You cannot be involved with the food scene in Santa Fe without hearing the name, Cheryl Alters Jamison. Cheryl, along with her late husband Bill, has received a James Beard award on multiple occasions for cookbooks that have sold over 2 million copies. She has several years of experience as the food editor for New Mexico Magazine, become an award-winning writer and a contributor on national television and radio programs while appearing with celebrity chefs. Cheryl also sat on the board for Cooking with Kids, which a non-profit that provides unique, hands-on food and nutrition education programs for the youth of Santa Fe.
We had the privilege of doing a fun Q&A with Cheryl about her career, some of her favorites things, her radio show and much more. And here it is for your reading pleasure:
FTNM: Who is you favorite or most inspiring celebrity chef and why?
CJ: It was the late Julia Child. She rose to the top in what was then completely a men’s world. She was fearless in the kitchen. She was an excellent teacher who was generous with her knowledge. She had insatiable curiosity. She’d eat a hot dog at a ball game as easily as haute cuisine. And she truly savored life. I will never forget her saying to me, in that distinctive warble, when I was nominated for an early major award, “Oh dearie, you should win.” I didn’t, but I had that as incredible personal consolation.
FTNM:If you could eat one dish for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
CJ: Green chile cheese enchiladas because I can hardly live a day without some form of NM chile! Chile, dairy, and corn—my favorite food groups.
FTNM: You’ve been a long time resident of Santa Fe, what are your top 5 favorite places to eat in Santa Fe?
CJ: Restaurant Martin, The Compound, The Shed, Atrisco Café, Shohko. May I throw in Santa Fe Bite too?
FTNM: What is your favorite dish to cook for family and friends?
CJ: It used to be barbecued beef brisket but that makes me sad that my late husband Bill is no longer here to cook with. Now I tend to do paella in my outdoor fireplace, rib-eye steaks on my wood-burning grill, or plank-roasted salmon or beef--also outdoors. Those usually end up with an Southwest edge to them. I also like whipping up a dish made with eggs from my little flock of chickens, which could be an omelet, a scramble, deviled eggs, egg salad, a Spanish tortilla, or a pie with meringue. My entertaining has gotten simpler over time but once a year, I usually spend several days working on an elaborate Chinese dinner. It’s a labor of love. Generally, I like doing mostly dishes that can be made ahead so that I can enjoy my guests.
FTNM: What is the most strange or unique dish that you have ever tried? And what is something that you would like to try?
CJ: Probably sweet and sour crickets in Chiang Mai, Thailand. They were being served in someone’s home so I had to have some though I was not too thrilled at the prospect. They really “gooshed” in an unpleasant way, to me. I preferred the toasted bamboo worms served that evening too. They tasted something like hollow French fries and had a nice crunch. While on the same trip, we stopped in Bali. I asked our regular cab driver where we could get a really good version of bebek betutu, a unique local duck dish. He said his wife made the best version he knew and asked if we would come to their home for dinner later that week. We were so amazingly honored to be invited to their humble but lovely home. We met multiple generations of the family, sat out on a terrace, and dined on this extraordinary dish. I’m not sure there’s much left that I haven’t tried somewhere, sometime by this point in my life.
FTNM: What was your earliest memory of cooking and when did you know you wanted it to be a major component in you life?
CJ: Making potato pancakes with my Great-Grandmother Ellis. By high school, I knew I was really interested in cooking, and good at it. That was the era though, of dorky home economics classes, not the kind of interesting cooking that kids that age get to experience in high school culinary programs today. I only thought of it as a delightful pastime, not a possible career.
FTNM: In your most recent book, Texas Slow Cooker, can you single out one recipe that everyone much try? And why?
CJ: Since it is a Texas book after all, perhaps the classic bowl of red, a Texas-style chili (with an ‘i’) so different from our New Mexican red and green chiles. And maybe the chocolate sheet cake too, because people are flabbergasted to realize that the slow cooker is an excellent way of cooking something that needs to remain somewhat moist. You can use less butter and sugar in the recipe and still have a great result.
FTNM: What have you found to be the biggest impact about the cooking with kids program of which you were on the board of? And why is food education for our youth so important?
CJ: We have had great success auctioning off a series of dinners at my home, co-hosted by another big CWK supporter, former Mayor, Javier Gonzales. It empowers kids if they can take care of themselves—now and in the future—and they understand supporting local farmers and growers, which in turn helps our local economy. Cooking is an essential life skill that used to be handed down from one generation to another and the organization is bringing that back. Kids too learn about food’s connection to culture here and throughout the world. We need more understanding of ways we are all alike.
FTNM: You host “Heating it up” on KTRC 1260/103.7 of which I had the honor of being one of your guests! How did your radio show come to be and what types of topics do you cover?
CJ: Yes, you were a great guest! I had been on Richard Eeds’ show a number of times. He’s the longtime go-to local news and features guy for Hutton Broadcasting. After one of those interviews, I just blurted out that they needed a food show. Richard said “When do you want to start?” He talked to Scott Hutton about the idea, and I was off and running. I cover anything and everything that is part of the culinary world—chefs, restaurants, farmers. People talking about wine, or beer, or spirits. I’ve had shows about composting food waste, about the newest in home kitchen appliances, and authors of cookbooks, from Chef Jacques Pepin to local friend Deborah Madison. I had Mayor Gonzales on talking about the local economic impact of food-related business, and hope to have our new Mayor, Alan Webber, on to have a related conversation before long.
FTNM: Tell us something about you that your fans and readers may not know, nor can be found in a book or an article?
CJ: I like Cheetos as road food.
FTNM: Cheryl, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions and give some insight on your endeavors!
For more information and updated on Cheryl please visit her website at https://excitedaboutfood.com/