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Santa Fe School of Cooking By Gail Guengerich

It could be intimidating to visit a twenty-four-year-old cooking school in Santa Fe. There could be that high-polish, starched snootiness that clings to fine food and makes many of us squirm. But walk into the Santa Fe School of Cooking and you experience the exact opposite—a feeling like you never want to leave—surrounded by large windows, earthen pottery, stacked tins of peppers and herbs, and intoxicating smells from the kitchen. All this is even before the mother-daughter team of Susan Curtis and Nicole Curtis Ammerman appear to offer a warm welcome. The school is thriving, and it doesn’t take long to understand that its success is inseparable from the Curtis women’s panache—an intuitive quality built of confidence, creativity, and a distinct style. Now at its new location on North Guadalupe, Susan says her vision for a cooking school that emerged in the middle of the night over twentyfive years ago is finally coming to full fruition. Offering dozens of classes on New Mexican, Native American, and Mexican cuisine, a walking restaurant tour, multiple cookbooks, and its own seasoning and spice line, the school bears the well-aged marks of a mature and established business. Nicole, who attended business school in the early phases, remembers when her mother left her job in real estate to establish the school. She calls it a classic mid-life crisis. Susan, in an introduction to one of her cookbooks, says its conception was a response to an empty nest and that fear of failure and its consequences for her family that drove her decision to pursue her dream—a decision that soon consumed all her time. “When she opened the school she completely ignored us. We were like ‘What? Where?’ She was completely gone,” says Nicole with a laugh. Though Nicole was bemused at the time, it wasn’t long until Nicole, turned off by a brief stint in corporate America, found her calling in the fruits of her mother’s labor.


edible Santa Fe | SPRING 2014

They work well together. Nicole describes Susan as the nuts and bolts businesswoman who speaks her mind. She describes herself as a warm and fuzzy people-person who likes being in the center of the action. Their working relationship is a complex system of delegation and authority, making a strong and well-balanced team. Susan proudly explains that their mission has always been to celebrate the food of Santa Fe. Promoting local food was not en vogue when she started the school; in fact, it was snubbed she says. “I wanted to pour local beer and wine. All the chefs in town said ‘you’re crazy.’” But Susan understood that when people visit a unique town like Santa Fe they want regional cuisine. She imagines opening schools in other locales with distinct cuisines—Jackson Hole, for instance, near her childhood home, a place rife with wild game. Both Nicole and Susan also proudly tout the collaborative aspect of the school—they draw experience and expertise from a pool of chefs, rather than a single personality. The school’s signature strengths—warmth, collaboration, and celebration—are hallmarks of women in community. In that spirit, the school will honor Women & Creativity month by featuring classes with four different female chefs—Deborah Madison, Cheryl Alters Jamison, Michelle Retzer, and Lois Ellen Frank. 125 North Guadalupe Street, Santa Fe, 505-983-4511 www.

Gail lives in Albuquerque where she writes for the food page of the Weekly Alibi. She has a three-year-old daughter who is already pretty good at stirring. (Not so good at cracking eggs.) She keeps a non-food related blog at Above Nicole Curtis Ammerman and Susan Curtis Photo by Stephanie Cameron

Edible Santa Fe - Spring 2014  

Women and Food - The spring issue is a showcase of amazing women working in food and agriculture, from those defining local food distributio...