Widely recognized as one of the most foremost authorities on the New Mexico dining scene, Andrea Feucht is very passionate when it comes to the Land of Enchantment’s food. Andrea shares her passion with everyone in her new book, The Food Lovers Guide to Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Taos, a terrific tome all foodies should own. Better still, buy at least two copies of–one copy in your vehicle and one in your kitchen. That way you consult the guide to help you decide where your next meal should come from as well as consulting it for recipes Andrea charmed some of New Mexico’s best culinary minds into sharing.
I recently had the pleasure and privilege of interviewing Andrea about her new book. As with any conversation with the tenacious author, it was an informative, thought-provoking and revealing interview I hope all of you will enjoy.
Q: Many congratulations on The Food Lovers Guide to Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Taos. It’s an amazingly comprehensive guide, but it doesn’t read like a lot of guides which are so formulaic in their writing. How did you manage to balance providing information with making it fun and interesting for readers?
A: Interestingly, it was the structure that let me cut loose once I started writing. I had a formula to follow based on the other books in the “Food Lovers’ Guide” series: regional chapters with sub-categories like “foodie faves” and “landmarks” and “shopping”. I added the category “All Chile, All the Time” to capture local favorites. Each of the 250+ entries gets about 200 words – incredibly hard to keep my stories that brief. If you read the New Yorker, their “Tables for Two” reviews are in the 200-300 word count length and incredibly dense with information. I *love* those reviews and draw constant inspiration from their brevity.
Q: Please describe your process for deciding which restaurants you were going to feature. With hundreds of options available to you, it must have been quite a challenge.
A: I was able to conjure up at least 2/3 of the restaurants off the top of my head based on personal experience – particularly in Albuquerque where I live and eat. The rest were found by lots of research – asking foodie friends, reading dozens of blogs and magazines for tidbits and gossip, and visiting the promising new spots.
Q: Which number is more significant—the number of miles you put on your car visiting so many restaurants or the calories you consumed eating so many wonderful dishes?
A: Good question! I’d say the miles, actually. I was able to keep the calories shockingly reasonable by sharing, ordering sparingly, or taking a few bites and discarding the rest. The food I threw out was kind of regrettable, but necessary when visiting 2 dozen spots over a weekend! I also used the Railrunner a bit for my Santa Fe visits, which let me write on the ride up and back rather than focus on driving.
Q: What were the biggest surprises you uncovered during your travels throughout the Rio Grande corridor?
A: It *shouldn’t* come as a surprise, but the willingness of chefs and owners to talk about their “babies” – once you ask a few questions about the founding of their restaurant most of them will talk your ear off. I had wonderful conversations with folks like Roberto Cordova of Casa Chimayo who have been carrying their family legacy for generations, trying to keep their business afloat through these hard years. He is so proud of his grandmother’s red chile posole recipe he shared a big bowl with me; the restaurant’s front area even has old photos of her rolling tortillas in her 80s.
Q: One of the many things I appreciated about The Food Lovers Guide is how you were able to show that the cuisine of the Land of Enchantment is so much more than red and green chile. Other than the use of chile, even in desserts, what makes New Mexico’s cuisine so unique?
A: In a way New Mexico can be a little honey-badger-like: our restaurants are proud to serve this food with blue corn and posole and sopaipillas and we don’t care what people think. Is the chile too hot? Awww, too bad; maybe you should try Texas instead! We differ from neighboring states in that we don’t try to invent new things or be like another cuisine – we just *are*.
Q: You’ve long been a proponent of farm-to-table and locavore dining and it came across very well in your book. Many of the restaurants you featured in your book embrace those concepts as well. With New Mexico being such an agrarian state, how do you foresee the future of farm-to-table and locavore dining?
A: It will only get better, not just in New Mexico but in the whole country. There are young farmers who have started up after not finding a “regular” job they could love: in Albuquerque we have Monte Skaarsgard as one of the first big celebrities, but it is all over the state. An acquaintance I know from trail running gave up all of that and went back to his family’s farm near Silver City and took over – he’s packed on 30 pounds of muscle on his skinny runner frame and looks like someone who is in LOVE with his life. That is key.
The more consumers get to know where their food comes from, the better things will get at all levels. YES you should know your farmer. YES you should try your own little garden – even herbs to start out, on your windowsill. YES you should buy local meat and eggs! YES you should ask your grocery store to carry these things, and YES you should demand it from your restaurants. Just imagine the impact it would have on struggling local farmers to have every Weck’s and Olive Garden and Subway getting their produce and meat locally!
Q: It was also refreshing to read a guide that doesn’t include any chain restaurants (other than “local” chains such as Il Vicino). Will there ever come a day in which mom-and-pop dining establishments are preferred by the masses to the chains?
A: One can hope. In the meantime, refer to above – ASK every single restaurant you ever patronize if they use local ingredients and if not, when they will. Be that squeaky wheel.
Q: How were you able to coax the wonderful recipes featured on your book from some of New Mexico’s very best chefs?
A: I paid them in French truffles. Just kidding. It was easier than I expected to get each of the chefs to AGREE to contribute something. Usually you just lead in with, “I really adore your food and would be so honored if you could share a recipe with me for my book.” Speaking to the ego works quite often, of course.
The difficulty sometimes came when making sure I actually got my recipe – being there in person helps quite a bit, as chefs are really, really busy. I did send quite a few emails asking if they could please send that recipe on over as soon as possible, but in the end it was all just peachy. I hope they are satisfied with how their creations come through in my words.
Q: Food trucks, which you also recognized in your book, used to be stereotyped as “roach coaches,” but in recent years, a new breed of adventurous chefs are taking to a mobile mode of showcasing gourmet-quality dishes. How do you see the future of the food truck movement?
A: I hope it continues to blossom here in New Mexico. In reality, many of the food trucks nationwide were started out of frustration: inability to find a good space, lack of start-up funds, an unproven concept (kimchee quesadillas?). Permitting and actually opening a restaurant is so much money most folks would be shocked – hopefully they’d also not blanch so much at menu prices as a result.
Ironically, permitting is the downfall of many trucks – you can’t find a place to park or your kitchen needs some upkeep to pass the rigorous testing. I hope that statewide and nationwide that regulations do not stymie future growth (outright outlawing of food trucks has been done in some cities already, with support often coming from established restaurant organizations). In the meantime, go visit our local trucks and enjoy their creativity and value – you won’t regret it.
Q: For years, Santa Fe’s dining scene has seemingly garnered all the attention in New Mexico, but this past year Albuquerque was recognized for its culinary excellence by both Fodor’s and Zagat. To what do you attribute that recognition? Why has the Duke City always been Miss Congeniality to Santa Fe’s Miss America?
A: I’m not sure if Fodor’s and Zagat are waking up to how big Albuquerque is, but the recognition is certainly welcome. Truth be told, there is still more money in Santa Fe to be spent – it is a destination for vacations and a refuge for wealthy retirees and that means the purse strings will be loosened when eating out compared to your everyday eats like here in Albuquerque. There are places in Santa Fe that do still blow Albuquerque’s competition out of the water – it’s true. But in Albuquerque we are doing alright. Jennifer James will be a torchbearer for some time, but don’t discount innovation like Farina, Farm & Table, Torino’s, or even Bailey’s on the Beach.
Q: How on earth did you write this in 10 weeks while holding down a full time job?
A: I still am not entirely sure, but the last four weeks averaged three hours of sleep per night and the final week brought on a full-onslaught chest cold that left me with laryngitis for ten days. It was surreal, stressful and amazingly rewarding. AND I met my deadline. Whew.
Where can readers find a copy of the Food Lovers’ Guide?
I would hope everyone would buy the book locally, but if they prefer online shopping, you can find my book at http://amzn.to/foodloversnm or http://foodloversnm.com/. They can also contact me to ask questions about ANYTHING food related: firstname.lastname@example.org and can find me on Facebook at http://fb.me.foodloversnm.
On Saturday, January 19th, I’ll be at Bookworks for a signing and would love to meet New Mexico food lovers. More on the event can be found here.