Farm to Kitchen

Date June 8, 2008 at 10:00 PM

Categories Health Care


Getting a recipe out of David Fresquez is not an easy feat. It's not that he's withholding-far from it. He is clearly an accomplished cook and utterly generous with his knowledge. It's just that he's talking a mile a minute, and he keeps adding in ingredients he forgot to mention earlier. "You have to wash the tripe in several changes of water. You boil it in salt water, actually. This dish takes twenty-four hours to make. I add green chile stew and red chile stew, but you have to cook it overnight in chicken broth first. Then you add the flavorings. You cook it until it's very tender. And it has onions, of course, and garlic. And tomato. You know tripe? The stomach of the cow? It's a delicacy. It's very mild. Oh, and sometimes I add posole."€

My pen is flying. "Do you have this written down anywhere?"€ I ask, trying not to sound too hopeful. "No, it's all in my head,"€ he says. "It's in the doing of it."€

David's recipes are like storytelling. Sprawling and rich with sensory details, they tell a story of valued, traditional ingredients and a family that finds pleasure in food. The spontaneity and generosity of his recipes mirror the work that happens here on the Fresquez's Monte Vista Organic Farm, which his wife, Loretta, calls "a work in progress."€ David and Loretta bought the land in Espa-ola back in 1974 when it was nothing but tumbleweeds. They built the house themselves (all except the roof), constructed stone walls all around the property, planted trees, fixed up the existing acequia, and built greenhouses. "How did you know how to do all that?"€ I ask. The answer, like the family recipes, is in the doing of it: "You figure it out as you go. There's a book on everything!"€

It's been a 30-year evolution, but nowadays the farm grows some of the best produce around, supplying not just the eager farmers' market crowd, but many local restaurants as well as the Albuquerque school system. The farm has certainly shaped David and Loretta's cooking style; they cook with what comes out of the ground, sometimes inventing new and resourceful ways to use what's available. At one point, they began drying extra crops to preserve them. When they crushed some dried Vidalia onions into a powder they discovered a valuable cooking tool. The powder is intense and almost caramelized in flavor. ("It makes the best gravy you've ever tasted!"€ Of course, that recipe isn't written down either.) They've experimented with garlic scape powder and dried tomato powder, too.

Loretta admits that their first cooking teacher was "necessity."€ She explains that when they were married they "didn't have fifty cents to buy milk."€ David fished and hunted for elk and antelope, and they always had a little garden. But despite the tight times, their daughter Jennifer remembers a childhood centered around food and people who appreciated good, local products. Her mom's cooking she describes as "creative comfort food. She could always make something out of nothing."€ When it came time for Jennifer to choose a career, she knew she wanted "to be with the food people."€ Her parents encouraged her to pursue what she loved, and she ended up attending the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, becoming a chef, and later, a marketing director for Whole Foods. "What I am right now is a direct result of growing up in a food family,"€ she says.

Jennifer started cooking as early as elementary school; scrambled eggs were her first dish. Then she learned to make bread, fascinated by the process of turning yeast and water and flour into something delicious to eat. But, she admits, she was still a regular kid, and didn't have much interest in the work of the family farm when she was growing up. David and Loretta tell this story, just to keep things in perspective: When Jennifer was young, they kept a few cows in a pen at the back pasture. One day, a friend of Jennifer's who lived in the next house over called to say the cows had broken loose and wandered over to his yard. Jennifer's reply was "What cows?"€ She was more likely to be found in the kitchen or reading in her bedroom than out in the fields.

It was the Fresquez' son Charles who had real interest in the farm. He has always been drawn to gardening, even fixing up the concrete square of his college backyard in order to grow a few things. These days he might call his sister to ask for advice on cooking the ingredients he grows. When the family gets together, they invariably end up cooking in the kitchen, tripping over each other and arguing about how best to make the dish.

Despite the genuine influence of her parents, Jennifer has a cooking style all her own. Where her father is a lavish experimenter, she is a self-described minimalist. She explains that the better quality the ingredients, the less you need to do with them. "The less you should do with them,"€ she emphasizes, "out of respect for the food."€ On this spring day in Espa-ola, it's easy to see where Jennifer got this sensibility; rows of cheerful lettuces are already growing exuberantly on her parents' farm-mixed beds of textures and colors, from pale speckled green to shiny purple, and clearly perfect just as they are. Nearby, the dark, sandy soil is tilled and waiting for the tomato seedlings sprouting from their flats in the kitchen windows.

Now David is telling me about a grilled trout he's recently perfected, with roasted fingerling potatoes dug from their own dirt-better than anything I'll find in a restaurant. My mouth is watering. "So, who does most of the cooking in the house?"€ I ask. "I do,"€ Loretta says. "No, I do!"€ says David. Whoever is cooking, you can bet the food is fresh, local, and make with the same care the Fresquez' take with the plants in the garden.

You can find David and Loretta at the Santa Fe Farmers' Market, often cooking up their beautiful produce right there at the booth. (Come pepper season, look for a skillet of shishitos, blistering to a heady succulence and ready to sample.) Farmers' Market hours: Saturdays, 7 a.m. to Noon, May-July at the New Mexico State Government PERA building parking lot, 1120 Paseo de Peralta.