Fred Muller has been a fixture in Taos since the early 90’s, when he opened and ran the coolest eatery in town for several years.
Local, fresh and seasonal food, New Mexico style, were Fred’s trademark at his namesake restaurant, Fred’s Place. His tamales and green chile were the best and still are. You can get them at El Meze. Fred, besides being an accomplished writer with various other skills as well, is a seasoned chef who grew up mainly in Europe and got his start cooking in Switzerland.
He defines himself as a regional chef and after years cooking in the West, decided to move to the South, where he is from, to explore his own regional, culinary roots. He had achieved great critical acclaim as a chef in North Carolina before moving back out West, to Taos and opening Fred’s Place.
Fast forward a bit. Fred’s closed, After writing and publishing a regional cookbook, La Comida, The Foods, Cooking and Traditions of the Upper Rio Grand. (Pruett Publishing, ‘95), Fred took off for other mysterious adventures and missions but Taos eventually lured him back.
El Meze is the restaurant he owns with his partner Annette Kratka, a powerhouse herself with a background in design, business and the culinary arts. They opened in 2008 and quickly became a local favourite. Annette is the dessert chef at El Meze along with being the general manager.
The dining rooms are cosy and colourful, with traditional vigas and kiva fireplaces set into thick adobe walls. The art is interesting and local. Very boho Taos vibe with impeccable linen letting you know that for all the relaxed and casual ambience, this is a fine dining experience. The service here is top-notch. The menu, a stellar interpretation of Northern New Mexico Cuisine and the food is as good as it gets. Fred’s a star.
Oh and did I mention the wine list?
El Meze is housed in one of the most interesting old hacienda’s in Taos. In El Prado, north of town, the El Torreon Hacienda was built in 1847 and designed primarily as a fort. Torreon means watch tower and this building has one with vistas for miles, where sharp shooters once trained their sights on raiders and marauders.
More than a bit of a historian himself, Fred is encyclopedic in his knowledge of Northern New Mexico’s regional history and especially the ancient traditions steeped in Moorish culture, fascinate him and inform the dishes he creates from ingredients long grown and used locally.
He’s revived dishes not eaten by many of his local Hispanic clientele since childhood.
“Oh, yes, ” they say. “I remember that, my grandmother made it.”
And he’s created combinations gathered from all he’s read and been inspired by, keeping everything simple and unfussy, letting the food speak for itself.
He tells a story about a hike he once took along the river. Suddenly he saw trout, some wild mint growing along the banks with some watercress.
“Dinner.” He thought and remembered that this was a traditional Pueblo dish. Trout stuffed with mint, cooked over a fire. He thought the watercress would be a great salad to accompany it. All right there, in nature.
The simplicity of that discovery continues to impact how he approaches food.
El Meze is a gem. Go.
Photographs by Bill Curry