Copyright © 2023 Albuquerque Journal
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.
John B. Chacon grew up on 10 acres in Los Luceros in northern New Mexico.
His grandmother lived across the street from his parent’s house.
The family was heavily involved in working on the ranch and garden, which provided the family with an income and a food resource.
This was his initial introduction into the culinary world.
Today, chef Chacon, 48, is at the helm of Wowza Burger, which is located at the Nativo Lodge in Albuquerque.
Chacon brings his deliciously handcrafted burgers and other innovative cuisine such as the New Mexico Tortilla Burger and Sopaipilla Style Pizza to locals and travelers alike.
Yet, he owes his love for cooking to his grandma.
“I started cooking with my grandma after harvesting the vegetables,” he says. “My father taught me how to plant.”
An image that often returns to Chacon’s mind is during winter, his grandma’s windows would fog up in the kitchen inside her home.
This was how he knew she was cooking.
“She would be blasting KDCE,” he says. “Inside her kitchen was the old-school red table and the stainless steel chairs. Caldo de res was on the stove and fresh biscuits would be just out of the oven. We raised sheep and I was 10 years old when I got my first herd of sheep.”
From an early age, Chacon learned the importance of not only gardening, but farming.
Because the family didn’t have a lot of money, it was up to them to create a resource.
“We’d harvest the vegetables and save them,” he says. “I was basically raised off the grid.”
By the time he was 15, Chacon made his way into a nonfamily kitchen when he worked at the Chamisa Inn.
“This is where I started my apprentice work,” he says. “From there, I worked at different restaurants and then I ventured off to Las Vegas, Nevada, in the early 2000s.”
By 2003, he became part of the staff at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
There he ran two cafes during the three years.
By 2009, Chacon began branding himself as chef Chacon as he started to create dishes in Middle Eastern, Chinese and Japanese cuisine.
“Everything is different in these cultures,” he says. “I learned how to do business with the Asian culture. I’m always learning and I love to give back and teach others too.”
He was in California at the time and he met three different restaurant groups and helped open three different restaurants.
“The main restaurant was in Livermore, California,” he says. “In 2013, I was approached by them to be their chef.”
By the time 2020 rolled around, the restaurant industry changed yet again – this time a little more permanently.
“I was selling some of my own items at garage sales to make ends meet,” Chacon says. “I had always wanted to have a little burger joint.”
Again, the pandemic squashed the dream for the time being.
“I basically started drawing my map back to the restaurant world,” he says. “I drove to Houston to pick up my food trailer. By that December, I had a restaurant called Chef Chacon’s Pancake House in Bernalillo.”
Then he got word that the restaurant inside the Nativo Lodge was vacant and decided to take the leap to create Wowza Burger.
“I’m coming back home to my roots and feel so humbled that people are still with me,” Chacon says. “We have a lot of talent in New Mexico in all mediums and we are humble.”
Chacon lives by the mantra, “always cook from your heart.”
He shares a recipe with the readers and it’s a New Mexico classic.
Red Chile Sauce New Mexican Style
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small Spanish onion, diced small
1 tablespoon dry granulated garlic
1 teaspoon dry oregano, hand-crushed fine
2 cups hot or medium red chile powder
6 cups of cold water
Saute vegetable oil, onion, garlic and oregano in sauce pot until golden brown. In separate container mix the red chile powder with the cold water. Add chile/water mixture to the sauce pot while whisking. Bring to a boil. To thicken sauce, add cornstarch slurry a little at time (see note). Stir until sauce thickens. You can add more cornstarch slurry until it reaches your desired consistency.
Note: To make cornstarch slurry, mix 1 cup cornstarch and 2 cups cold water in a bowl using a fork until smooth.
New Mexico Red Chile Pork Posole
3 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
2 medium-sized Spanish onions, quarter-inch dice
1 pound posole, such as Bueno Foods
3 pounds pork butt with bone, cubed
4 tablespoons crushed Mexican oregano
2 tablespoons kosher sea salt, to taste
2 gallons hot water
Red Chile Sauce New Mexican Style (see recipe above)
Cut pork butt into half-inch cubes. Set pork cubes and bone aside until ready for them.
Place a large cooking pot on stove and preheat with oil until hot. Add diced onions and posole and let cook for 2 minutes. Add pork cubes and the pork bone, and stir into mix of onions and posole. Add oregano and salt with the hot water. Let the pot come to a boil. Once it comes to a boil, lower temperature to low heat and let posole simmer to 2 to 3 hours, or until posole is soft and meat is tender. Add Red Chile Sauce New Mexican Style to the pot and serve. Remove pork bone once the pot is empty. The bone adds flavor and preserves the posole.
(Recipes by chef John B. Chacon)