Edible Ornamentals Ultimate Chile Tour – Part 1: Dave Dewitt in Santa Fe

by Guest Writer on March 14, 2012 · 2 comments

in General Information

The Santa Fe meeting

A trip to New Mexico in the USA wasn’t what we originally had in mind for our family holiday this year but two unrelated events collided that would propel us towards a terrific 10 days in the Land of Enchantment. First my wife, Joanna, was awarded a bursary (part-funding) for a business-related educational visit to an international destination. We initially wanted to use the opportunity to try to visit a tomatillo grower in the United States. Demand for the precious ‘Mexican husked tomato’s’ has been on the rise and we wanted to see how other growers are growing them. At about the same time I met Dave DeWitt on facebook. I saw his name on someone’s friends list and sent him an introduction and told him we that we are commercial chilli growers in England. After ‘friending’ each other I mentioned my interest in finding a tomatillo grower in the USA. Dave replied telling me that New Mexico is the biggest producer of chillies in the USA and he invited us to come along on the chile “tour of a lifetime”.

North of Santa Fe New Mexico.

North of Santa Fe New Mexico.

The New York Times has dubbed Dave DeWitt “The Pope of Peppers”. He’s an internationally renowned chile pepper expert and author of 41 books on the subject. He’s also owner of Sunbelt Shows Incorporated, the company that puts on The National Fiery Foods and BBQ Show in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His company also produces the “Scovie Awards” (www.scovieawards.com) which is probably the biggest and most famous spicy food and barbeque awards competition. They also run several major industry websites including the burn blog (www.burn-blog.com) and www.fiery-foods.com . In this business, Dave is nothing short of a legend and he sits right smack dab in the middle of the huge American chile industry. To top it off, he lives in New Mexico which not only produces more chillies than any other US state, but it also has a long and prestigious history of scientific research and development of both capsicum varieties as well as growing technique’s.

Dave’s books have been around our house for as long as I can remember. In fact, one of my frequently asked questions on our website is answered with a quote from Dave DeWitt. A tour of the chile industry in New Mexico, hosted by none other than Dave DeWitt, was an opportunity way to fantastic to miss so 39 days later Joanna, Filippo, Nazy and I we were sitting on an airplane on final approach to the tiny Santa Fe airport in Northern New Mexico. About an hour later, after parking our rental car in downtown Santa Fe, we spotted Dave and his associate Lois Manno who were waiting for us on the sidewalk in front of the Coyote Cafe. Lois is editor of The Burn blog and has worked with Dave for over 20 years including on the Chile Pepper Magazine, a number of book projects, and as Editor and Art Director for Sunbelt Shows.

Dave was exactly as I expected. I’d seen him on the Martha Stewart show and he looked the same. Tall, smiling, and genuinely interested in meeting us. He sported a colourful shirt printed with chilli peppers under an ”El Pinto” branded sweatshirt. We’d warned our kids to be on best behaviour but it proved unnecessary and both shook hands and introduced themselves.

Dave explained that the Coyote Cafe had closed for lunches and he’d made alternative reservations at another Santa Fe eatery just up the street at Cafe Pasqual’s. The place was full, which is a good sign in my books, and we were seated at a large booth to the rear of the establishment. I quietly wondered to myself whether they knew who Dave was and whether we’d be getting any sort of special treatment. In the weeks prior to our visit I’d tried to read as much as I could from Dave’s books. I’d even ordered several of the titles from Amazon and I specifically read the New Mexico chapter of his book “The Southwest Table“. My conclusion was that this guy is a foodie on an intergalactic level. In his books he suggests numerous restaurants across the State and even makes suggestions on what to order in some cases. If they did know who he was it wasn’t obvious and we were given the same good service that the other patrons were enjoying.

Dave and Lois ordered the Mole Enchilada. Joanna had Chile Rellano’s, which we both love and remember fondly from our days living in San Antonio, Texas. The key difference is that these were made with the New Mexican green chile instead of the Poblano. Nazy had quesidas while Filippo settled for corn beef hash and eggs. I chose the Blue Lady Enchilada’s. This would be our first taste of New Mexican cuisine but already one important characteristic of this food was becoming obvious; not only is New Mexican cuisine defined by the dominance of the use of chile but the chile is used as a food rather than just as a spice or seasoning. Of all the things I learned on our ultimate chile tour, this would prove the most profound.

I asked Dave how he got started writing books about chile peppers and food and he explained that he’d travelled to New Mexico from his home in Virginia in 1974 and fell in love with the place and the cuisine which is dominated by the use of the famous chile pepper. He moved there and began making a living from his freelance writing and then embarked on writing books about the spicy pod. This was at the start of chile craze in the USA and Dave’s idea was to write every conceivable book on the subject… which he duly did. Try Googling “Dave DeWitt” on Amazon and you’ll see what I mean. He also had a talent for organising shows and eventually organized the first ever Fiery Foods Festival in 1988. This event remains today one of the premier fixtures on the global chile pepper calendar.

At the end of our meal we said goodbye to Dave and Lois. Our plans would see us first head North 60 miles to spend three days of family time in the Northern New Mexico town of Taos at one of the most beautiful spa hotels in the country, El Monte Sagrado (www.elmontesagrado.com) but our ultimate New Mexican chile adventure had only just begun. We would meet Dave again in Albuquerque in four days time. We knew he had a full itinerary of activities planned for us but we couldn’t have imagined what was to come.

Edible Ornamentals

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Phil Maynard April 28, 2012 at 4:15 am

It sounds like a fantastic start to your trip! Looking for part 2 now!!


avatar Bill Fraser March 15, 2012 at 1:18 am

Shawn! All I can say is WOW and I think your story about you and your familys’ journey to New Mexico is fascinating!! Wow!! May your educational yet fun trips increase your knowledge of the chili pepper business and may your business continue to grow and flourish!! You and Jo Deserve all the success!!

From Your Amigo in S. Cal!!! Billy Fraser!!


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