In the fifth season of PBS' "Moveable Feast with Fine Cooking," host Curtis Stone visited Taos and collaborated with farmers Christopher Lujan and Matt Romero to showcase the region's …
In the fifth season of PBS' "Moveable Feast with Fine Cooking," host Curtis Stone visited Taos and collaborated with farmers Christopher Lujan and Matt Romero to showcase the region's ancient blue corn and other varietal heirloom crops. With those ingredients two local chefs were invited to prepare and host an affair truly worthy of the "feast" designation, and it comes with no surprise that Chef Chris Maher was one of the culinary experts featured in the episode.
No surprise because Maher is lauded as the owner of Cooking Studio Taos, whose comprehensive schedule often consists of, well, hosting moveable feasts. Its Taos Secret Supper Club is a pop-up fine dining experience that roams throughout Northern New Mexico, using expansive locales whose gorgeous views serve as a backdrop for menus that rival the area's natural beauty.
Maher and his wife, Valerie, also coordinate experiential vacations that appeal to the wanderlust in those desiring world-class cuisine, wine and adventures. From South Africa to the Greek Islands and all points in between, the Mahers make extraordinary five-star and all-inclusive arrangements that include accommodations in centuries' old villas or off-the-beaten-path historical lodgings.
This weekend, Cooking Studio Taos is on the move again, albeit in the backyard of their Arroyo Seco venue. On Saturday (Dec. 22), the Taos Ski Valley's Austing Haus Boutique Bed & Breakfast will host Maher and his immersive hands-on, technique-driven classroom experience from 1-6 p.m., when students will master the secrets of traditional Italian holiday cooking.
"We're not going to do the Christmas Eve 'Feast of Seven Fishes,' but we will trend towards seafood-centric, with perhaps a lasagne alla bolognese," in a nod to Christmas Day when most Italians prepare a meat entree with a baked pasta, he noted. A dessert pastry incorporating luscious almonds--a customary Italian offering for the new year -- may also show up on the menu which, whatever it holds, will certainly be mouthwatering.
The sheer enjoyment of being one of Maher's students (to which this writer can attest) comes not only from learning under his umbrella of culinary excellence but also from his infectious appreciation of food as art.
"Yes," he agreed, "my approach is definitely interpretive. It's not about learning recipes; it's about learning techniques that make it easy for you to reproduce great tastes based upon your own palate."
Maher, a self-described "Hollywood baby," is as well-known for his work in movies and episodic television series as he is as a chef. Between New York and Los Angeles, Maher has appeared in a number of feature movies and in the most popular of network series such as "Hill Street Blues" and "NCIS."
"I loved making the movie 'Enough' with Jennifer Lopez, and being Eddie Murphy's sidekick in 'Best Defense,'" he reminisced. By his mid-30s, however, his love for food and cooking captured and catapulted him.
"My agent and manager both said, 'Why, Chris?' But by then the language of great food had me, and I knew that had to be the focus of my life," he said. Before moving to Taos, Maher owned three restaurants in West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Cooking School Taos has become the culmination of where he always envisioned himself.
"Do you know Joseph Campbell?" he asked. "Campbell said, 'Follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be.' Well, here I am. Food is now my art."
The combination of Maher's culinary talent and the setting of his cooking classes at the Austing Haus is actually quite genius. Upon its completion, the hotel was the country's largest example of timber construction, but its founder, Paul Austing, was also an Escoffier-trained and internationally recognized chef as well as a builder.
General manager of Austing Haus Allison Hyder noted that Saturday's class has a particular significance, saying, "Paul passed away on Dec. 22, 2008, so it is fitting we are having Chris here on the 10th anniversary of his death to cook in the kitchen that Paul so lovingly built."
In addition to this weekend's event, Maher and Hyder have arranged a schedule of global cuisine classes to be held at Austing Haus throughout the ski season. Spanish tapas and French, Thai, Moroccan, New Mexican and Mediterranean techniques and menus will be offered. Austing Haus will also be hosting the annual Taos Ski Valley Winter Wine Dinner in February.
"Not only are these unique experiences for our skiers, we hope that those who don't ski will come up and visit us," Hyder said.
Tickets are $98 per person, and their limited availability may be reserved by calling (575) 776-2665. "Everyone who attends will be handed an apron and will participate fully in the preparation of the meal. Afterwards, we'll relax with a glass of wine and enjoy the fruits of our labor," Maher said.
The Maher's will continue to offer classes at the Cooking Studio in Arroyo Seco and are busy planning next year's tours to Portugal and Italy. You can access their full schedule of events and reserve your place online by visiting cookingstudiotaos.com.
The Austing Haus is located at 1282 State Road 150 and may be contacted by calling (575) 776-8751 or by visiting theaustinghaus.com.
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