Editor’s note: Cocina Connection is a once-a-month feature that takes a behind-the-scenes look at a New Mexico-based chef, who, in turn, shares some recipes.
Jens Peter Smith never realized that during his childhood in Española, the culinary world was always around him.
His grandfather would create different dishes that he became aware of while traveling the world in the Navy.
His grandmother was always baking cookies.
“My grandfather taught us all proper table manners and classical music was played while eating,” Smith says. “We had to eat everything on the plate.”
The meals were an introduction to medium rare steaks and hollandaise sauce.
Smith’s mother, a doctor in northern New Mexico, took him to the Ore House in Santa Fe when he was 10.
It was his first tasting meal.
“This was the first time I had seared tuna,” he recalls. “It was enlightening and this is when my love for the culinary world began.”
Today, the 35-year-old Smith, is the chef at Farm & Table in the North Valley – where he’s been for four years.
The restaurant is located on a 12-acre property and recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary.
Smith says the restaurant uses locally-sourced food from area farmers, ranchers and food artisans.
While Smith has worked and helmed various kitchens in Albuquerque and New York City, he finds being at Farm & Table a welcome challenge.
“I like using my limitations,” he says. “There’s is a world of food out there and there are different ways. With Farm & Table, we’re about sticking to the seasons and what local farmers and producers have.”
Running the kitchen at Farm & Table is a long way off from when Smith’s parents allowed him to cook a meal every week starting at age 12.
He took home economics in junior high school – where it remained a hobby for a long time.
Through high school, he studied German and cooking.
While at Los Alamos High School, his father worked at the Lensic Performing Arts Center and one of his co-workers was the host at Pranzo Italian Grill. Smith soon found himself working two days a week at Pranzo.
“When I was 15, I worked one day a week at Rancho de San Juan,” he says. “They ran dinner two nights a week and I saw fine dining in a different way.”
But he never saw the culinary world as a career path.
Attending University of New Mexico to study German, he dropped out after a year.
“I didn’t feel challenged,” he says. “I got a job a Coaches and began the road to where I’m at today.”
While at Coaches, he began classes in the Culinary Arts Program at Central New Mexico Community College.
While there, he found a culinary program at the DCT Swiss Hotel Management School.
“I asked my parents if they’d help me get out there so I could level up my skills,” he says. “They went for it and I continued to save money for the trip.”
Smith then went on to study at Institut Hôtelier César Ritz.
Smith says his time in Switzerland helped prepare him for his position to day.
“Over there, they are very nationalistic and take pride in using local products,” he says. “It’s very exciting for me and helps me push myself creatively.”
Smith says sourcing local is important and the harvests give him an opportunity to create for about two months.
“I have to use ingredients at the height of the season,” he says. “That drives me to create new dishes. These farmers and producers put their days and nights in. I want to show them the sign of respect and do them justice with what I create.”
Smith says with the limitations placed on him because of different harvest seasons, he sets his own rules for himself when he designs a new menu.
“I don’t want repetition on my menu,” he says. “If I have a pepper-focused dish, there won’t be another. I often turn to ‘The Flavor Bible’ because it’s a good jumping off point for ideas on what pairs well together.”
When in the kitchen, Smith likes to keep creativeness at the forefront.
“I certainly like talking to my sous chef and my other cooks,” he says. “They are the ones that execute these dishes on the day to day. I like the team work aspect and keep communication open to resolve problems. It’s about collaboration.”
Cream of Mushroom Soup
Ingredients for Soup
10 ounces cremini mushrooms
10 ounces oyster mushrooms
4 cloves of garlic, finely dice
2 white onions, medium dice
2 large potatoes, medium chunks
1 leek (no top), cut lengthwise cut into medium chunks
2 stalks of celery, cut lengthwise cut into medium chunks
1 cup white wine
2 tablespoons dried or 1 tablespoons fresh thyme
4 quarts vegetable stock
2 cups heavy cream
Sauteed mushrooms slices
In a saucepan on low heat, cook garlic, onion, celery and leek in butter till translucent.
Add mushrooms, bring to a simmer.
Deglaze with white wine and reduce by half.
Add potato, thyme and vegetable stock.
Cook potatoes until soft. Add heavy cream.
Blend on high for 30 seconds.
Return to pot.
Season with salt, pepper and drizzle with truffle oil.
Serve and garnish with sauteed mushrooms, milk foam and chive.