There’s something of the devil about Chef Johnny Vee. Just look at those impish eyebrows, that devilish goatee and the glint—yes the glint—in his eyes. Over the top? Maybe. But ask anyone who’s taken a class with him at Las Cosas Cooking School in Santa Fe, New Mexico and I’ll bet they’ll agree.
Why? Because Johnny’s got a real passion for cooking. Sure he teaches classes like “Cut the Fat-Cut the Sugar-Cut the Carbs” but what’s he really saying? Add the butter, stir in the sugar and make mine a triple tortilla please. Food for him is about pleasure, enjoyment and above all else – fun. He’s been teaching at Las Cosas since 1999 and he’s put it on the map as the must-go destination for locals and tourists alike.
“I’d say we attract about 70% locals and about 30% tourists,” he told me during a rare break from teaching. The school is located in the Las Cosas Cooking Shop, a treasure-trove for the foodie-minded, about a mile from the downtown Plaza.
“When I started, most cooking schools only did demonstrations where you sat and watched the teacher. I disagreed. I like hands-on where the students do the cooking. It’s the best way to learn and definitely more fun.” Today he hosts classes that run the gamut from homegrown creations such as “New Mexico Favorites” to the far flung like “North Indian Street Food”.
One thing students never get tired of is chile. “In New Mexico, we don’t think of chile as a spice. Chile is the thing. So when you’re making chile sauce it’s not seasoned with chile, it is chile.” Are there misconceptions about chile? Absolutely. “People who haven’t eaten a lot of chile think it’s all hot. But there are levels of heat and heat shouldn’t be all that you get because then you’re knocking your taste buds out.”
Before taking Santa Fe by storm, Chef Johnny Vee (short for Vollertsen) worked for top restaurants in New York City and launched a bunch of places in Australia, some with a southwestern theme. It was a move that would eventually take him to Santa Fe. Now he’s here full time and just launched his first cook book, Cooking with Johnny Vee. It’s packed with loads of his favorites (check out the Eggplant Adovada—a vegetarian take on a southwestern classic) and a devilish good time (sorry, couldn’t resist).
And drumroll please! One lucky person will win a signed copy of Cooking with Johnny Vee! To enter, just answer this question:
What is Chef Johnny’s full last name?
Email answers to firstname.lastname@example.org by November 7th. Include your full name and address. We’ll pick one winner randomly from everyone who writes in. The winner will be announced next Friday in The Chile Trail. And if you don’t win, don’t sulk. You can buy a copy and Johnny will sign it for you (what a nice boy!). Just email him at: email@example.com.
Chef Johnny was kind enough to share his fabulous Quick Cured Smoked Salmon recipe. Here’s what he had to say about it:
“The Swedes knew that curing salmon in a mixture of sugar and course salt, not only preserved the prized fish but by adding sprigs of dill to the curing process, the fish was delicious thin-sliced. I gave the traditional cure mixture a Santa Fe spin by adding Caribe Chile flakes that give it a kick and by using brown sugar instead of white which gives it an almost barbecue flavor when the fish is smoked. If you don’t smoke the salmon, leave the cure on for 3 days and then slice it and serve as gravlax.”
QUICK CURED SMOKED SALMON WITH HOT MUSTARD SAUCE
(For 2 pounds of salmon.)
1/4 cup kosher salt
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
4 teaspoons Los Chileros Red Caribe Chile
fresh ground pepper
2 pounds of fresh salmon, whole sides
1. Check salmon for pin bones and remove with needle-nose pliers or tweezers.
2. In a large, non-reactive, oblong pan, mix salt and sugar until well blended and spread it out into a shape that will facilitate the most contact to the salmon flesh. Sprinkle Caribe Chile over salt/sugar mixture.
3. Season salmon with fresh ground pepper and lay it flesh side down, onto prepared cure mixture.
4. Cover with plastic wrap and place a similarly sized pan directly onto salmon. Weigh down pan with canned goods or brick and refrigerate for 24 hours.
5. Remove salmon from the marinade and gently scrape of a majority of the marinade.
6. Prepare the smoker and smoke salmon for 8-12 minutes, depending on the thickness of the flesh*, in a smoker using a mild wood (alder, apple, pecan, cherry).
7. Serve at room temperature with Hot Mustard Sauce.
8. Alternatively Salmon can be grilled over prepared fire. Place flesh side down and grill for 4 minutes then flip and finish skin side down. Grill until flesh comes away from the skin easily. Serve with Mustard Sauce.
*8 minutes for salmon that is up to 1 inch thick
10 minutes for up to 2 inches thick
12 minutes for thicker than 2 inches
HOT MUSTARD SAUCE
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup hot mustard, any style such as Chinese or Wasabi,
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 scallion, root end removed, minced
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1. Mix all ingredients together in a medium bowl and chill for one hour.