Gourmet Girl: Santa Fe’s Food Network Stars

If you watched NBC's “Today” show this morning, then you saw Fernando Ruiz represent New Mexico in the show's “United Plates of Thanksgiving: 52 Recipes From 52 Chefs Across the Country” segment. On behalf of New Mexico, Ruiz—head chef at Chama Land and Cattle Company and former Santacafé chef—showcased the smoky flavor of chipotle and the longtime tradition of chorizo Thanksgiving stuffing in his New Mexico dish, Cornbread and Chorizo-Stuffed Pork Chops with Cherry Chipotle Glaze.

This is not the celebrated chef's first time in the TV spotlight, not by a long shot. With a trio of coveted championships, he's a Food Network favorite. In March, Ruiz became a “Beat Bobby Flay”champion," with his signature dish, chiles en nogada—a ground meat-stuffed poblano topped with walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds. Ruiz made his classic version of the dish—which portrays the Mexican flag with its trio of red, white and green colors—and beat the legendary chef. In addition, Ruiz was the winner of “Chopped” in 2016 and the champion of "Guy's Grocery Games” in 2015.

Any Food Network fan knows that Santa Fe has long starred on its top shows, thanks to creative and charismatic chefs like Ruiz. One of the network's most popular, long-running programs, “Diners, Drive-ins & Dives” —known simply as DDD by its fans—has brought its spiky blonde-haired, beach boy-styled host Guy Fieri to no less than 15 Santa Fe restaurants, where he's been bowled over by the big flavors in our mid-sized city.

This spring alone, Fieri came to town to film six Santa Fe restaurants, including Joseph's Culinary Pub, where he visited with revered chef Joseph Wrede. Fieri was impressed by Wrede's Organic Crispy Chicken Tamale, which the chef made by steaming chicken, green chile and masa in a corn husk, then removing the tamale from the husk and frying it in duck fat. The unique flavors and textures led Fieri to wonder why he hasn't eaten more duck fat-fried tamales.

Fieri also stopped in at Eldorado's Arable, and was smitten with chef/co-owner Renée Fox's hearty plate of Bison Dirty Fries, aka Bison Gravy “Poutine.” Made with local bison in a green chile and red wine gravy and house-cut organic fries topped with melted Gruyere, Arable's take on poutine gives a a nod to the famous Quebec dish of French fries and cheese curds drenched in brown gravy. Fieri also swooned over Fox's Lamb Sandwich, a combo of tender braised lamb, roasted red peppers, and feta and mozzarella, all piled between homemade bread spread with house-made tomato aioli and olive tapenade. “It’s really a Greek lamb dinner inside of a sandwich,” Fieri said.

(Full disclosure: Gourmet Girl attended the taping of this episode and was interviewed by Fieri as my husband and I dug into a bowl of those bodacious Bison Dirty Fries. No one was allowed to talk to him unless the camera was rolling and he was talking to us, but trying to eat a big ol' pile of gravy-soaked fries and talk to Guy Fieri about why each bite was soooo incredible took some steely nerves. Especially as the lights flashed, the camera rolled and Fieri's big blue eyes looked straight into yours, waiting for some deeply profound thoughts about bison fries. Luckily, Gourmet Girl delivered. Phew.)

At Paper Dosa, Fieri fell in love with the lamb curry stew, after only one bite. “I want to jump right in it,” he said. Masala Dosa, the large spiced potato-stuffed crepe with a selection of house-made chutneys, also impressed him. Dr Field Good's Kitchen wowed Fieri with the Goat Torta, layered with braised goat with habanero goat cheese, refried beans and honey habanero hot sauce. The Beestro slayed it with Steak Shawarma, a pita sandwich stuffed with grilled marinated beef, house-made hummus, beets, cucumber salad, daikon radish sprouts and quinoa tabbouleh. Fieri said it was so good, it gave him goose bumps. And he praised Rowley Farmhouse Ales for making some of the world's best craft beer and the freshest New England clam chowder, which is always lovingly cooked to order.

Other Santa Fe restaurants that have had a starring role on “Diners, Drive-ins & Dives” over the years include: Back Street Bistro, Backroad Pizza, Bert's Burger Bowl, Casa Chimayo, Jambo Cafe, Tecolote Cafe, Harry's Roadhouse, Tune-Up Cafe and Zia Diner.

Santa Fe's diverse and exciting culinary scene has drawn many other Food Network stars to tape segments for their shows. Years ago, Canadian chef Chuck Hughes stopped in to film an episode of his Chuck's Eat the Street” show. He checked into Coyote Cafe, where he relished the late Eric DiStefano's famous elk tenderloin marinated in hoisin and beer. At Rooftop Pizzeria, he raved about the Southwest pizza, with a blue-corn crust and green chile topping. And years ago, in her first season of “Giada's Weekend Getaway,” Giada DeLaurentiis had fun savoring a breakfast burrito at Tia Sophia's, and tapas at La Boca. We can't wait to see which Food Network stars will drop in this year to put the spotlight on Santa Fe's delectable dining scene.

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