With its array of classes and events, the Santa Fe School of Cooking is one of the city’s tastiest locales. Evenings there just became even more delicious, and fun! On select nights, the school transforms into a sleek jazz supper club. Let’s find out about it.
THE BACK STORY
I still remember the day — three-plus decades ago — when Susan Curtis met me for lunch and announced that she was changing careers. With her girls mostly grown, the then-real estate appraiser was going to open a cooking school and regional food market. It was a big switch, but one that didn’t seem far-fetched for my can-do friend. Hospitality was in her blood, having grown up on a ranch where good local food was prepared every meal for a score of family and cowhands.
Susan had recently attended classes at the New Orleans School of Cooking. She thought, quite rightly, that Santa Fe had a similar strong culinary culture. She took the leap of faith that visitors, who didn’t know beans about pintos, would be eager to unravel the mysteries of green and red chile. Maybe even some residents would want to know more about the singular cuisine, and bring their guests. And just maybe they’d all be interested in a one-stop-shop for the ingredients and equipment needed to prepare the food at its best.
Her vision was remarkable. It eventually encompassed almost daily classes, a booming mail-order business, restaurant walking tours, culinary tours, team-building workshops, and partnerships with groups like the Santa Fe Opera, with menus themed to the season’s musical performances.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
The business has always been a family affair, involving Susan’s daughters Kristen and Nicole, who is the school’s general manager. Susan’s late husband, Dave, was instrumental in behind-the-scenes operations. When Dave wasn’t helping out here, he worked as a scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and was a jazz aficionado and avid student of the clarinet. After his death, Kristen cooked up an idea that brought together Dave’s dual passions for great jazz and food.
HOT FOOD, COOL MUSIC
Every month or so, the school’s central classroom becomes Dave’s Jazz Bistro, an intimate jazz venue. Along with the music, guests get a top-quality dinner prepared by the resident chefs. Kristen collaborates with musician and producer John Rangel to schedule world-class musicians. Nicole then works with the talented kitchen staff to select and prepare the menu and accompanying wines.
May 14, the next jazz bistro date — with vocalist Towanda Suessbrich-Joaquim — sold out long ago. However, there’s seating available for the next event, June 11. You’ll need to make reservations soon to get in on this one! It’s going to be stellar. The stars that night are Grammy award-winning musicians Eddie Daniels on clarinet and Roger Kellaway on piano. The two have made multiple albums together, including the Grammy winner “Memos from Paradise,” and one recorded here at the Lensic Theater, “Duke at the Roadhouse.”
The menu that evening features three courses. It kicks off with a tomato and avocado gazpacho. The main course offers a trio of possibilities — pomegranate-glazed duck breast with a duck confit tamales and citrus mole, a Southwestern twist on a niçoise salad with chile-crusted tuna, or a vegetarian goat cheese-and-squash enchilada with tomatillo sauce. The dinner concludes with a red chile vanilla sauce drizzled pecan-and-peach tart.
AND ALL THAT JAZZ…
The later summer jazz bistro nights will be two Saturdays — July 23 and August 27. The earlier date will be with vocalist Dwight Trible, whom you might have caught recently on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Based in Los Angeles, he’s traveled the world with his distinctive vocal stylings. The second date will honor the late Lester Young, in a tribute concert, on what would have been his 109th birthday. Mr. Young was among jazz’s most influential saxophonists and played with the Count Basie Orchestra. John Rangel has put together a local ensemble of musicians to celebrate his life and work.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
The school continues to host an ambitious array of classes and culinary activities. Nicole just posted the online summer schedule of recreational cooking classes. New Mexican dishes and ingredients feature heavily over the next several months. Most classes are demonstration style, last about 3 hours, and include a meal. A couple of notable additions are planned too. A class on May 14 will honor New Mexico’s patron saint of food, San Pasqual. The participants will be taught that day by the school’s newest pro, MaryDawn Wright. Chef MaryDawn grew up in Española before embarking on an impressive corporate chef career. Then on July 30, James Campbell Caruso, chef-owner of La Boca, will demo a Spanish menu. Scheduled during Santa Fe’s annual Spanish Market, part of the proceeds will go to the market’s sponsoring Spanish Colonial Arts Society.
A MOVEABLE FEAST
The school’s wildly popular restaurant walking tours have expanded to three different downtown routes. Some of the featured spots include Sasella, Horno, Pranzo Italian Grill, TerraCotta Wine Bistro, Market Steer Steakhouse, Joseph’s Culinary Pub, Restaurant Martín, and La Fonda on the Plaza. At each stop, the chef or sommelier visits with the guests and offers a special dish for sampling. Participants get a real insiders’ perspective on the selected restaurants.
If you’re looking for New Mexican specialties to take home for dinner, the school offers a menu of enchiladas and other dishes in whatever size you might need for your family or guests.
Story by Cheryl Alters Jamison • Photos courtesy Gabriella Marks
Four-time James Beard Foundation Book Award-winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison is the host of Heating It Up on KTRC and is now the “queen of culinary content” for SantaFe.com. Find new stories about the Santa Fe food scene each week on SantaFe.com.