Growing up in the Midwest, my childhood idea of Southwestern food was mostly tacos, salsa, guacamole, burritos and refried beans. Then I started traveling and discovered a wonderful world of culinary treasures. The Santa Fe School of Cooking is one of those gems and a great place to delve into the marvelous realm of New Mexico culture and cuisine.
Opened almost three decades ago by Susan Curtis and co-owned by her daughter Nicole Curtis Ammerman, the internationally acclaimed institution is in the heart of historic Santa Fe.  Some of the best Santa Fe chefs, as well as guest chefs and cookbook authors, offer cooking demonstrations and hands-on classes in an airy modern kitchen complete with hanging mirrors and TV monitors to easily follow each preparation step.
The oldest school of its kind in New Mexico features feature traditional New Mexican, Native American, Mexican, Spanish, vegetarian and contemporary Southwestern cuisine. Instructors share history, cooking tips and favorite recipes in a comfortable entertaining atmosphere.
It was difficult to choose from a long list of mouth-watering classes, such as a red chile workshop and lessons in how to make rellenos, tamales, tapas, mole, Southwestern sauces and more. My favorite is the class titled “Cooking Inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe” which explores some of the famous artist’s ideas about food and cooking. O’Keeffe was ahead of her time in appreciating simple foods that are seasonal and grown and prepared with care.
For people who want to immerse themselves in an intensive cooking experience, the school offers a three-day cooking boot camp. That is on my to-do wish list.
All that cooking and talking about food certainly awakens taste buds so each class has a perfect ending – we get to eat what has been prepared. We can also can purchase local wine, ales, beer and soft drinks. Tea, water and coffee are complimentary.
If you’d like to take a saunter to enjoy some of Santa Fe’s excellent dining places, lace up your walking shoes, bring an appetite and take one of the school’s popular Restaurant Walking Tours.
Starting with munchies and a get-acquainted meeting at the school, the chef-led tours head off to visit four stops for private tastings with gourmet wizards, sommeliers and owners who help make Santa Fe one of America’s top culinary capitals.
I liked to browse through the school specialty market with its delightful array of herbs, spices, vinegars, cookware, prepared foods, table linens, cookbooks and much more. It’s a wonderful shop to gather ingredients for recipes learned in the school so I can share them at home with family and friends.
My fascinating shop discovery was a seasoned cast iron tortilla press that makes perfect corn tortillas. Now I can explore the alchemy secrets of the seemingly simple tortilla for Santa Fe savory souvenirs in my own kitchen.

An award-winning writer and photographer, Jackie Sheckler Finch enjoys taking to the road to discover the fascinating people and places that wait over the hill and around the next bend.