New Mexico offers several cooking classes, available online and in-person, that explore the state’s distinctive cuisine and give a bite of rich history, along with traditional and innovative recipes. Corn, beans, and squash, cultivated by Pueblo people long before Spaniards set out to conquer the New World, continue to be the foundation of indigenous meals. Most cooks consider chile, native to Mexico but now nurtured throughout New Mexico, to be the fourth essential ingredient. Spanish explorers introduced wheat, peaches, and livestock—forever altering the diet of Native Americans and contributing to meals unique to the state.
1. The Feasting Place
Norma and Hutch Naranjo welcome students to their home at the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, where Norma, a retired social worker, learned cooking traditions from her mother and grandmother. She shares her cultural heritage and skill in preparing Pueblo feast day–style meals using a horno, an outdoor adobe oven, during their half-day program called The Feasting Place.
When guests arrive at 10 a.m., the couple has already been at work for hours. Hutch oversees the fire in the horno, while Norma prepares bread dough and assembles fresh vegetables from the family farm at nearby Santa Clara Pueblo, using ancestral, Earth-friendly techniques. “We start with a hands-on lesson in making fruit empanadas, and I usually explain how the Spaniards changed our diets; we never used to eat bread,” Norma explains. She herds participants outside for the second part of the lesson, where they clear green chile embers from the horno before loading the empanadas and traditional Pueblo bread.
“After it’s all cooked, we eat at a gigantic table in the dining room, or, if it’s nice, we sit outside,” Norma says. People who assembled as strangers now interact with ease. “Food is what brings people together,” she says.
2. Indian Pueblo Cultural Center (IPCC)
Executive Chef Ray Naranjo of Odawa and Santa Clara Pueblo descent cooks with a horno in the Indian Pueblo Kitchen restaurant in Albuquerque. Except, nowadays, the earthen oven is an indoor, 21st-century model.
He explains that the Tewa word for horno is pante, which means bread house. Naranjo, who has a culinary degree and more than 25 years of professional experience, relays stories about his heritage and the spiritual connections with the ingredients. White (Mother Corn), red, yellow, and blue corn relate to the four directions (east, south, west, and north) and have special uses in food preparation and ceremony. Three Sisters Tacos, Juniper Braised Buffalo Short Ribs, Cactus Caprese Salad, Feast Day stews, and Blue Corn Enchiladas attest to Naranjo’s menu creativity in integrating traditional Pueblo food with contemporary techniques and ingredients.
When COVID-19 concerns shuttered the facility, Naranjo implemented The Pante Project, a freshly prepared, gourmet indigenous meal available once each month for pickup at the IPCC, along with a video link that features him cooking the distinctive dishes. The project raised money and awareness for the Pueblo Relief Fund and reinforced the cultural connection in the community. Naranjo has also been preparing in-person classes for when the facility can open completely. In the meantime, visit the Indian Pueblo Kitchen (now open!) at the IPCC to enjoy a memorable indigenous dining experience.
3. Santa Fe School of Cooking
The secret to making the famous Santa Fe School of Cooking’s melt-in-your-mouth tamales involves the flavorful chile filling and assembling the exact amount of corn masa, fats, liquid, and air. Yes, air. Chefs teaching traditional New Mexican cooking classes demonstrate that unless the cornmeal mixture is light enough to float on water, it needs to go back into the mixer.
Susan Curtis, who formerly lived on an Idaho ranch and fed cowboys, founded the school in 1989. Her daughter, Nicole Curtis Ammerman, is now the director of operations, but Susan is still actively involved. “We really like to promote New Mexico,” Ammerman says. Ingredients used in recipes are mainly state sourced, including the varieties of chile (Hatch, Chimayo, etc.) featured in three classes devoted to the state vegetable.
The seven chefs who teach via demonstrations or hands-on classes share their years of expertise and personal experiences with novice and repeat students. The traditional New Mexican food classes remain the most popular, but the selection is plentiful and covers Native American meals, cuisine of Mexico and Spain, and contemporary Southwestern creations. There’s even a course on artist Georgia O’Keeffe’s favorite foods. For a preview, view videos of demonstrations, cooking instructions, and complete recipes (including a how-to on making those perfect tamales).
Writer and photographer Pamela Porter has been chasing stories in New Mexico most of her life, working as a freelancer, reporter, and New Mexico State University journalism professor.
Travel offers and deals
Hot travel deals
Get the latest offers from AAA Travel’s preferred partners.
Travel with AAA
See how we can help you plan, book, and save on your next vacation.
Save big with AAA discounts on tickets to your next adventure.
Travel with confidence
Purchase travel insurance with Allianz Global Assistance.