Sunday, September 12, 2010

Food in Taos

One of the (many) joys of being human is eating well-prepared food. Food reflects both culture and place. It has its creation in the roots of the people who prepare it, and its substance in the bounty of the land and the sea. Living things are transformed by us into food that transforms and sustains us. Maybe that's why I enjoy cooking and eating so much. They are transformative and sacramental acts that have the power to imbue us with the culture, the history, and the elemental essence of the cooks and their landscapes from which the food springs.

So I am here in Taos. Over the past several three weeks, I've had a few "southwestern" meals. One was a soulless experience at a chain restaurant in Grand Lake, Colorado. Another was a timid meal at a cafe in Cortez, Colorado. But tonight at Graham's Grille in Taos, New Mexico, I had a meal that was true to its place, and in which the chef's sense of ingredients, textures, tastes, and fidelity to the dish all came together in a wonderful, sensual way. The chicken and green chile tamale pie was an entree to savor and delight in. I ate it slowly, deliberately tasting and enjoying it. It had a fragrant, corny taste. The cheese was just messy enough, but didn't overwhelm the rest of the dish. The green chile added a sweet heat to the tamale and the tamale was buried beneath chopped lettuce, tomatoes, a dollop of guacamole and two blue corn tortilla chips, happy to be along for the occasion.

Tonight's experience is what food should be about: a meal born in the chef's heart, knowledge, and skill; faithful to the ingredients; acknowledging the cultural context of the dish; and preparation \in a fashion that recreates the dish, and challenges our notions of what we thought the dish should be. That experience makes for a delightful meal.