Day Trips & Beyond: Cooking Studio Taos

New Mexico cooking class is fun and chaotic

I’ve attended my share of cooking classes, and I’ve got to say, they tend to be more chaotic than instructional. Enjoyable, but bit out of control. It’s always amazing that a meal actually results from all of the indecision and hand wringing.

Chris Maher (center), chef of Cooking Studio Taos, takes the time to get to know his student cooks. (Photos by Gerald E. McLeod)

Having multiple volunteer crews chopping vegetables at a dinner party is one thing, but following directions seems too much to ask of the kitchen wannabes. But maybe the students enjoy displaying their culinary ineptitude. For me, it’s more frustrating than fun. I’d much rather spend the time in cooking classes talking with the chef and watching the magic happen. When a chef actually shows how and why he or she prepares a sauce for example, the cooking class elevates to fascinating.

It’s not as bad as it looks. Maher keeps a sense of humor, and control, as the novices cook the meal.

Cooking School 101

Chris Maher has a long history as an actor and also a chef. He also runs the Cooking Studio Taos with his wife, Valerie.

“Whoever keeps turning the flame down, stop it,” Maher yells over the rumble of a dozen journalists drinking his wine and tequila. “Give me a good hot fire, and I’ll give you a great meal.”

Maher is definitely in charge of his kitchen even when he’s try to corral a group of travel writers with the attention span of a herd of cats. To Maher, food is a science project with love. Change the molecular structure of an edible substance and you have a food that makes everyone feel good. “Baking is science,” he says, cooking is an art involving heart to hand. “Make the recipe your own.”

One of his basic recommendations is to always use sea salt or at the very least kosher salt. Iodized salt affects the flavor of any dish. Maher’s classes are instructional, fun, and in the end, delicious when we all sat down to the meal we helped prepare.

Born in Egypt, Maher grew up in Toronto. In the Eighties, he had a busy career in Hollywood appearing in Another World, Taxi, Hill Street Blues, Law & Order, and other productions. From there, he jumped into catering and then Los Angeles’s popular Chris Michael's Bakery & Cafe, where he was nominated for a James Beard Award. “Owning a restaurant is like having a disease,” Maher says. “It consumes your life.”

One of the beautiful sunsets that New Mexico is famous for, right outside of Maher's backdoor

Cooking Studio Taos

Since moving to New Mexico in 2003 and establishing Cooking Studio Taos, Maher is doing what he loves and it shows. He still does the occasional acting job, but spends most of his professional time putting on cooking seminars. “I don’t have to do it for the money,” he says. “I do it because I love it.”

Cooking Studios Taos offers three day camps for adults. During the summer, he offers cooking camps for children over five days that cover a different nation’s food each day. Maher is very familiar with Austin and San Antonio; he often travels to the area to give private cooking lessons for small parties in private homes. “I love the Hill Country,” he says. “And you have some really great wineries.”

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Gerald E. McLeod has been traveling around Texas and beyond for his "Day Trips" column for the past 24 years. Keep up to date with his journeys on his archive page. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips," is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 40312, South Austin, TX 78704.

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Taos, New Mexico, Chris Maher, cooking class

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