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Chefs cook up a NM feast in D.C.

LOS LUNAS – From the Roundhouse to the White House, local matanza cooks took a taste of New Mexico to Washington, D.C., last month.

Los Lunas residents Steven Otero and Herman Garcia have cooked many matanza meals at the state Capitol as well as at the annual Hispano Chamber of Valencia County’s annual Matanza.

Otero’s catering service, Getaway Grill, has also been featured on Andrew Zimmern’s “Bizarre Foods” show on the Travel Channel.

Invited by U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, the men and their helpers cooked and served a menu of beef and chicken fajitas, red chile baby back pork ribs, carne adovada, beef and pork carnitas, chicharrones and traditional sides, such as calabacitas, frijoles, tamales, caldo and posole.

Otero’s wife, Jeanette, made her secret salsa and Spanish rice, and every dish was served with flour or blue or yellow corn tortillas. Desserts included biscochitos made by Dolores Otero Padilla, plus empanadas and pastelitos from Manny’s Fine Pastries in Los Lunas.

“They said they had never tasted such good food,” Otero said of the response to the food. “They feel this was the best New Mexico food they’ve ever had.”

The Getaway Grill cooks have been asked to make the New Mexico dinner an annual event.

“And of course we said yes,” Otero said.

Every detail of the dinner was carefully attended to because they wanted to represent New Mexico.

Designed by Amelia Garcia Lucero, the folded menus were made of thick, adobe-colored art paper with a retablo-style painting of the patron saint of cooking, San Pasqual, on the cover.

The painter is Otero’s son, Nicolas, who has illustrated children’s books for the iconic New Mexican author Rudolfo Anaya and is an art teacher at Bosque Farms Elementary School.

The original painting was presented to Lujan.

“Every person who attended the dinner received one of these commemorative menus,” Otero said.

Even the Getaway Grill aprons the cooks wore were specially made by Marcie McKenzie in yellow canvas embossed with the Los Lunas emblem.

Otero said the congressman wanted his Washington, D.C., staff to experience New Mexico’s most traditional dishes, which Otero explained are a hybrid of Spanish and Native American foods.

Garcia prepared the red chile and grew the chile from Chimayó seeds, the significance of which is that Chimayó is part of Lujan’s district.

“It was hot chile but they loved it,” Otero said.

Five cooking buddies and friends made up the Getaway Grill group, plus Otero’s wife, Jeanette.

Robert Aragon drove so that all the food could actually come from New Mexico.

He had three coolers full of the frozen meat, packaged vegetables, tortillas, Navajo Nation pinto beans and pastries.

Altogether, they cooked 16 hot dishes for the event, plus brought New Mexico honey from Bosque Farms resident Ralph De Baca, and Rio Grande Roaster’s coffee from Barry and Lori Wood.

“We wanted to make sure that we showcased New Mexico at this event so we didn’t want to bring anything that was not from New Mexico,” Otero said.

While they were in Washington, the group visited the Vietnam Memorial Wall during the changing of the guards and took pictures of Daniel Fernandez’s name, the Los Lunas Vietnam War hero who gave his life to save his fellow soldiers.

They also went to the Korean and World War II memorials, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas Jefferson and Washington monuments.