The chili line stops here
An epic green chili-slathered burrito from The Shed in Santa Fe, NM
LUDO BITES AMERICA premieres Tuesday, July 19, 9P.
When I first moved to Santa Fe, NM for college I thought a big city kid like me would have the diminutive Southwestern hamlet under my thumb and virtually at my command. In fact, the day I rolled into town a tumbleweed blew lazily across my path. What hot, dry sleepy hollow had I just signed away the next four years of my life to, I thought. I was from LA – what could these small town hicks possibly have that I hadn’t seen already in my long, nineteen years? But my cockiness soon evaporated. Not only did no one give a hoot how happening I thought my hometown was, but they had their own thing going on. For starters, Santa Fe is the second largest art market in the country, right after NYC, but I’m not talking about art. I’m certainly not referring to the fashion. The abundance of “leather cowboy hats, designer buckskin jackets and turquoise and conch belts clanking like cheap radiators down the Whole Foods aisles” just put Santa Fe at #16 on GQ’s “Worst Dressed Cities” list. No, I’m talking about the food. After living in LA, NY and even Paris for a spell, the food I ate in Santa Fe still ranks at the top of my list of best things I ever ate.
Unlike its divergent economy, Santa Fe restaurants both big and small, from the burrito stands to the white table cloth affairs, all have one thing in common: green chile. No, let’s capitalize that, Green Chili with a big G and C, because it’s no overstatement to say that in a desert ecosystem that grows little more than dried up shrubs that look dead the minute they sprout from the barren dust from whence they came, the fact that they can actually grow something edible is a big deal, and you best believe that they will use that one, single natural resource in every which way they can. If you arrive in Santa Fe not ever having tasted a chili and maybe not really even liking spicy food, you will not only leave a convert, but an addict.
You’ll find Green Chili on EVERYTHING – enchiladas and stuffed sopapillas are just the beginning. It’s on burgers, fries, paninis, stewed oxtail, beef short ribs, in chocolate, ice cream and even beer. Yes, Green Chili beer. And not just from one brewery but dozens, with about as many varieties as there are varieties of chili peppers. Being a college student at the time and therefor a dutiful beer drinker, I tried my fair share of chili beer and I can safely say it’s one the less successful chili pairings, bested only by green chili ice cream, which is just plain gross. Chili beer turned up again and again during my undergrad years. Instead of bringing good or least drinkable beer to a party, there was always some joker who would turn up with the chili beer sampler, which was eventually consumed by someone who believed wasting beer was a cardinal sin (too true) or some poor soul too obliterated to know the difference.
Of course, that’s not to say that green chili isn’t used in almost all other instances to the height of its potential. I’ve been delighted by its partnership with burgers, melted into cheese atop a finely spiced patty at the world famous Bobcat Bite, or slathered over a bed of late night fries. I’ve enjoyed it traditionally in huevos rancheros (I’m still convinced Santa Fe is the only place to get real deal huevos – try the Pantry’s if you don’t believe me), in stews and burritos, even inside of another chili. Santa Fe is also the only place where you can have Christmas any day of the year – red and green chili together, on one plate in perfect harmony. I have tried ordering this in New York, but even once I explained what Christmas meant to the waitress she was still baffled. “Choose one,” she said. “Why do you need two?” Are you kidding, I wanted to ask. You’re going to limit my chili consumption? Don’t you know there’s a special place in this world where not only am I allowed to have as much Christmas in a taco as I please, but I can have it in dessert and alcohol, too?!? Maybe that’s why they call Santa Fe the City Different.
But let us not forget that before the chili peppers – be they red or green or hatch (a local, seasonal specialty) – are roasted and peeled and made tame, relatively speaking, for consumption, there’s the chili in its raw form, and speaking as someone who has cultivated her taste buds around the suckers and still cannot bear even one teeny nibble of a raw pepper without gripping her throat and trying to claw the residual spice from the surface of her tongue, they’re not for the faint of heart. So when Ludo, in the first episode of “Ludo Bites America,” tears into the vein of the chili itself – the heat center of the pepper – and just kind of guffaws and raises his eyebrows at the madness I know is going on inside his mouth, I got mad respect.
LUDO BITES AMERICA premieres Tuesday, July 19 at 9P