The Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, N.M., is hosting an exhibit on New World cuisine, set to open Dec. 9. The museum has a collection of more than 100,000 pieces of folk art from more than 100 countries, but its December exhibit focuses on food.
"New World Cuisine: The Histories of Chocolate, Mate y Más," explores the cultural mixing of food items from the Old World and the New World with a particular look at two popular drinks: mate, the South American infusion of yerba mate leaves, and hot chocolate. In addition to an in-depth look at these two drinks, there are also exhibits that show how food harvesting, utensils, and table settings aided in the mixing of Eastern and Western foodstuffs.
"Food is cultural heritage, and we identify with what we eat, but also with the things we use to make food," said Nicolasa Chávez, curator of the Spanish Colonial & Contemporary Hispano/Latino Collections at the museum.
Santa Fe is a fitting location for the food-centric art exhibit, as the pairing of art and food has a long tradition in the city.
The natural beauty of northern New Mexico is a catalyst for creativity and inspiration, as well as the region’s subsequent growth as an enclave for artists, dealers, galleries and museums.
"All the earth colors of the painter's palette are out there," said artist Georgia O’Keeffe, as she gazed upon the red sands of Alcalde, N.M., about 30 miles north of Santa Fe, when she sought inspiration in 1929.
Then, as now, northern New Mexico has been a center for art. Santa Fe’s Art Gallery Association boasts that the city of less than 70, 000 is the third-largest art market outside of New York City and Los Angeles. There are more than 300 galleries in the area, and the city is also home to several major museums and the site of world-renowned artistic events, exhibitions, and festivals.
Besides being a haven for those hungry for the visual arts, either through the arresting natural beauty, or through artistic representation, presentation, and interpretation, the region’s distinct personality creates an environment for the gastronomic arts, as well. A visit to Santa Fe is a unique opportunity to combine the two: food for the soul and food for the body. The Daily Meal has compiled a feast for the senses by pairing art tours with equally inspiring cuisine.
After visiting the Museum of International Folk Art’s food-focused exhibit, grab a bite to eat at the Museum Hill Café, which overlooks the hills of Santa Fe. The restaurant is operated by Weldon J. Fulton, who serves a fresh menu of salads, sandwiches, and local specialties like mushroom taquitos and Asian shrimp tacos.
Downtown Santa Fe has a maze of shops, galleries, and restaurants within its walls of low-slung adobe buildings like The Plaza in the heart of the city. On the north side is the Palace of the Governors and its daily Pueblo market held beneath airy porticos. The market features indigenous handcrafted items with an emphasis on locally made turquoise, including bracelets and rings.
Despite a history of chuck wagons, drive-ins, and dining cars, Santa Fe doesn’t have much of a food truck or food cart culture due to local regulations, but there is a notable exception at the southeast corner of The Plaza, Roque’s Carnitas, where visitors can dine alfresco on sirloin marinated in soy sauce, garlic, and Mexican oregano.
"My carnitas have been famous for 30 years," said Roque Garcia. "People come from all over the world [to try them]."
Two blocks from The Plaza at 217 Johnson Street is the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, home to a collection more than 1,000 of her works plus a research center. O’Keeffe embraced and captured the rugged beauty of the badlands in her graceful depictions of bleached bones, intimate, robust, and explosive views of desert flora, and multi-hued burnt landscapes. Her artistic home base was called Ghost Ranch, in nearby Abiquiú, which was also the filming location of many movies, including Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and City Slickers.
There are many fine dining choices nearby, including the Anasazi Restaurant at Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi with its impressive wine cellar, private dining room, and patio. The restaurant's menu includes tantalizing duck preparations: a watermelon, feta, jicama, and smoked duck salad as well as duck enchilada molé with cilantro sour cream.
The focus of the gallery scene in Santa Fe is a Canyon Road, a half-mile slope that was once a Pueblo footpath. Even if you are not in the market to purchase any art, the stroll down Canyon Road is a must-see journey through wild modern sculptures, Indian-themed works, and Western and American art.
Along the way, in an adobe home from 1756, is one of Santa Fe’s more noteworthy restaurants, Geronimo restaurant. The seasonal menu includes its famous peppery elk tenderloin with applewood-smoked bacon served with fork-mashed Yukon Gold potatoes.
Santa Fe’s redeveloped Railyard District, once the scene of warehouses and steam engines, has a collection of specialized galleries and is the home of SITE Santa Fe, a contemporary art space celebrated for its exhibitions and biennials. The district is also home to the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market, which features many opportunities to shop for and sample foodstuffs. On market days, partake in the many freshly produced staples like breads, cheeses, and fruits, or stop at The Farmers’ Market Café in the pavilion, which features ready-to-eat products from market vendors like cherry empanadas, green-chile croissants, and gluten-free products.
For sustenance on non-market days (the market is open every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., and on Tuesdays during the spring), the 6,500-square-foot Flying Star Café is a reliable outpost of a regional chain that is a coffeehouse and bakery on steroids. There is a full menu that features lots of salads, vegetarian, and gluten-free items along with some seasonal favorites and local items like beef chile stew.
Santa Fe’s layering of cultures, cuisines, and hospitality for more than 400 years, as seen through its museums, galleries, and restaurants, has created a destination that unites the taste of art and the art of taste.