Taos, N.M.: Dining on Yak at the Sacred Mountain Resort

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By Dave DeWitt  


Chimayo Chile Marinated Pork Loin

Sweet Potato Hash

Yak Black Bean Chili




“Wahoo-wah,” I said to Tom Worrell, owner of El Monte Sagrado resort, when I met him at the party in the resort library.

His jaw dropped and he shook his head. “No way,” he said, astounded that I had recited the school cheerleader chant.

“Yes,” I replied, “U.Va., class of ‘66, same as you. What are the odds of that?”

It was one of those “small world, gotta be good all the time” coincidences. We were visiting the resort on a brief media junket that was a public relations event for the Taos School of Cooking, which was intent on publicizing and selling their 2004 calendar, “Chefs of Taos: Cooking in the Raw.” The calendar featured noted local chefs posing in their kitchens in various stages of undress as a benefit for the Yaxche Learning Center, a free school in Taos. In return for covering the event, the staff at El Monte Sagrado had offered us a chance to meet the chefs (clothed), a night’s lodging, and dining in their restaurant, De La Tierra. How could I say no?

After a scenic, two and half hour drive up from Albuquerque, Mary Jane and I arrived at El Monte Sagrado (the sacred mountain), so named because of the view of Taos Mountain, which is sacred to the people of Taos Pueblo. The $50 million resort is only a half mile from the Plaza, is extremely upscale for the area and consists of 37 themed suites situated on four acres surrounding ponds, waterfalls, and a meadow. The suites are decorated with authentic furnishings from various regions or cultures of the world, including Native American, Egypt, Japan, China, Caribbean, Africa, and Bali, to name a few. There is even a Kama Sutra Suite for newlyweds!

Exterior of the suites and recycled water in the ponds



Exterior of the suites and recycled water in the ponds



We were staying in the Tibet Suite, a one bedroom “casita” with an antique, hand painted bed and other furniture from the region, a gigantic stone and tile bathroom, and a large, walled backyard complete with our own hot tub. With the temperature predicted to be three degrees above zero, I had my doubts that we would be tubbing.

The antique Tibetan bed in the Tibet Suite

The Tibet Suite: Antique Tibetan Bed      The Fireplace 

The fireplace in the Tibet Suite

But eating was a different story. We had time before the calendar reception, so we went to brunch in the botanical café adjacent to the Anaconda Bar. I was tempted to try the Yak Black Bean Chili, but how could I resist the “Duck Duck Duck Burger?” It was ground breast of duck stuffed with leg of duck confit and foie gras and served with a red pepper ketchup. Simply delicious. Mary Jane had the Dungeness Crab Cakes topped with poached eggs and lobster hollandaise. Another yum.

The bamboo-lined shower in the Caribbean Suite



The bamboo-lined shower in the Caribbean Suite



At the reception for the clothed chefs, I gave the U.Va. cheer to owner Tom Worrell and learned from him that he owns the Latir Mountain Ranch, where he raises yaks. Not your run-of-the-mill yaks, mind you, but hormone-free organic yaks. It was not a coincidence that yak meat was on the menu, I discovered, or that the restaurant was named De La Tierra (from the land).

The elegant Egypt Suite



The elegant Egypt Suite



Considering the fact that chefs were the focus of the reception, it was no surprise that there was even more great food, like gigantic stuffed shrimps and sushi. Since we were stuffed as well, we held back. Okay, I ate one giant shrimp. With a single glass of wine. We bought a calendar for a friend who’s an aficionado of photos of semi-nude, middle-aged men and women covering up their private parts with whipped cream, funnels, and giant salmon, and then tracked down the restaurant’s chef de cuisine for an interview.

Scott Radek, a tall, lanky former ski bum, describes his culinary training as “the school of hard knocks,” which means that he worked his way up from dishwasher to being in charge of the kitchen at De La Tierra. He believes that sustainable agriculture is the next step in the progression for the California cuisine tradition of using fresh and available local ingredients. He likes the idea of knowing the local growers and supporting them by buying their indigenous products. He also enjoys a limited amount of produce grown in the resort’s Biolarium, and likes to cook with chiles, which he says that his guests expect when they visit New Mexico.

Chef de Cuisine Scott Radek



Chef de Cuisine Scott Radek



I asked him about the characteristics of yak meat, and he confessed that he hadn’t figured it out yet. Yak is a grass-fed bovine, he explained, and the meat is similar in flavor to beef, but has very little marbling, or fat between the muscle tissue. The yaks take three years to get to their slaughter size. Thus, before aging, yak meat is “tough as nails”–and that’s why Scott uses it in chili, where it breaks down somewhat. At the end of the interview, I asked him what to have for dinner. “The Chimayo Chile Marinated Pork Tenderloin,” he suggested. Perfect, I thought. The Yak Chili would have to wait for yet another visit.

We took a brief tour of the Biolarium, a combination pool area complete with a luxurious hot tub, and a greenhouse where the resort gardeners grow exotic fruits and herbs. Then we learned about one of the more unique aspects of the resort, Detlev, which features facials, massages, body treatments, wraps and scrubs, waxing, manicures and pedicures, along with hair services, make-up, fitness classes featuring yoga, and personal training. I was tempted by the papaya exfoliation of my back, but decided just to go back to the Tibet Suite, have a beer, and watch the football game.

Dinner at De La Tierra was superb, with Mary Jane and I taking Scott’s suggestion. The pork tenderloin was spicier than I expected, and the rack of lamb was more than M.J. could handle, so I helped her out. There was a good selection of wines, and the chocolate desserts were particularly tasty.

At breakfast the next morning, I noticed that the Huevos Rancheros had an unusual twist to them–they were served with Yak Chili! I would get to try yak after all. The presentation of the dish was spectacular. A blue corn tortilla was topped with a layer of dark red Yak Chili, which was covered in another layer of green chile sauce. Two eggs, over medium, had been placed on the green chile sauce and were topped with fresh salsa. The combination was superb–in fact, they were the best Huevos Rancheros I’ve ever tasted. The yak was so tender it was falling apart, and in that dish, it was indistinguishable from beef. The breakfast was a fitting conclusion to our brief visit to this splendid resort.

View of the Sacred Mountain from the Tibet Suite



View of the Sacred Mountain
from the Tibet Suite



After the Sacred Mountain experience, I decided that if I ever had a yak as a pet, I would name her “Kay.” Think about it.


Contact information:

El Monte Sagrado, 800-828-8267, www.elmontesagrado.com



Here is a photo of Karl Brennan of the Inn at Snakedance. To order the “Chefs of Taos: Cooking in the Raw” calendar, log on to www.taoscooking.com and scroll down to “Calendar Info.”

Karl Brennan in the Raw



Karl Brennan in the Raw




Chimayo Chile Marinated Pork Loin

Chimayó Chile Marinated Pork Loin



Chimayó Chile Marinated Pork Loin



Here, as best I could reconstruct it, is the chile encrusted pork loin as served at De La Tierra. It is served with a “Barbecue Demi Glace” but they forgot to give me the recipe. So just make a gravy with the pan drippings and add some sherry and a little of your favorite barbecue sauce. Note that this recipe requires advance preparation.

  • 2 tablespoons roasted garlic paste

  • ½ cup Chimayó red chile powder

  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

  • 1 pork roast, rib end of loin, 3 to 4 pounds

In a bowl, combine the garlic paste, chile powder, cinnamon, salt and pepper and vegetable oil and combine to make a paste. Slather the past over the roast and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 5 hours. Roast the pork, uncovered, in a 350 degree F. oven for 30 minutes a pound or until the internal temperature reaches 185 degrees F. Slice the ribs apart and cut the meat away from the bones. Serve with the demi glace gravy and accompanied by the Sweet Potato Hash.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

Sweet Potato Hash

The credit for this recipe goes to Big Daddy, whoever he is. Feel free to spice this up by adding a couple of teaspoons of minced serrano or jalapeño chiles.

  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled, diced, and steamed

  • Olive oil

  • 1/4 pound bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces and rendered until crisp

  • 1/4 red onion, diced

  • ½ red bell pepper, diced

  • ½ yellow bell pepper, diced

  • 2 ears steamed corn, kernels cut from cob

  • 2 tablespoons minced cilantro

  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a skillet, fry the sweet potatoes in the olive oil until crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, mix well, and place in a warm oven until serving time.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Heat Scale: Varies

Yak Black Bean Chili

This recipe is also attributed to Big Daddy. Since yak meat is impossible to find, substitute buffalo or very lean beef.

  • 3 pounds yak meat, cut into 1-inch cubes

  • 1 large red onion, chopped

  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped

  • ½ cup vegetable oil

  • 1 quart veal or beef stock

  • 2 cups tomato juice

  • 1 red bell pepper, diced

  • 1 yellow bell pepper, diced

  • 1 green bell pepper, diced

  • 1 jalapeño chile, seeds and stem removed, minced

  • ½ poblano chile, seeds and stem removed, diced

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 3 tablespoons ancho chile powder

  • 3 tablespoons red chile powder

  • 2 tablespoons barbecue rub

  • 3 cups cooked black beans

  • 3/4 cup pureed cooked black beans

  • Salt to taste

In a stock pot, brown the meat and onions in the vegetable oil until the onions are soft. Add the stock and tomato juice and cook, covered, over low heat until the meat is almost tender, 3/4 hour to 1 hour. Add the bell peppers, chiles, cumin, chile powders, and rub and cook, covered, for about 20 minutes. You may have to add more stock at this point. Add the black beans and black bean puree, stir well, and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes. Add salt to taste.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Heat Scale: Medium


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