Hasta la Vista

cooking with the queen of chile

When legendary Southwestern cook and chile expert Jane Butel needed a new location for her nationally recognized cooking schools, she set up shop in her own kitchen. See how a pro turns out plates of the finest food in a kitchen much like yours.

Teaching cooking classes through the years, I’ve found that Traditional New Mexican cooking has always been far and away my most popular theme. When I have changed the focus of this weekend class, potential students have said, “I would love to come—however, I still want to learn sopaipillas and tamales.” I decided to stick with what works, and I continue to teach classes featuring these traditional New Mexican dishes.

Twenty-five years ago, while living in New York City and missing New Mexico, I decided to start teaching Southwestern cooking classes during the summers. At the time I taught classes all over the country, but not in New Mexico. In 1983 I started by teaching in leased facilities in Santa Fe, and 10 years later, I decided to move back to New Mexico and build my own cooking school.

My original idea was to construct my school in a hotel because nearly all of my students needed lodging. However, after establishing two separate cooking schools in Albuquerque hotels and later losing them when the hotels changed hands, I decided, why not move the full-participation schools to my home?

I initially planned to expand my kitchen by adding onto it, but my contractor Greg Rumbaugh of Maverick Building Technologies, who also had constructed the hotel cooking schools, felt that making my existing kitchen 12 feet longer would ruin its proportions. Instead, he recommended remodeling the kitchen in my Corrales, New Mexico, home, and he developed a design that worked with the existing cabinetry. Essentially, we removed the peninsula that had formed a small U-shaped space and replaced it with a large island. I brought in a professional range, installed a large sink in the island, and added granite countertops. One month later, I had a new expanded, highly functional kitchen.

I currently teach five weekend classes and one week-long class each year. All of my classes are full participation—everyone cooks. My weekend New Mexican cooking sessions begin on Friday. Before the first class that evening, my staff and I set trays for each dish the students will create—a total of nine different items. On the trays, we premeasure and do basic preparation such as chopping the onions or mincing the garlic so the cooking Friday evening will progress more quickly. We prepare four Salsas, Composed Nachos with Guacamole and Refried Beans, Perfect Margaritas, Bowl o’ Red with Fixin’s ’n Mixin’s, Blue Corn Parfait Bread, and Chicken Fajitas. The session unfolds with a get-acquainted reception followed by a review of the cuisine’s history and an overview of chiles—their benefits as well as how to cook with them.

We take an average of 12 students per class, who work at four different stations. The teams work together to prepare the dishes they choose to make. Each group makes different dishes so the students can enjoy a bountiful meal at the completion of the class—on Friday evenings they enjoy the meal with Perfect Margaritas. We grill fajitas and parch green chiles and deep-fry outdoors on the patio just outside the kitchen.

During the classes, my assistant and I help with techniques and answer questions so everyone’s food is perfectly cooked and attractively garnished and presented for the buffet meal following the cooking session.
The weekend class continues on Saturday morning, when we make a traditional northern Mexican breakfast, preparing our own corn tortillas to stuff with well-flavored home-cooked pinto beans and top with pickled jalapeños, grated cheeses, and a selection of salsas. After breakfast I present a lecture on the history of corn and its importance to the cuisine.

During the cooking session, students prepare Corn and Flour Tortillas, Red Chile Beef Enchiladas, Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas, Crispy Chicken Tacos with Creamy Salsa Verde, Baja Shrimp Tacos with Pickled Cole Slaw, and Sopaipillas. They also make the marinade for Carne Adovada and cook Posole, two dishes they’ll finish preparing the next day.

Sunday’s classes start with the preparation of Quesadillas for breakfast followed by cooking Red Chile Beef Tamales and Blue Corn Crusted Chile Rellenos with Red Chile Sauce, finishing the Carne Adovada and Posole, and making Ultimate Chimichangas, Flan, Bizcochitos, and Apricot Empanadas.

Sample an authentic taste of the Southwest by preparing some of these popular New Mexican dishes for yourself.

An internationally recognized authority on the regional cooking of the American Southwest, Jane Butel has published 18 cookbooks, including several bestsellers. She operates a full-participation weekend and week-long vacation cooking school; an online school; a mail-order spice, cookbook, and Southwestern product business; and conducts culinary tours and team-building classes. Through her writing, teaching, and television projects, Butel seasons the country’s melting pot with the Southwest’s rich culinary, cultural, and historical heritage. Learn more at janebutel.com.