Photo: Tina Larkin
Originally published in Taos News
South African chef participates in Annual Taos Winter Wine Festival
Shane Alexander, the chef at the Snakedance Condominiums’ restaurant and a South African native, ended up in Taos because of—love.
“I was supposed to go to culinary school in 2007,” he said, “but I put it off to come here and learn to ski and snowboard.” He began to work as a bellman at Alpine Village Suites. There he met his wife, Sydna, who managed the property at the time. “Deciding to come back and stay was easy,” he said. “Sydna was here!”
Before coming to Taos, Alexander spent 2 years traveling between The Enchantment Resort in Sedona, Arizona, and The Tides Inn in Irvington, Virginia, where he worked as a server. “Then I began to develop an interest in the Food and Beverage industry,” he said. “I researched many culinary institutes, both in South Africa and America, and finally settled on Warwick’s Chef School in Hermanus Cape Town because I wanted to receive the best possible training.”
After finishing culinary school, he returned to Taos in 2009 and was hired at Lambert’s of Taos by Ky Quintanilla. “He helped me develop and refine what I had learned at school,” Alexander said. “I still appreciate his patience and hold on to his words of knowledge.”
He started working as the chef at the Snakedance Condominiums’ restaurant in the winter of 2009. “I truly count myself blessed to have been surrounded by such passionate and skilled chefs as I have met here,” he said.
For Alexander, the most rewarding part of being a chef is to know that people are pleased with the food he has prepared. “But the most difficult part is always hard to pinpoint,” he said. “Every day is filled with challenges and if it takes a while to figure something out, it can be frustrating. For me, a challenging task was learning to cook, and especially learning to bake, at high altitude because I learned everything I know at sea level.”
Though Alexander enjoys all kinds of foods and preparations, his favorites, and the ones that he excels at, are stocks, soups and sauces. “Livers, hearts and kidneys are also favorites,” he said.
As for his preferred kitchen appliance, Alexander mentions, like many other chefs, the robot coupe. But the most important thing, he said, is a willingness to learn and a passion for food.
“The best chef is the one who can take on every challenge on food,” he said, “the one who is constantly, consistently and vigilantly working to improve on his skills.”
Alexander will be preparing multicourse menus for the 26th Annual Taos Winter Wine Festival that will take place from January 24th to the 27th. Diners will be hosted at severalTaos’ restaurants, including Lambert’s, Bavarian and Sabroso.
The Winery Diners at the Snakedance restaurant will feature Marietta Cellars on the 24th, Heitz Cellars on the 25th and a dinner through the South of France with Charles Neil on the 27th.
“I’m really excited about the game bird courses,” Alexander said. “They include squab and pheasant, and I am also particularly excited about a lobster and sweet bread pairing with Zinfandel for the Mariettta dinner.”
The menus have already been started and can be viewed on the hotel website. “They are always developing and sometimes even get changed a little right before the dinner,” Alexander said and added, “for the better.”
The Winter Wine Festival has a long tradition. In 1991, a group of Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley winemakers and winery owners came to Taos Ski Valley on a ski week. Chris Stag, one of the founders of the festival, suggested that they come back the following year, bring a case of wine and write off their trip. “This sparked the idea to combine the love of skiing and the outdoors with great wine tasting in a more intimate setting,” said Alexander.
In 1992, Roger Mariani, Chris Stag and Greg O’Byrne got together and decided to kick off the Wine Festival with the motto “Keep it small, intimate and fun for all.”
“I think of the Festival not only as a way of having fun and tasting great wines, but also as an educational experience,” said Mariani, who is the general manager of Snakedance Condominiums. “We offer seminars, which this year feature Marqués de Riscal Rioja and Around the World of Pinot Noir, among other selections.”
The Grand Tasting, on January 28th, will take place in the Ski Valley, at the foot of chair lift #1. It features more than 155 different wines that come from 30 participating wineries. It also includes tastes from a dozen of Taos’ finest restaurants.
“This is a remarkable event,” said Alexander. “It gives people the opportunity to comfortably approach a winemaker and talk about the wines that interest the participant without the disappointment of battling through the many hundreds, or sometimes thousands, that go to any other wine festival. Besides, Taos is the perfect setting for the fun experience of tasting an ample selection of wines!”
To find out more about the Winter Wine Festival, visit www.taoswinterwinefest.com
To find out about the Snakedance restaurant diners go to http://www.snakedancecondos.com
Recipes by Chef Alexander
Green Chili Black Bean Soup
– 1 cup dried black beans (soaked for 6 hours, then strained)
– 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
– 1/4 cup white wine
– 1 red onion, diced
– 2 cloves garlic, sliced or minced
– 1 jalapeño (seeds removed and diced)
– 2 cups roasted hatch green chili, diced
-1 tomato (seeds removed and diced)
– 1/2 cup BBQ sauce
– 1 lb of bacon, cooked and sliced (save bacon fat)
– juice from 1 lime
– 1/2 cup freshly chopped cilantro
– 1/2 teaspoon each cumin, coriander and dried oregano
– 1 bay leaf
In a large pot, sauté onions, garlic and jalapeños in bacon fat for 3 minutes on a medium heat. Add white wine to deglaze. Add beans, dried herbs, lime juice, bacon, BBQ sauce, green chili and tomatoes and heat through.
Add stock and turn the heat up to high. Once the soup begins to boil, turn the heat down to low, cover with aluminum foil and cook for 2 1/2-3 hours. Check the liquid level every 30 minutes.
Once the soup is cooked, turn the heat off, add the cilantro and season to taste with salt and pepper.
To make this soup vegetarian, leave out the bacon and use canola or vegetable oil.
Boerewors (South African farmers’ sausage)
– 1 lb. ground beef, pork, lamb or game
– 2 slices of bacon, diced
– 1 oz. red wine vinegar
– 1 garlic clove, minced
– 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
– 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
– 1/8 teaspoon each ground nutmeg, thyme, allspice and cloves
Mix all ingredients in a bowl, cover and refrigerate for 24 hours before using.
-1 lb. chicken livers. (soak in milk the night before, strain and chop roughly) -1/4 lb. butter -1/4 cup brandy – 1 yellow onion, chopped – 1 tablespoon each freshly chopped rosemary and thyme – 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream – 1/4 cup cream sherry (optional)
In a deep sauté pan, sauté onions until they become translucent. Add livers and cook until golden brown. Add brandy and cream sherry. Be careful to take the pan off the heat, brandy is highly flammable! Be careful when placing the pan back on the heat, too. Flambé.
Reduce the liquid by half. Add fresh herbs and heavy whipping cream and simmer for 5 minutes.
Turn the stove off, add butter and allow it to stand until butter is melted.
Place all the ingredients into a food processor. If your processor is small add ingredients in smaller amounts. Puree and strain through a fine mesh strainer. Place into a container, allow it to cool at room temperature, then cover and refrigerate.