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Chuck’s Eat the Street: Santa Fe Spice Up

“In Santa Fe,” says popular TV chef Chuck Hughes of the Cooking Channel’s Chuck’s Eat the Street, “everything’s about the chile. There’s definitely this kind of culture around hot peppers that you don’t see anywhere else.” Hughes spent about a week on Santa Fe’s Water Street and got to meet a few of the city’s many chefs. The episode, Chuck’s Eat the Street: Santa Fe Spice Up premiers on Thursday, August 29th at 8pm MDT.

A bit about Chuck:

Chuck Hughes developed a love of cooking at a young age. His mother encouraged him to help her in the kitchen. “She always got me involved,”” the personable chef said over the phone from his home city, Montreal, “cleaning stuff, cutting carrots, peeling.” But, it wasn’t until his first restaurant job at age 16 or 17 that the idea of making cooking a career  solidified. “I remember seeing the chef and saying ‘Wow!’” he recalled. “I realized that I could actually do this for a living and it was something that I’d really love to do.  I really haven’t looked back since.”

Garde Manger Montreal

Garde Manger, Montreal, photo/Dominique Lafond courtesy Garde Manger

In 2006, after jobs in some top Montreal kitchens, he opened his first restaurant, Garde Manger (named after his first kitchen station), with his two best friends, Tim Rozon and Kyle Marshall. The team opened a second eatery, Le Bremner, also in Montreal, in August, 2012.

Don’t expect a menu at Garde Manger. The intimate, yet energetic spot (it seats 60 including at the bar) is driven by what the chef wants to cook and what’s fresh in the market. The evening’s offerings will be on a chalkboard, that according to Chuck, “changes non-stop”. But, there are some standards that diners will always find such as Lobster Poutine, Wine Braised Short Ribs and Jerked Crab. These are the “famous dishes that we’re kind of stuck with,” he said. “Not that we don’t like them, but we’ve been doing them for a long time. People come from all over the world to sample these dishes.” They aren’t coming off the menu anytime soon. Another staple is the 3-tiered seafood platter an arrangement of decadent seasonal selections such as lobster, live scallops, fresh shrimp and crab. Some of these will always be there and some are seasonal.

Chuck’s first TV show, Chuck’s Day Off, debuted on the Canadian Food Network in 2010 and was a hit. It reached 50 countries and is now in reruns. Now in its second season, Chuck’s Eat the Street, first aired on the Cooking Channel in September 2012.

Chuck in front of Coyote Cafe Santa Fe NM photo courtesy Coolking Channel

Chuck in front of Coyote Cafe, photo/courtesy Cooking Channel

Chuck Eats Water Street:

Chuck Hughes visited three restaurants and one food-themed shop when he “ate” Water Street, a narrow byway that runs for about a half dozen blocks, filled with shops galleries and, yes, restaurants. On the episode he cooks with Coyote Café’s Chef Eric DiStefano, Katharine Kagel, founder of the iconic Café Pasquals and Chef Russell Thornton, at Rooftop Pizza.

Chuck Hughes with Russell Thornton at Rooftop Pizza Santa Fe NM photo/courtesy Cooking Channel

Chuck with Chef Russell Thornton at Rooftop Pizza, photo/courtesy Cooking Channel

While he loved all his cooking experiences here, his favorite was the day he spent in La Madera, over an hour northwest of Santa Fe, with Kagel They went to visit Jicarilla Apache potter Felipe Ortega at his busy studio where he makes micaceous clay pots. Micaceous clay is characterized by the sparkly presence of naturally occurring mica throughout. The drive up in an open Jeep was an adventure in itself. “One minute we were in the desert in a Jeep with no roof- everything was gorgeous,” he shared. “And then literally, two seconds into it, thunderstorms, and hail starts falling down, really on the drop of a dime. Then two minutes later, it’s back to sun again.”

Chuck with Felipe Ortega at Felipe's in La Madera NM photo/courtesy Cooking Channel

Chuck with Felipe Ortega at Felipe’s horno in La Madera, photo/courtesy Cooking Channel

After Chuck, who called Ortega the “pottery god”, made his own micaceous pot which he called an amazing experience, it was time to cook. He and Kagel made turkey in a micaceous pot in Ortega’s horno, a traditional beehive-shaped clay oven used in New Mexico for hundreds of years. He said this day was one of the “hottest experiences of the entire season”. Kagel, too, enjoyed her time with the exuberant Canadian. “Chuck rocks!” she said. “He’s a happy, happy guy. He’s got a marvelous open chef’s curiosity about wherever he is.”

Felipe Ortega Chuck Hughes and Katherine Kagel show off their hard work in the kitchen photo/courtesy Cooking Channel

Felipe Ortega  Chuck Hughes and Chef Katherine Kagal show off their hard work in the kitchen,photo/courtesy Cooking Channel

Because no trip to Santa Fe is complete without chile, Chuck made a stop at The Chile Shop where he visited with owner Chris Beck and tasted New Mexico’s official state vegetable. When asked the official state question, “Red or green,” the diplomatic culinarian answered, ” both” He says if he had to choose one, he’d go with green. Why?  “Green sometimes is a little bit more subtle and, I’m a pig,” he quipped. “You tend to be able to put a lot more on.”

Chuck with Chris Becj at the Chile Shop courtesy Chuck Eats the Streetphoto/courtesy Cooking Channel

Chuck with Chris Beck at the Chile Shop, photo/courtesy Cooking Channel

What’s next:

What’s up next for this energetic chef on the go? “Hopefully,” he said, “another season of Chuck’s Eat the Street”. For now, he’s looking forward to concentrating on the restaurant and savoring being home in Montreal. And, he’s waiting for the snows and ski season. “I’m really enjoying the moment,” he said. ”Doing what I’m doing, enjoying it, and [being] surrounded by great people; really enjoying life and trying to be a little bit more present — that’s what’s on the menu for me.”





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