You’d be hard pressed to find a place that has a deeper agricultural history than New Mexico’s, Rocky Durham says. As a chef, Durham not only gets to work with an impressive variety of fresh, local products, but that legacy and tradition gives him another reason to be proud of his food.
“To be truly New Mexican food, it must be in both style and origin,” Durham says. “Someone in San Francisco could be making ‘New Mexican’ food, but it’s really not. We realize this and are very proud of our cuisine that is so immersed in history.”
Born and raised in Santa Fe, Durham began working in restaurants when he was a teenager. Although he eventually traveled to more than 20 countries throughout his culinary career, he returned home to co-open the Santa Fe Culinary Academy in 2012.
Durham says most people automatically think of chile and beans when they think of New Mexico, and they’re surprised by the state’s variety of products.
“People think it’s mostly beans and chile, but then you pull out fresh shrimp and they’re so surprised,” he says. “Wine is another great example. New Mexico is the oldest wine- producing region in the new world, yet people think it’s a novelty. Then they taste it, and it’s delicious.”
This variety connects chefs like Durham with the state’s vital ag industry and area farmers who provide fresh produce throughout the year. He says he tries to let fresh, seasonal ingredients drive his menu, and that’s how consumers should approach eating as well.
“When people go to a grocery store, they make a list at home of what they need. That’s the wrong way to approach going to a farmers market,” he says. “Show up with a food budget and buy ingredients that are in season and look great.”
He encourages consumers to then take their fresh New Mexican bounty home and let the ingredients determine what dish they cook.