“The chef ambassador program provides an opportunity for chefs to showcase how different foods and beverages that are grown and made throughout the state may be incorporated into a variety of recipes,” Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte says. “New Mexico farmers and ranchers grow diverse agriculture products that make up the entire plate, and our chef ambassadors are the ideal group to showcase these fine dishes.”
Sizzlin’ Support for Shopping Local
Chef Rocky Durham describes himself as a fiercely proud native New Mexican. Durham works as executive chef at the Blue Heron Restaurant on the campus of Sunrise Springs Spa Resort in Santa Fe and says he’s always been a cheerleader for New Mexico agriculture.
“By raising awareness about our proud history of agriculture and the wonderful products that we produce here in the state and recognizing that this is an industry that already exists, all we have to do is support it,” Durham says. “All we have to do is direct our revenue, direct our finances toward the agricultural endeavors, and it’s going to make a huge economic impact for the good of this state.”
Durham says it is as simple as raising awareness, and through that awareness, diverting revenue that is already being spent on food and agricultural products to comparable products made locally. That’s the idea behind the state’s $5 Challenge, which encourages families to spend five dollars each week identifying and substituting a local food product for one they already regularly buy.
Chef John Hartley is a college assistant professor at New Mexico State University’s School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management.
“It’s just a unique way of raising awareness of New Mexico products,” Hartley says. “Most people don’t realize the extent of agriculture in our state. Even residents think of pecans and green chile, but they don’t realize that we’re a huge onion producer, a huge potato producer or that we have all kinds of other nut crops and stone fruits. Most people don’t realize the wide variety of produce that comes out of New Mexico, so being a part of helping raise that awareness is fun.”
Both chefs are doing their part to showcase the state’s unique culinary flair, from judging the New Mexico State Fair Green Chile Cheeseburger Challenge to using local products in original recipes and completing cooking demonstrations at events like HomeGrown. They’re helping people understand that New Mexico agriculture is about more than just chile and pecans, but it also includes other commodities such as beef, cheese and local wines.
Durham says people often envision New Mexico as looking like southern Arizona, when actually it’s one of the most geologically diverse places on the planet. With everything from mountain peaks to beautiful meadows to the Rio Grande Valley, there is plenty of agriculture. He says it’s also important to understand the human story – the farmers behind the food.
“I just think it builds stronger communities. When you can reach out and shake the hand of the person who is growing your food, and you can hear about their grandkids, the human story is a real factor, and it’s something we can’t just turn our backs on. Food doesn’t just magically appear at the grocery store.”
Durham and Hartley were chosen through an application and interview process. A new class of Chef Ambassadors will begin in September 2020.