For this week's Chef Chat we visit a fixture in the Santa Fe food scene, Café Pasqual's, where chef Katharine Kagel opens up about her favorite foods, the one food she absolutely hates and how mood influences and inspires her craft.---
Growing up in Berkeley, Calif., Kagel helped prepare large meals for the massive gatherings her family held every weekend. Needless to say, she knows how to cook for a crowd.
Kagel moved to Santa Fe in 1978 after visiting a friend who was living here. She opened
in March of the following year. For nearly 32 years now Café Pasqual's has been serving the same kind of food in the same location with the same owner and chef. That consistency likely explains the legions of tourists and locals alike who flock to the restaurant every day of the week.
The emphasis at Café Pasqual's is definitely on all things local and organic, but Kagel likes to keep an open mind in terms of style. At any given moment, one might find traditional Mexican dishes on the same menu as Turkish staples. And all of it is served in a vibrant, energetic little bistro setting with community seating and a welcoming attitude.
SFR: In one word, how would you describe the Santa Fe food scene?
KK: Diverse. I'm the sort of person, I grew up this way, what country do I want to eat? Do I want to eat Italian? Thai? Japanese? Chinese? Modern American? Do I want a Burger? Do I want a salad? I usually dial in to what my body needs.
What's the weirdest thing in your refrigerator at home?
Let me think about that. It's probably the fact that, at any given time, I have 10 half pints of blueberries and 10 half pints of raspberries in there. I mean the whole door is just berries, because I love to start the day and end the day with them.
Do you have an aversion to any particular foods?
What's the coolest thing you've ever made?
Really, really big morels. I was given really, really big morels. They inspired me to pick Dungeness crab, and sauté it with a beurre blanc made with a little local chardonnay. Then I stuffed them. It was insane, and it was simple. They spoke. I looked at them and they told me what they wanted. That's never happened before.
What's the worst thing someone can do in your kitchen?
Hurt themselves. It's inattention. There's nothing worse than inattention, because then they'll make a mistake and then there's blood. It can lead to accidents and havoc.
Have you ever totally freaked out and/or lost your temper during service?
Surprisingly, I go submerged, I don't go out. I've never thrown anything. In 32 years, I think we had one cook throw something, and he was sent out the door with it.
What takes the edge off after service?
Dancing. Moving. Isn't that weird? I don't collapse. I also love making art.
What's your death row meal?
Depends on the season of course. It would be seasonal food. It would depend on my mood.
What would you be doing if you weren't a chef?
I'd be in the arts. I'd be making art. I do everything: Printmaking, painting, clay. I think it's about process. So, really, something with my hands. It wouldn't be something technical.
What's your second favorite restaurant in Santa Fe?
As I said, it really depends on mood. Isn't life all mood? This is not making friends by the way. I go to Aqua Santa. I'm taken there a lot, and I love it. But really, I have so many chef friends that I love and admire, and I love all their food.
121 Don Gaspar Ave.