Notes From the Field

- March 28, 2012

"Foodcraft opens, Real Food Nation closes and the USDA visits New Mexico to promote regional and local food systems"

Acclaimed chef Kim Müller, who recently left her position as chef at the Real Food Nation Café and Supper Club, has just launched Foodcraft, a new business that offers catering for small dinner parties, casual gatherings and everything in between. Foodcraft also provides consulting services for restaurants and small food ventures.

Müller's new business also includes cooking classes, and she will soon be teaching several courses at the Santa Fe Community College and also perhaps at a few other venues in the city.

Müller, who was a regional food service manager for Wild Oats, moved to Santa Fe in March 1994 to work as the chef at the Double A. She went on to work at the celebrated Café Escalera, the Standard Market, where she set up the cut to order cheese counter, and the Santa Fe Bar and Grill and San Francisco Street Bar and Grill. She also served as the chef de cuisine at Mark Kiffin's James Beard Award-winning restaurant, The Compound and as the chef at the Galisteo Inn.

Müller also ran her own business, Cheesecraft, which supplied cheeses from around the world to Santa Fe restaurants, from 2002 to 2006. Now, she's ready to run her own business once again, offering her talents to Santa Fe residents and visitors with intimate gourmet dinners, classes and consulting.

"I've been in the business for 30 plus years," she says. "I love cooking but the restaurant business is not easy. When you work for other people, it's difficult. I don't have the inclination to go off and open my own restaurant right now. I've opened more restaurants than I can count. When I worked for Wild Oats, I learned a huge amount about the restaurant business."

Müller's food is superb. Some of you may have read my post in January about the incredible New Year's Eve dinner she prepared for the Real Food Nation Supper Club, which my husband and I attended. Each course was stellar, from the amuse bouche, a Humboldt Bay Kumamoto oyster with citrus granita and Ossetra caviar to the Piedmontese beef tenderloin with wild mushroom demi and gratin of Yukon Gold potatoes with bacon and leeks. I'm thinking of hosting an intimate dinner party at our house just so we can taste her incredible dishes once again.

Goodbye to Real Food Nation
Speaking of Real Food Nation, the popular café devoted to sustainable and healthy foods has closed its doors, just days after the owners shut down the adjacent Supper Club. It was a nice run and folks in my neighborhood (San Sebastian) and neighboring Eldorado really enjoyed having such an excellent eatery in our community. 

Real Food opened the cafe in the spring of 2009 and quickly received rave reviews from diners as well as critics. The concept of serving "quality slow food ready to go," including food grown in the restaurant's backyard plot, was a new one in Santa Fe, and locals seemed to immediately embrace it. I got to watch a garden grow just down the street from my house, filled with vegetables as well as beautiful flowers and farmers working the field beneath the summer sun. It was great to just walk down the street for a cup of coffee and the best egg and bacon sandwich I've ever had. Soon, live music was offered, featuring Santa Fe musicians including Joe West, Laurianne Fiorentina, Boris McCutcheon, owner/chef Andrew MacLauchlan and others.

The Supper Club opened last spring and became a big success overnight. The food was pricier than the café's offerings and more upscale, but it was just as good. The economy soon took its toll, however, and the owners, after letting chef Kim Müller go a few months ago, decided to close the club.

When I spoke with owner Blyth Timken last week about the demise of the Supper Club,  she said the cafe also faced financial difficulties, but that's nothing new in the restaurant world. Unfortunately, I guess those difficulties became overwhelming, because last Saturday night I noticed the café was dark – not a good sign. On Sunday, the news broke on Facebook that the café had closed. Real Food's Facebook page is gone, but the website remains with no indication that the club or café is gone.

The owners are hosting a community pot luck this Thursday, March 29, from 5 to 10 p.m. to say farewell.

We will miss you Real Food, and those egg sandwiches, spicy lamb burgers, fish and chips, rice pudding with cardamom and all the other delicious meals you served us over the last three years. Let's hope the next business to occupy this location is equally as good.

USDA Advocates Local Food and Local Farmers
Did you know that New Mexicos' farmers are the oldest farmers in the country? The average age of New Mexico farmers is 55 and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture would like to lower that statistic.

"There's a need to repopulate our working lands with young people, and that's a challenge for the state," said USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, who was in Las Cruces this week bringing the USDA' s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative to New Mexico State University. She also highlighted the USDA's rural job creation efforts and local and regional food systems in New Mexico, which are increasing economic opportunities for farmers, ranchers and communities by building local and regional food systems. And she met with community and business leaders at the Community Action Agency of Southern New Mexico to discuss economic development in rural America.

"The traditional mid-size family farm operation is the disappearing middle," Merrigan said in a phone interview with Gourmet Girl on her way to the airport after her visits in Las Cruces. "The small farms and the big farms are doing well, but those in between are too small to capture big buyers."

On the plus side, Merrigan said, farming in New Mexico is diverse, which means the state has a lot of opportunities to develop strong and thriving local and regional food systems, especially now that Americans are more aware of the benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables as one way to overcome the country's obesity epidemic. Because New Mexico is a specialty crop growing state, it can play a big role in providing some of the fresh foods that Americans realize are beneficial for overall well being.

The USDA is deploying its resources to build local and regional food systems and "to have a long overdue national conversation between the 99 percent of Americans who didn't grow up on a farm or ranch and the one percent who did," Merrigan said.  "We like to say that not every family needs a lawyer or accountant, but every family needs a farmer. Do you know yours?"

You can see what the USDA is doing in New Mexico by visiting its Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass, a new digital catalog of local and regional food systems. The catalog includes an interactive map of USDA-supported local and regional food projects and programs around the country, including those in New Mexico. For example, the USDA's Farm Service agency in New Mexico made $22.6 million in loans and loan guarantees last year to help farmers and ranchers purchase land and equipment. And the USDA's Pojoaque Farmers Market Expansion Project helped the market expand to a second day, hire an experienced market manager and pay for advertising in 2011.

"The compass is an amazing tool that can be very empowering, Merrigan said. "It's not just for external audiences trying to figure out how USDA resources can be deployed in their community. This geospatial mapping tool of local and regional agriculture will be constantly updated with new case studies and scientific information."

To see the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass, click here.