cooking at rio hondo
by walter jon williams
So how did the cooking thing start? It just grew.
Originally Sage Walker and I were going to hold the workshop in her spacious Taos house. Sage, who is a first-rate chef, would have done most of the cooking, because that's what she does when she has people living in her house. This plan died when Sage's significant other, contemplating the terrors of ten or so science fiction writers camping in his house for a week, put his foot down.
This obliged us to go in search of another venue. Fortunately Sage found Taos East , a classic 1960s ski lodge perched 15 miles above Taos in the Carson National Forest. The largest of the apartments we rented had a full kitchen, but, more important, a long table, perfect not only for workshopping manuscripts, but large enough for feeding a dozen people at one go.
We were some distance from town, and we didn't know how many of the attendees would have cars. Restaurants in Taos are not necessarily cheap. We decided we might as well feed the attendees ourselves.
Sage, as I mentioned, is a superb cook. I could at least follow a recipe, even a complex one. We planned to do three dinners apiece, and make everyone eat at a restaurant on their last night.
The first year's dinners were simple compared to what happened later. Sage had a tendency to turn up first thing in the morning with freshly-baked brioche. One night we had grilled chicken with pasta in a ginger and garlic sauce. Another night I made a rich black roux gumbo with sausage and chicken.
What surprised us was that one of the attendees, Maureen McHugh, volunteered to cook a meal for everyone. It hadn't occurred to us that people would pay us for the privilege of cooking us dinner. She wasn't the first.
Over the years the recipes grew more elaborate. I became a much better cook in sheer self-defense. Rio Hondo 2002 had grilled chicken, but the barbecue sauce was green, the meal opened with a salad of shrimp on a bed of jicama, sweet corn, and purple cabbage, with an herb dressing; and the meal finished with hollow boxes of chocolate topped with sponge cake, marinated cherries, and creme anglais. I made black roux gumbo, but felt it necessary to open the meal with heart of palm salad in remoulade sauce and finish with a flaming dessert. The ginger and garlic sauce was served over pasta, but the pasta was freshly-made and flavored with Hatch red chile.
Sage dropped out this year after hosting three workshops, but her place as co-host has been taken by Leslie What, who is herself a dab hand in the kitchen. The attendees continue to volunteer their skills, a fact that astonishes and delights. I keep picturing the meals getting more and more elaborate until we all die at the dinner table, like the characters in "La Grande Bouffe."
In fact the only thing that will keep us from so expiring is the fact that the kitchen remains rather small and limited, and provides a check on the ambitions of the cooks.
And the ambition is definitely there. I'm already testing recipes for 2003.
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Walter Jon Williams is the author of more than twenty novels in several genres, and he's a man who can whip up Bananas Foster for twelve....