For years I’ve listened to people drone on about Santa Fe’s great restaurants and wonderful dining. It’s become the kind of somnambulistic static that happens when people use their mouths for the wrong thing, like talking instead of eating.
Santa Fe has some wonderful restaurants and several talented chefs, as well as a fine Southwestern tradition to celebrate, tweak, challenge or ignore as it sees fit. Nonetheless, Santa Fe’s inclusion within a select club of culinary capitals seems a stretch.
A holiday visit to Pagosa Springs, Colo., however, proved eating in Santa Fe is genuinely exceptional.
This came as a shock. I usually travel to places like San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, New York, New Orleans, Mexico and Italy. I was therefore wholly unprepared to confront the sheer terror of what typically passes for “fine dining” in America.
The menus at Pagosa’s finest are full of words like “demi-glace” and “au jus” and “lightly poached,” but the plates are full of evidence such as canned pears and store-bought stock and salad chilled beyond all hope of flavor.
Sadly, however, the most egregious thing to land on my plate was allegedly trucked in from New Mexico. At a perfectly charming bakery filled with perfectly fresh bread, pastries and pies, I ordered what I expected to be a perfectly serviceable breakfast burrito. The burrito was not only pre-made and nuked but also served with a plastic 2-ounce packet of “diced flame roasted green chile.”
I’ve seen salsas and marinades offered by the offending company—Albuquerque-based 505 Southwestern—on grocery store shelves, but I’ve never been offered “traditional” New Mexico green chile in a single-serve packet. What tradition are we talking about? The tradition of Velveeta? The tradition of ranch dressing and burger-joint condiments?
The sheer existence of such a thing is a striking discovery. It’s like realizing that Soylent Green is people or that Dick Cheney is an alien lizard wearing a shoddily constructed humanoid mask: There’s a tangle of complications to unravel in the wake of such a truth, not to mention the gut-wrenching awareness that nothing will ever be the same.
First: I don’t blame the bakery. It is a well-known phenomenon that proper chile cannot be made in Colorado. One can have a decent chile in Chama (although just barely) and then step across the border and be served an inexplicably watery substance made from the same ingredients. Colorado is to chile as the Bermuda Triangle is to ships and planes: certain, mysterious doom. The bakery is only doing what it can in the face of the supernatural. Still, I’ve never understood why Colorado restaurants won’t just stop pretending and simply remove chile from the menu.
Second: On the face of it, 505 Southwestern is a largely respectable company. Its website boasts its reliance on local New Mexico farms. A portion of every sale is donated to breast cancer research. The chile product has nothing but chile, lime, garlic and salt (it is presumably preserved through witchcraft, a bizarre deal with Los Alamos or vacuum sealing). It can be purchased as certified organic.
But then Batter Blaster, the spray-on pancake, is also certified organic. And a close look at 505 Southwestern reveals that its parent company is the Idaho-based Treasure Valley Business Group. In addition to “New Mexico” chile, the company owns and markets Oh Boy! brand frozen meals, Chris’ & Pitt’s Bar-B-Q Sauce and a variety of industrial chicken and potato products.
This is good news.
One, it makes me feel better about my desire to put a single-serve foot up the ass of anyone using the slogan “taste the tradition” on their pillaged, 505-branded, faux farm-friendly product.
Two, it reminds me that we do have something special in Santa Fe and in New Mexico.
And, if we shop and eat smart, we can keep it that way.
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