Five questions for three top Taos chefs

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In this article, we interview three of Taos' top chefs from Lambert's of Taos, El Meze, and Quechua Peruvian Restaurant.

James Crowther III, executive chef at Lambert’s of Taos, attended Johnson & Wales University and holds a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts and food service management.

Why did you become a chef? It’s a fine occupation. It allows me to make people happy and to be creative and artistic at the same time. It’s also a profession that I enjoy, which makes my work easy. Creating food is fun!

What new food trends do you foresee? A new trend is sourcing locally – not only here in New Mexico, but all over the country as well. This matches what we are doing at Lambert’s. We offer totally different menus for spring, summer and winter to utilize as many local ingredients as possible. Our upcoming summer menu, that includes many wonderful salads, will reflect this trend.

Do you have a personal favorite or secret ingredient? I don’t have any favorite ingredient because I like experimenting and trying different flavors and combinations. But I am fond of sumac, a Middle Eastern spice with a tangy flavor.

What is your No. 1 rule for restaurant dining? Trust the chef and enjoy the meal. Dining out should be about eating unique dishes that you don’t usually make at home. That’s what we strive to do at Lambert’s – offer our patrons one-of-a-kind fine dining at its best.

Where do you eat when you are not in the kitchen? I like going to Aceq. I like their approach to cooking with local and organic ingredients. They have good food made right.

Fred Muller, executive chef at El Meze, was a James Beard semifinalist in 2012 for Best Chef Southwest. He is also the author of “La Comida: The Foods, Cooking and Traditions of the Upper Río Grande.”

Why did you become a chef? It was the only thing I was ever good at. I like making people happy with my cooking and “feeding the tribe.”

What new food trends do you foresee? Cooking is becoming more simple. The trend is toward getting back to the basics. That’s what I see and what I hope to see. There is a lot of foraging, too – getting the ingredients from the wild. I like for food to become more regional. Here in Taos, it would mean having more local foods, like horno chicos and, of course, chile.

Do you have a personal favorite or secret ingredient? I have four: good olive oil, sea salt, fresh cracked black pepper and fresh lemon. A few drops of fresh squeezed lemon can brighten any dish and finish it in a very good way.

What is your No. 1 rule for restaurant dining? Patrons should accept what the chef makes. Trust the chef! Great service also makes the dining experience memorable and unique.

Where do you eat when you are not in the kitchen? I eat at home with my wife, Annette Kratka. She is a wonderful cook and runs the dining room at El Meze, too. On Sundays, we like to relax together and eat simple, good food, like homemade tacos.

Jose Ruiz McPherson, executive chef at Quechua Peruvian Restaurant, came from Lima to Taos with the express purpose of cooking authentic Peruvian food for Northern New Mexicans.

Why did you become a chef? I learned the trade from my father, who was a chef at Banco Central de Reserva Club in Peru. I’ve always loved the welcoming feel of the kitchen and the aromas of homemade food. My goal is bringing all that to our restaurant.

What new food trends do you foresee? I foresee a trend toward authentic food. No fusion, nothing complicated, but traditional food from nuestra tierra, our motherland. 

Do you have a personal favorite or secret ingredient? Ají amarillo. Yellow peppers, also known as yellow chiles, are the most important ingredients in Peruvian cuisine, dating back thousands of years to the times of the Incas. Here in New Mexico, you always talk about red and green. … Well, now you can add “yellow” to the list.

What is your No. 1 rule for restaurant dining? Do everything with cleanliness, love and passion – and enjoy the results. I like to peek from the kitchen and see all these empty dishes.

Where do you eat when you are not in the kitchen? I like to cook and eat at home to improve my recipes. I always make new dishes on my own several times until I get them right. Then I can offer them to our patrons with confidence!

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