Date January 14, 2008 at 11:00 PM
When July and August roll around and temperatures heat up, most wine aficionado's taste turns toward zippy whites, like a Loire Sancerre or a Basque Txakolina. So when the Editor asked me to do a feature on Doc Martin's restaurant and their new chef, I could hardly restrain my amusement at his name...Zippy White.
Born Gary White, Zippy grew up in Marin County in a household where food was not a big thing, often cooking simple fare for his mother and younger brother. College then led him to Colorado University in Boulder, where he found the environment even more woo-woo than in Marin.
After earning a degree in Economics and Sociology, the job offers weren't exactly inundating his mailbox. Noticing a job opening for a cook at the Hotel Bolderado, he decided that might be interesting. Despite a resume a bit short on facts, he was offered the job as breakfast cook. Zippy found the job challenging and exciting. Like many other chefs, he just happened to stumble onto his life's calling.
Alas, one can only do so much with bacon and eggs. So it was back to the Bay area and enrollment in the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco in 1982 to fully develop his chefing skills.
Chefs tend to be an itinerant bunch, and Zippy is no exception. After graduation, it was off to Alaska for work in the fishing lodges. Though the scenery was beautiful, dealing with the local bear population presented more challenges than the kitchen work. Then it was off to cook in Copenhagen, then back to the Bay area for a stint at the Napa Valley's famed Mustard's Grill.
In 1986, Zippy noticed an ad for sous chef at the Hondo Lodge in the Taos Ski Valley. His only taste of Taos was as he drove through it during his college days, so it took a leap of faith to accept their offer. At the Hondo Lodge, three other Garys were working there. Because of his proclivity to wear Zippy the Pinhead T-shirts, they decided to label him Zippy. The name stuck.
There were a few more years of "zipping" around-including a significant period of growth and change with renowned chef Tom Douglas of the Dahlia Lounge. Under Douglas, White watched Pacific Rim cuisine evolve and it is here that he developed the Asian influences that today nuance his menus at Doc Martin's.
Doc Martin's restaurant, located in the Taos Inn just off the Plaza in Taos, has a long and glorious history, replete with tours of duty by many noted New Mexico chefs like Zeke Lambert, Patrick Lambert, and Patrick Hartnett.
One of the big attractions of Doc Martin's is its terrific wine list. It has received The Wine Spectator's highest award, the Best of Award of Excellence, for longer than any other New Mexico restaurant. The wine menu has been under the hand of Craig Dunn, one of New Mexico's most knowledgeable wine people, for almost two decades. And the wine list is truly a treasure. It is one of the rare places you can find older wines here in New Mexico. But the list is not just laden with old, dusty relics. Craig's buying skills fill out the Carte du Vin with many new and interesting finds, some of which I've never seen here in New Mexico.
And there are other attractions to the list. With over a page, it has one of the largest selections of New Mexico wines in the state. The markup is one of the lowest of any restaurant here, making some of the older bottles particularly attractive values.
With such an extensive wine cellar to work with, Chef White created a menu of real diversity. Zippy's cuisine is difficult to pigeonhole. There are plenty of dishes with strong New Mexican influences. The Seattle influence is there with Asian touches to several dishes-and other items can be best described as "California fresh." (He makes a strong effort to patronize the local purveyors for his produce.) It's one of those menus I find very frustrating; there are a number of dishes I would love to try...especially with such a variety...but I'm only up in Taos on occasion.
Since this is a hotel restaurant, Zippy is also responsible for making sure breakfast and lunch is offered to the guests. He can accommodate the request for a hamburger or burrito when called upon to do so. In short, he can do it all.
So, when the high temperatures of August hit, head north to the real mountains, zip on over to Doc Martin's (stay over night, the Inn is wonderful), have a zippy little white wine, and enjoy the cuisine of Zippy White. Life doesn't get any better!
Doc Martin's is in the Taos Inn at 125 Paseo del Pueblo Norte in Taos. (505.758.1977). You can also view menus at www.taosinn.com.