Chile is what gives so much New Mexican food its sense of warmth and comfort, its subtle flavor and its fiery soul, its color and its meaning. The legacy of chile in southern New Mexico, despite large-scale chile fields with harvests destined for export, has and continues to have a rich and vibrant local chile culture rooted in a proud history of chile production, processing, and innovation. From southern New Mexico to the northern reaches of the state, we explore the role of chile in our local restaurants, cuisines, and culture.
“When we think of New Mexico foods, naturally the chile comes first.” These words, penned in 1949 by Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert, still hold true today. Chile is what gives so much New Mexican food its sense of warmth and comfort, its subtle flavor and its fiery soul, its color and its meaning.
Nowhere in this issue is this more evident than in Denise Chávez’s simple and powerful declaration that “chile is home.” In her words, we are reminded of the legacy of chile in southern New Mexico, a place often associated with large-scale chile fields with harvests destined for export but a place that has also had, and continues to have, a rich and vibrant local chile culture rooted in a proud history of chile production, processing, and innovation. In her story, the legacy of land loss is never far, and the fruits of that land, bearing memories of that legacy, are always close, always home.
From southern New Mexico to the northern reaches of the state, we further explore the role of chile in our local restaurants, cuisines, and culture. Ungelbah Dávila-Shivers gives us a glimpse of the art of toasting chile in an horno at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center; Candolin Cook dives into the chile-forward, Zacatecas-inspired flavors of Santa Fe’s Zacatlán; and Lynn Cline takes a seat at the table at the beloved Teofilo’s in Los Lunas to learn a little about what makes their chile so good.
We also look to an endangered chile pepper in southern Mexico, one that simply means the “old chile” in Nahuatl, to better understand what makes a good Oaxacan mole but also to gain insight about our own endemic chiles here. “Mexican chile peppers do not have the same taste as New Mexican peppers,” Cabeza de Baca Gilbert also wrote in 1949, “but many people enjoy their savor and may even enjoy the change.” We offer the story of chilhuacle for this reason, but also because the loss of agro-biodiversity elsewhere on the continent is our story too.
Finally, we share the story of José García, who sadly passed away from COVID-19 last December. A beloved father and grandfather who proudly and passionately dedicated much of his working life to planting, cultivating, and harvesting chile in southern New Mexico, he was an instrumental part of bringing chile to our tables.
In “All Good Things,” Candolin Cook recounts Chef Eduardo Rodriguez’s Journey to Zacatlán.
The 2021 Edible Local Hero Award for Innovator: Food Justice was awarded to the nonprofit Farm to Table. The organization’s mission is to build a local, healthy, equitable, and
sustainable food system.
Michael Trent, a server at Arable, is the recipient of the 2021 Edible Local Hero Spotlight Award for Front of House.
In “Cooking with Chiles, from Cuicatlán to Chimayó,” Willy Carleton takes a deep dive into endangered chiles, endemic flavors, and making mole in New Mexico.
Manchamanteles is one of the traditional seven moles of Oaxaca, with chunks of fruit and meat dispersed among the chile.
Salsa Molcajeteada is a basic table salsa made with dried chile pods in a traditional volcanic-rock molcajete, or mortar.
This smooth and umami-rich vegan mole uses chilhuacle negro, but this version substitutes New Mexico chile nativo, along with pine nuts, to create a sauce with a uniquely New Mexican character.
By Denise Chávez Chile is home. It is my family. My neighborhood. My inheritance. Es mi familia. Mi vecindad. Mi herencia. Our family once had farms. My grandfather, Epifanio Chávez Sr., moved away from his land in Las Cruces to seek his fortune elsewhere. He worked...
Words and Photos by Ellen ZachosThe dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) may be the most easily recognized weed in the United States, and it grows almost everywhere. Fortunately, most New Mexicans don’t get all sentimental about perfect lawns, which means we can...
Spotlight Award: Back of House An Interview with Gabe Romero, House Butcher at Campoa.k.a.: peeler of garlic; chopper of onions; maker of soups, sauces, and smiles; fan of flavor and feeding people; the Meat GuyYour title is house butcher—a position that is enjoying a...
In “¡Chile por Vida!,” Lynn Cline visits Teofilo’s Restaurante for a feast of New Mexican flavors. Located in a handsome historic house, Teofilo’s Restaurante has been the most popular New Mexican restaurant in Los Lunas for more than three decades.
The 2021 Edible Local Hero Spotlight Award: Farmworker, was awarded to José García. García sadly passed away from COVID-19 last December. A beloved father and grandfather who proudly and passionately dedicated much of his working life to planting, cultivating, and harvesting chile in southern New Mexico, he was an instrumental part of bringing chile to our tables.