mixed bag of Mediterranean cuisine.
Since then, his career has taken him from Andalusia, Spain, to the James Beard House in New York City, New York.
After Caruso moved to Santa Fe in 1997, he took a job as sous chef under Kelly Rogers at La Casa Sena. From there, he became executive chef at El Farol. He made a name for himself there and even published a cookbook. But all the while he dreamed of having his own place. That dream was realized in 2006 when Caruso and his wife, Leslie, opened La Boca. La Boca turns out traditional Spanish tapas with a modern twist in a tiny bistro just a block away from the Plaza.
SFR: In one word, how would you describe the food scene in Santa Fe?
JCC: Progressive. My hope is that it's moving toward more ethnic diversity, kind of like you'd see in most cities.
What's the weirdest thing in your refrigerator at home?
Hmm, I don't know if i can say. A cigar. A special cigar for the just right moment.
Do you have an aversion to any particular foods?
Not really. Foods that aren't cooked well I guess. It's all good. I like to eat.
What's the coolest thing you've ever made?
My wife and I once made a milagro cookie cross. It was this huge edible black cookie, and we made milagro shaped cookies to stick to it.
What's the worst thing someone can do in your kitchen?
Lose their cool. It's hard enough in there. I like to keep it all at an even keel and just enjoy cooking the food without worrying about how much work it is.
Have you ever totally freaked out and lost your temper during service?
No. Not during service. I try to save it for after. I'm pretty easy to get along with. I'm easy going to the extreme. Most people think of chefs as these cleaver wielding maniacs, but I think it really shows in the food if you're pissed off all the time.
What takes the edge off after service?
What's your death row meal?
Linguine with clams.
What would you be doing if you weren't a chef?
I don't know. I'd probably be begging for change. Maybe I'd be playing music for change. I'd be busking.
What's your second favorite restaurant in Santa Fe?
Plaza Café south side. I kind of miss having the downtown location, but they're different. Santa Fe doesn't have that much straight forward New Mexican food.
72 W Marcy St.