The Art of Agave

Santa Fe's 2nd Annual Mezcal & Tequila Festival Fri. - Sat. Feb. 10 -11

Are you confounded by the difference between mezcal and tequila? Did you know that you can cook delicious dishes with agave, the succulent flowering plant used to make mezcal? And, apart from margaritas and Tequila Sunrise, do you know how to make any other crowd-pleasing cocktails using tequila?

These are pertinent questions when you live in the Southwest, a region native to the agave plant, along with Mexico and South America. And, thanks to Eloisa's acclaimed chef/owner John Rivera Sedlar, you'll find all the answers and more during the 2nd annual Mezcal and Tequila Festival, held February 10 and 11 at Eloisa in the Drury Plaza Hotel.

The festival features classes devoted to the history and use of agave, cooking with agave, mezcal and tequila tastings, multi-course feasts prepared with agave-based spirits and more. You'll meet celebrated mixologists, mezcal makers, chefs and others, including artisanal mezcal maker Ron Cooper of Del Maguey; Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta President Greg O'Byrne; Natalie Bovis, The Liquid Muse; Sazon's Fernando Olea; Coyote Cafe's Quinn Stephenson; and Sunrise Springs' Rocky Durham.

“I personally love tequila, especially the blancos and mezcal is the new discovery that has this otherworldly element,” says festival organizer Sedlar, citing ancient Aztec and Mexican legends about the gods giving humans a plant with special properties—the agave plant —to comfort them. “If you take the mythological stories of the gods and their gift to man—the plant itself—and the magic of it all in the story it's just plain delicious. Mezcal is a completely different beverage than tequila. For me, it's all about the terroir, and the spirits; it's bigger than the Southwest with connections to trade with Mexico, Central America and South America. All of these ingredients grow together, are cooked together and they pair very well.”

For this reason, Sedlar is strict about the offerings on his restaurant's menu. “I've always been a stickler for having a Latin wine list with offerings that are Latin American, South American Mexican, Portuguese, Spanish,” he says. “It's about terroir and isolating these conscious or unconscious flavors and food. And what spirits pair perfectly with Santa Fe's unique, spicy, robust cuisine? Mezcal and tequila!”

The festival kicks off with a cocktail reception on Friday from 5:30 to 7 pm at Eloisa, with hors d'oeuvres and a mezcal and tequila tasting, with cocktails by Natalie Bovis, the Liquid Muse. A four-course dinner showcasing dishes prepared with agave-based spirits follows at 7:30 pm at one of three restaurants selected by guests—Coyote Cafe, Sazon or Eloisa.

Saturday is devoted to classes, starting at 10:30 am with a history of agave followed by a cooking class focused on agave spirits at 11:30 am in Eloisa's kitchen. Guests will then enjoy lunch in a Santa Fe restaurant then re-convene to learn about mexcal from Zacatecas at 2:30 pm. The afternoon winds up at 3:30 pm with a class on Latin spirits that also explores the essential tools for the home mezcaleria and tequila cantina.

The festival closes with a five-course gala dinner showcasing mezcal and tequila at Eloisa at 7 pm.

You'll leave the festival as an expert in the art of agave, having learned techniques from some of Santa Fe's top chefs and mixologists as well as the lore and legend of the world-famous flowering plant. You will, for example, know how to cook and create salsas, vinaigrettes and “que fancy bebidas” (fancy drinks), with tart tequila blancos and platas and deep smoky mezcals. You'll also know that the word mezcal is derived from a Nahuatl term that translates as “oven-baked agave.”

Sedlar is excited about the festival and envisions it reaching a national audience as much as a local one: “Santa Fe is the beneficiary of this, but the festival can grow and help establish Santa Fe as a food and beverage center. This is a very good program that has legs and it reinforces the city as a culinary destination and food center. Wine & Chile has done so well—it's one of the premier food events in the country—and this could be too.”

Photos provided courtesy of Eloisa's acclaimed chef/owner John Rivera Sedlar.

1. A Mexico City mezcaleria

2. John Rivera Sedlar with a tahona, used to crush roasted agave.

3.A collection of mezcal menus

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