February 14, 2004
A week ago Friday, after the History Channel video shoot in Tucson, cast and crew went to dinner at El Minuto, which is one of the best Mexican food restaurants in North America. While there, Professor Paul Hutton of the University of New Mexico, made the asinine remark that Arizona doesn't have good Mexican food, and that the reason New Mexico has such superior Mexican cuisine is because they adhere to the original Spanish version.
This made me laugh. Having just returned from Spain I assured him most Spaniards think ketchup is too spicy and as far as I could ascertain from my tour of at least a dozen cities from the high plains of La Mancha to the urban centers of Barcelona and Madrid, there is not one ingredient in Mexican food that came from Spain.
Paul was not impressed and stuck to his absurd theory. So I had to go to a higher power. When I got home I contacted Mad Coyote Joe (tv star of The Sonoran Grill and author of several best-selling Southwestern cookbooks), and asked him to write up a short and tasteful take on the history of Mexican food. Joe did neither. His reply is long, full of petty venom, not to mention recipes. That's just three of the things I love about the guy. Here's part of his response to Dr. Hutton’s ridiculous comments:
“I'm sorry to hear about your unfortunate run-in with professor Hutton. He
is a classic example of the old adage a little knowledge is dangerous. The
good scholar may be very bright when it comes to things that have to do with
dead yellow haired gringos [Prof. Hutton is a Custer expert] or nere-do wells from his home state of New Mexico [Hutton is the state’s official historian on the Billy the Kid dig] but he doesn't know squat when it come to Mexican food. The "Mexican" food he is so proud of is in fact a cuisine that has been developed over the past five hundred years in New Mexico. Although delicious, and very well defined, it has a little to do with Mexico and much less to do with Spain. It is in fact New Mexican food, which finds its roots in Pueblo American, Central American cooking. Centuries old, theirs was a diet of corn, beans and squash with a definite use of chiles. The Pueblo peoples had been harvesting chiles in the wild for centuries when the Spanish showed up. They had been trading partners with a tribe known as the Pochteca from Central America for several hundred years. It is reported they traded among other things chile seeds. The food Mr. Hutton calls Mexican was developed when the Catholics missionaries moved into the Rio Grande Valley five hundred years ago and used what was available, basically the afore mentioned Native American diet. That's when they started growing chiles. Most likely grown were Poblano, Jalapeno, and the ancestor of the most popular chile among growers in that region the New Mexico 6-4. The currently world famous variety known as "Hatch Green chile" is a total falsehood (like Mr. Hutton's statement!). It is a mix of different varieties including Big Jim, Anaheim, and the New Mexico 6-4. Hatch is an amazing region for growing chiles, but they sell way more than they grow. With Hatch Green Chiles on every store shelf from San Diego to Quebec, and the chiles called "Hatch" on sale by mail and on the Internet, plus the roadside stands selling fifty pound bags, in season, one would think they have millions of acres under cultivation. They in fact have only a few hundred. I'm told by people, in New Mexico, (that know) a good part of the chile being sold as "Hatch" is in fact grown in Arizona. It is then shipped to Hatch and sold as their own. Hmmm. Inferior chile from Arizona being sold as the really authentic chiles from New Mexico.”
Needless to say, Professor Hutton is not amused by this “blasphemy” and is incensed by this “uninformed” affront to the dignity and “superiority” of New Mexican style Mexican food. He has unleashed the glove and declared war on us. A nasty food fight will assuredly follow.
I must say, we look forward to this culinary showdown and are confident Sonoran style Mexican food will hold its own against these obnoxious, New Mexican food snobs.
“Ability hits the mark where presumption overshoots and diffidence falls short.”
—John Henry Newman
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