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Albuquerque: Jennifer James 101 Cooks From My Book

When Nelle Bauer and Jennifer James of the James Beard award nominated Albuquerque restaurant, Jennifer James 101, said they wanted to host a “Cowgirl Chef” multicourse dinner at their restaurant, with a menu straight from my cookbook, I almost fell out of my saddle.

Seriously? I thought. Then I panicked. Would there even be something in my cookbook that would be Jennifer James 101-worthy? Would people like it? Most of all, would we have fun?

The short answer to each: yes, yes, and a big yes.

It was positively dreamy, from the moment that I stepped into the kitchen that Sunday afternoon to help Nelle prep to a few hours later, when we kicked off the dinner with a chilled rosé and foie gras on Pringles, topped with pickled grapes. Not in the book as a recipe per se, but a story about me being in Biarritz with X and Rosedog, and we’d run out of bread (but not Pringles), and that’s how we had our appetizer on Christmas Eve…because why not?

Then we had lamb meatballs on top of Sweet Pea Pesto, something I’d not yet thought of, but cannot wait to do. I loved seeing how Nelle and Jennifer interpreted my recipes…and made them even better.

Everyone loved My Big Fat French Salad, which was made with locally-produced bacon and goat cheese, too, smeared on baguettes from Sage Bakehouse in Santa Fe. There’s just something about hot potatoes, bacon and cheese that works every time.

The fun thing about this dinner, too, was that everything was served family-style, and passed around on two big tables filled with people who’d reserved a spot for the special dinner, not knowing who’d they be seated next to. I love the “Dinner Party” dinner idea, which is something that Jennifer James 101 does often. It’s homey and relaxed and at the end of dinner, you end up making all sorts of new friends. Much like you do when you go to a friend’s dinner party, which is exactly how this felt.

For the main course, we ate Paris Chicken Fricasée along with Crunchy Grated Carrots with Lime, and Back in Black Beans. I hadn’t eaten the Paris Chicken Fricasée in a long time and had forgotten how good it was…and Jennifer and Nelle loved my chorizo recipe so much that they’re going to be making it for the restaurant (!).

For dessert, Nelle served up slices of the Grilled Orange-Vanilla Pound Cake with French Chocolate Sauce and Buttermilk Ice Cream. This is a photograph of mine before I practically licked the plate.

Books were sold and signed, more wine sipped, and the next day, because those girls had simply not done enough, they invited me over for a barbecue dinner at their house. I’m still kind of floating from the whole weekend. And pinching myself and feeling terribly grateful to have not only met them and bonded over overpriced iced coffees as Carette in Paris a few years ago, but to now call them my very dear friends. I love these girls so, and plan to push them out of the kitchen on my next visit so I can cook for them.