Chef David Sundberg takes his food and brew seriously

Santa Fe’s Blue Corn Cafe (aka Blue Corn Brewery) is lucky. They found the perfect Executive Chef. David Sundberg has an upbeat, amiable personality that reflects the “sun” in his name. He  revamped the restaurant’s New Mexican-influenced pub menu adding some sophisticated and delicious touches that make it a much more interesting place to dine. Talking to him about food, you sense his passion. He’s equally enthusiastic and knowledgeable about hand-crafted beers and ales. He and Blue Corn Cafe are a great fit.

Blue Corn Cafe dining rooms photo courtesy Blue Corn Cafe

The dining room at Blue Corn’s Southside location, photo/courtesy Blue Corn Cafe

Sundberg, who was raised in Missouri, became interested in cooking at a young age. He would come home from school and perch on the kitchen counter and watch his mom prepare dinner. As he got older, he was given prep chores and eventually his own night to cook dinner. “As time went on, I’d make desserts for dinner parties and then took charge of the grill,” he says.  “It just grew as I did.”

He studied Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Missouri, taking cooking classes along the way. Most of what he learned came from working with other chefs and satisfying his curiosity about food and cooking techniques. “The best education comes from a desire to learn,” he says “and an effort to seek it out.”

Blue Corn Cafe's craft brews photo courtesy Blue Corn Cafe

Some of Blue Corn Cafe’s craft brews photo/courtesy Blue Corn Cafe

Before moving to Santa Fe Sundberg worked at the Apple Park Hotel in Maastricht, The Netherlands and restaurants around Rhode Island. He met his wife, Stefanie, a New Mexico native in RI. While on a visit to Santa Fe in 2010, they decided this was really where they wanted to live.  “We couldn’t resist the mountains, clean air, and huge blue skies.” They went back east, packed up their things and were back here within a month. Before landing in the Blue Corn Cafe  kitchen, Sundberg cooked for a few prestigious Santa Fe restaurants. He seems to have found his niche..

There’s almost always a daily special in addition to the carefully designed core menu. “I enjoy creating specials around the seasons and around the beer,” he says.  Whenever Head Brewer John Bullard comes out with a new beer, Sundberg works on creating the right food pairings. One of his passions is the Blue Corn Cafe’s monthly Beer Socials These events feature food and brew carefully selected to complement each other. Sundberg does with hand-crafted brews what other chefs do with wines; discovers the perfect food pairings. He also enjoys cooking with the brews, grains and wort.

Blue Corn Cafe photo Steve Collins

Stuffed sopapilla smothered in red and green chile photo/Steve Collins

Sundberg, a big fan of fresh and local, visits the Farmers’ Market every week. He also has direct relationships with local farmers some of whom deliver directly to the cafe. His last Beer Social, used about 60% locally grown and produced food. “You just can’t beat the quality and freshness of local foods,” says Sundberg. For instance, he has hotdog on the menu now. “Hotdog?” you might think, but these aren’t just any hotdogs. He makes them from scratch, using all New Mexico beef and 15 spices and herbs. Why? Because he cares.

Sundberg says his cooking has been influenced by family, travels and the world around him. He loves exploring different cuisines and new ideas are always coming to him as he goes about his day. He says he always carries a scrap of paper to get these down as they pop into his head. Currently he’s working on charcuterie. On a recent day he was curing achiote-ale salami, a juniper-rubbed braciola, and a side of red chile bacon. Kind of makes your mouth water, huh?

Blue Corn Cafe Chef David Sundberg in the kitchen photo Blue Corn Cafe

Chef David Sundberg putting on the finishing touches, photo/courtesy Blue Corn Cafe

Sundberg shares his Kohlrabi-stuffed Squash Blossoms with Candied Tomatoes recipe from a recent Blue Corn Cafe Beer Social with Santa Fe Travelers’ readers. It was paired with Imperial Red ale. If you’re not familiar with kohlrabi, it’s in the cabbage family and according to the chef has “a peppery cabbage flavor with the crunch of a turnip.”  He suggests also trying them sliced in a salad or cooking them and mixing them in with mashed potatoes.

Kohlrabi-stuffed Squash Blossoms with Candied Tomatoes

2 large kohlrabi
Olive oil
White wine
Salt and pepper to taste
4 ounces Asadero cheese, grated
12 Squash Blossoms
Bread Crumbs, as needed
Vegetable oil for frying

Tempura batter:
1 cup flour,
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup soda water
1/3 cup amber ale
pinch salt

Candied tomotoes:
½ cup sugar
½ cup water
1 pint cherry tomatoes
¼ tsp cinnamon

Roast the kohlrabi in a covered pan with a bit of olive oil, white wine, salt and pepper until tender, about 1 ½ hours at 350°. (While you’re waiting for the kohlrabi to cool, make the candied tomatoes, see below.) Cool then peel it and puree the flesh with the cheese. Season to taste and add 1-3 Tbsp of bread crumbs to help thicken the mixture. Stuff into each of the blossoms (fill them just in the bottom green part of the flower) and twist the yellow part to seal.  I use a pastry bag to make the stuffing easier. Mix up the tempura batter. Dip the stuffed squash blossoms into a tempura batter. Fry at 350º degrees in vegetable oil until lightly golden.

Candied tomatoes:
Prepare these before you are ready to cook the blossoms so they are ready to use.  Cut tomatoes in half and toss with the cinnamon. Cook the sugar and water to a light caramel then toss in the tomatoes and stir gently with a wooden spoon. Turn onto a greased pan and allow them to cool. Separate the tomatoes from the hard caramel delicately and discard the caramel. Serve them chilled with the squash blossoms.

Alternately:
If you are unable to find squash blossoms, cut two medium-sized zucchini in half, hollow out the seeds and fill them with the same stuffing.  Bake in a 350 oven for 25-30 minutes until the squash is slightly tender.

Here’s a great suggestion from the chef: If there are farmers selling squash at your farmer’s market, but no squash blossoms, see if the farmer will bring some for you.

Been to either of Santa Fe’s Blue Corn Café locations or other micro-breweries in town? We’d love to hear your experience.

Author’s note: We were guests of the Blue Corn Brewery. Their generous hospitality has not effected this post in any way.

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9 Responses to “Chef David Sundberg takes his food and brew seriously”

  1. Stephen
    July 30, 2019 at 9:09 pm #

    Love the food and beer at Blue Corn. Love the passion that Chef David cooks with as well. Even though he’s not from New Mexico, he really seems to belong there.
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  2. payje
    July 31, 2019 at 12:16 pm #

    My mom and I took a cooking class in Oaxaca once and learned how to make squash blossom soup, it was SO GOOD! I’m definitely tucking this recipe away for later for when I’m in the mood for something fancy!
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    • Billie Frank
      August 1, 2019 at 4:18 pm #

      We’ve been talking about organizing a culinary tour to Oaxaca- funny you should mention it.

      • Payje
        August 3, 2019 at 8:24 am #

        Oh you definitely should… if you do, try a class called Cooking With Nora if you get the time, she is a B&B owner from Oaxaca, the class was AWESOME! We went to the market before cooking to buy everything with her, and she introduced us to the vendors and we learned about the people we bought the food from, then we made mole, squash blossom soup, stuffed squash blossoms and pineapple tamales all from complete scratch. It was an awesome day! The food in Oaxaca is probably the best food of my life.
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        • Billie Frank
          August 3, 2019 at 10:40 am #

          Thanks for the information. We have a chef/friend in Santa Fe who’s from Mexico and has a lot of food connections in Mexico. We sometimes talk about putting a culinary tour together. At the moment it’s in the dream stage.

  3. Barbara Summers
    September 7, 2019 at 12:57 pm #

    Love reading this about David. As his aunt, I have seen him in various cooking stages. As a resident of Ohio, I have not yet made it to Blue Corn but this beautifully crafted article by Billie Frank tells me that David and Stefanie have, indeed, found their niche. Thanks to the folks in Santa Fe who understand and appreciate his passion for food. Without their thirst for exciting foods and beers, poor David would just be out spinning in the desert wind.

    • Billie Frank
      September 7, 2019 at 1:21 pm #

      I’m a big David fan. He really turned Blue Corn Cafe & Brewery around. Plus, he’s a really great guy! You’ve got to come out and see Santa Fe and taste his great food there.

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