What should I ask Mark Miller?

by on October 21, 2016 at 7:24 am in Food and Drink, History, Philosophy | Permalink

I’ll be interviewing Mark soon, at a private venue, no public event, but for eventual release in the Conversations with Tyler series.  Here is a short bio of Mark.  He is credited as being the founder of modern Southwestern cuisine, and he was the driving force behind Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe and Red Sage in Washington, D.C.  He has written numerous books on food, including the very best books on chilies.  He is a supertaster, and more generally one of the world’s great food minds and a truly curious and generous soul.  He also has a background in anthropology, cooked for Chez Panisse in its early days, and is one of the best-traveled people I know.  Do you want to know what is/was special about chiles in Syria, or how many varieties of soy sauce you can find in one part of Hokkaido?  Mark is the guy to ask.

So what should I ask him?

1 Tyler Cowen October 21, 2016 at 7:34 am

Pinker is Monday, Fuchsia and Mark are a week from today. Transcripts to follow, albeit with some spacing to keep it even.

2 Todd K October 21, 2016 at 7:42 am

The Pinker interview was presumably delayed because he was still preparing for the eigenvalue question.

3 rayward October 21, 2016 at 7:48 am

Of course, “southwestern” is a euphemism for Mexican. Cowen’s sense of timing and irony is always appreciated. My first experience with what I called “gourmet Mexican” was in the late 1980s at a ski resort in Colorado. When I would tell friends about this fabulous cuisine, gourmet Mexican, they thought it was a joke. By the way, Cowen’s latest post is up at Bloomberg, and it’s one of his best. https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-10-21/every-trade-deal-needs-a-referee

4 Axa October 21, 2016 at 8:04 am

It’s not an euphemism. If Southwest food is sold as Mexican you end up lying to consumers as with Taco Bell’s tacos. Indeed, the Southwest label is a very subtle display of honesty.

5 anon October 21, 2016 at 8:35 am

To be pedantic, southwestern must mean within the continental US, rather than the continent as a whole, and yes there is a deep food history in places like New Mexico.

Heh, that ends up being a reminder that the US includes New Mexico.

6 Thiago Ribeiro October 21, 2016 at 10:46 am

There’s a New Mexico?

7 anon October 21, 2016 at 10:57 am

It’s very new.

8 Thiago Ribeiro October 21, 2016 at 12:44 pm

A New Mexico seems like the victory of hope over experience.

9 Demosthenes October 21, 2016 at 9:49 am

Uh, not even close.

10 GoneWithTheWind October 21, 2016 at 5:26 pm

It really is SouthWest cuisine. The native Americans of the SouthWest often prepared their food in the same way we would now recognize as Mexican. Two of my favorite places to eat are the Ute Mountain Casino near four corners in Colorado and a small native American restaurant in Tuba City Az.(wish I could remember the name but it is just North of hwy 160 in Tuba City. Delicious food, not intended to be a copy of Mexican food but real native American food.

My question for Mr. Miller would be; did he explore native American food and did he find any surprises there. I find the Native American version to be slightly less ‘hot’ and perhaps somewhat more savory. I’m not sure if that is a common trait or just the normal fare at these two restaurants.

11 Axa October 21, 2016 at 7:54 am

1) Does a good a story on the food origin makes it tastier or better? 2) What’s the best oil for southwest cuisine? Which oil can be named the native cooking oil for the region?

12 anon October 21, 2016 at 8:37 am

It would have to be a fat rather than an oil, wouldn’t it?

13 Ubereverwhere October 21, 2016 at 8:05 am

Red or green chilies? How have you integrated in the southwestern culture of indigenous Americans, migrants from the south, and ranchers of the west to make modern southwestern food?

14 JC October 21, 2016 at 8:29 am

Being well travelled, what do you think people like the most: fusion food or local/authentic food?

15 Hoosier October 21, 2016 at 8:35 am

Not a specific question but would like to hear his thoughts on the pre-hispanic Mexican cuisine, particularly the use of insects and mosquito larvae such as escamoles. Does he rate this very highly? Or is it just something to try for the sake of trying.

What’s the best way to prepare nopales?

Speaking of soy sauce, which variety is his favorite and what makes a great soy sauce?

16 dan1111 October 21, 2016 at 8:42 am

Does his tacos al pastor recipe really require 80 chiles or is that a typo?

There is a debate raging about this on Amazon reviews.

17 John Mansfield October 21, 2016 at 9:02 am

What are Miller’s thoughts on the Debbie Jaramillo reaction to Santa Fe development, and his role with the Coyote Café in creating the kind of thing she resisted?

For background here’s the opening from a 1994 LA Times artice:

SANTA FE, N.M. — Contentious, independent and fiercely protective of this city’s vanishing Latino culture and traditions, Mayor Debbie Jaramillo is not for those who like their civic leaders warm and fuzzy.

Jaramillo, 42, was elected in March on a pledge to reverse trends that in less than a decade had transformed this 384-year-old former Spanish settlement on the southern flanks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains into an enclave for wealthy tourists and transplants.

Now, in what some view as a bold experiment to spark cultural regeneration through legislation, this self-described “Chicana infiltrator” is trying to reshape a government that for years stoked the tourism and development furnace with no regard for its effect on average-income residents.

Jaramillo’s first nine months in office have brought significant changes to this city of 62,000 people–and negative reviews from critics who contend she is “anti-Anglo,” an enemy of tourism and vindictive toward anyone who disagrees with her philosophy.


18 yahno October 21, 2016 at 9:04 am

ask him if he saw that time on top chef when roy choy told the mexican contestant from mexico city down in mexico not to try to pass off his inauthentico food as legitimo. roy choy made it clear that he himself was from los angeles and thus had the upper hand.

also, which canned or frozen brick chili does he recommend alongside hot dogs

19 Matt Crabbe October 21, 2016 at 9:45 am

Ask him about that time that Roy Choi slept with yahno’s girlfriend.

20 yahno October 21, 2016 at 1:24 pm

Matt Crabbe, you need to learn a little bit about trolling. It should always be done with an on line alias. But not an alias soridiculous that it distracts from your cutting remarks about girlfriends, the way that “Matt Crabbe” does. You’d be better using a random string of characters, or even your Christian name, than a clunker like that one.

21 Sam Haysom October 21, 2016 at 1:40 pm

He clearly trolled you to perfection.

22 yahno October 21, 2016 at 2:33 pm

nicely done Matt Crabbe. I guess you couldn’t think of a random string of characters, but “Sam Haysom” is still a step up from “Matt Crabbe.”

23 josh October 21, 2016 at 9:34 am

Ask him if he know anything about a topic more interesting than chilies or soy sauces, then do an interview about that.

24 anon October 21, 2016 at 10:02 am

Chilies are part of my daily life.. Tapatio on eggs this morning. Soy sauce not so much.

The BBC on whether the chili pepper is friend and foe: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-34411492

25 Hoosier October 21, 2016 at 11:30 am

Soy sauce is one of the best sources of umami, which makes the whole world a much better, enjoyable place. Way more interesting than most topics that are covered in a typical interview of this type.

26 dearieme October 21, 2016 at 5:04 pm

Roast aubergine (egg plant?) with soy sauce is wonderful.

27 Demosthenes October 21, 2016 at 9:51 am

Ask him why southwestern cuisine does not get near the national or international respect it deserves.

28 anon October 21, 2016 at 10:21 am

That’s true of all New World foods. We see the Old World(s) as sources of culture, and New World food as .. pedestrian.

Speaking for myself, I’m kind of interested in the interview, but I don’t try to be accurate or elaborate in my own kitchen. I am surrounded by really good New World food at $, $$, and $$$ price points. Any are better than I can do. I can see how someone more isolated, further from the Southwest, might have to struggle ..

29 dearieme October 21, 2016 at 10:17 am

“He is a super taster”: well, so am I, but it’s my wife who’s the fine cook.

30 Jeff R. October 21, 2016 at 10:20 am

Why are the kinds of chicken tenders I get in the grocery store never as good as the ones you can get in restaurants? Or strip stakes? Is there a vast conspiracy to keep me from making my own greasy bar food at home?

31 Jeff R. October 21, 2016 at 10:22 am


32 The Other Jim October 21, 2016 at 10:56 am

The Sharper Image used to sell a great line of steaks by Donald Trump but Obama had them banned…

33 Jeff R. October 21, 2016 at 11:54 am

I got a smile outta that one.

34 Brian Donohue October 21, 2016 at 1:29 pm

I don’t think you’ve gotten the trolling recognition you deserve here yet.

35 msgkings October 21, 2016 at 1:51 pm

BD, it’s JAMRC sockpuppeting OJ. God what a millennial sentence I just typed.

But I agree, this new OJ impersonation is hilarious.

36 Liz October 21, 2016 at 10:26 am

Ask him what he thinks about huitlacoche, its recent trendiness (I keep seeing it at high end Mexican in NYC), and its questionable agricultural status– blight versus delicacy. Mexican truffle or corn fungus?

37 Axa October 21, 2016 at 10:46 am

From the exoticness point of view, huitlacoche is a hit because it’s hard to have it in optimal condition on a plate. First, commercial production requires artificial inoculation of the fungus on healthy corn. Then, there’s a short window where you can harvest and get the best flavor. Finally, it’s a fragile product that requires careful preservation and transport logistics. We humans love this kind of status products hard to get. Tasty or not, there’s a compelling story behind.

38 Not A Communist October 21, 2016 at 11:01 am

Ask hi what he thinks of Mary and Tito’s carne adovada and red sauce.

39 Mark Thorson October 21, 2016 at 11:36 am

Up until about 30 years ago, the standard wrapping for rolled sushi was a type of purple seaweed that came in large sheets. Today, that kind of unroasted seaweed has disappeared, replaced by a similar type which is roasted and green. (The purple type turns green when roasted.) What happened? Was there some sort of health scare that forced the purple stuff off the market?

40 Some Other Tom (I Forget Which) October 21, 2016 at 1:07 pm

As a supertaster and a chef, how do you prepare and test dishes for diners who are largely presumably non-supertasters? Do you make something taste right to you, and feel confident they’ll enjoy it even if they miss some tastes that make the dish so good for you? Or do you use non-supertasters to test it out dishes, and rely on their experience to supplement yours?

41 Bruce October 21, 2016 at 2:01 pm

How context dependent is the culinary cutting edge? Would the newest dishes have tasted as good to people 50 years ago?

42 Cliff Styles October 21, 2016 at 3:54 pm

What are some interesting fermented foods in the cuisine he is familiar with that are little known in the wider world?

43 anon October 21, 2016 at 5:38 pm


44 Barkley Rosser October 21, 2016 at 4:27 pm

I saw it in a movie once, and I doubt it really exists, but is there any place in the world (Vietnam perhaps) where they eat monkey brains out of live monkeys whose skulls have been opened up?

Is there any nation besides Japan where one can find whale meat to eat, and just how many preparations of it are there?

45 Cliff Styles October 21, 2016 at 5:31 pm

You’re a supertaster: what are some of the most surprising things you have tasted? some of the worst things?

46 Mark Thorson October 21, 2016 at 8:01 pm

Considering that there are only 4 or 5 tastes and the rest is olfaction, you might ask the same question about smells. Any supertaster must be a supersmeller.

47 carlolspln October 23, 2016 at 12:28 am

By definition.

Taste = 80% olfaction.

The question is, how does that [olfaction] work?

‘Shape’ or ‘Charge’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vibration_theory_of_olfaction [Luca Turin] ??

48 anon October 21, 2016 at 5:34 pm
49 Dan Lavatan-Jeltz October 21, 2016 at 7:40 pm

First off, you should interview Mark Miller, the 2016 candidate for Texas Railroad Commissioner, rather than the Chef. Then you should ask him how is policies for regulating oil and gas industries will result in superior economic outcomes, why Texas is clearly superior to every other state, and to what extent hydraulic fracturing results in seismic activity.

50 what would ernest borgnine do October 21, 2016 at 9:16 pm

Why is it so easy for people to mistake cheap wine for good wine, even after drinking a glass or two, when almost every cigar smoker can tell a good cigar from a bad cigar in seconds?
As a supertaster, do you feel that vegetarianism – the refusal to be able to distinguish by taste a likable swine that has been fed too much hay from one that has been fed too much catfish – is inevitable as humans learn more about animals?

51 what would ernest borgnine do October 21, 2016 at 9:51 pm

Or a question significantly less related to the question of vegetarianism: “And I will restore to you the ears which the locust, and the brachus, and the mildew, and the palmerworm have eaten, my great host which I sent upon you” … or …. “And I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you” … which is the better translation? And why do both translations remind me of hot and sour soup in Chinese exile diaspora restaurants in the 70s and 80s and most of the 90s? And, for bonus points, – I am sure lots of people who might potentially read this might know the answer, but I don’t – why is this line omitted from liturgical readings in some of the oldest traditions?

52 what would ernest borgnine do October 21, 2016 at 10:01 pm

Sorry I misread the post title “What should I ask Mark Miller” my comments were a reply to the imagined post title “what would you ask Mark Miller (if you had never met him)” – I ask friends I have met, and vice versa, much more fun questions, I hope!

53 Mark Thorson October 22, 2016 at 6:59 pm

If you can’t tell cheap wine from good wine, that means you don’t drink a lot of wine. People who frequently drink a variety of wines can tell. There was a time when I drank good wines, and I could tell. More recently, I have been drinking the cheapest wines at Trader Joe’s, and I adjusted to the harshness of young wines. Good wines seemed sort of bland by comparison.

I seem to have a reaction to something in wine, so I switched to vodka diluted with sparkling water to beer strength. I was buying the cheapest vodka at Trader Joe’s (Burnett’s) which is quadruple distilled. It’s cheap and not the least bit harsh. I had thought for most of my life that vodka is supposed to be flavorless, but recently when TJ’s ran out of Burnett’s I tried another brand (Baczewski), and at first I wasn’t paying any attention to flavor. But after a while I noticed there is a distinct and quite pleasant vodka flavor in the Baczewski. By comparison, Burnett’s is completely blank of flavor. Until this discovery, I assumed all vodkas were basically the same, differing only in purity and harshness. Baczewski is triple distilled and made from potatoes. Maybe the potatoes are what does it. Burnett’s is made from grain, and I think all U.S. spirits by law are made from grain. Burnett’s is U.S. and Baczewski is Austrian. I don’t think I’ll buy another bottle of Burnett’s.

54 what would ernest borgnine do October 22, 2016 at 8:51 pm

Thanks that is an excellent explanation.

55 carlolspln October 23, 2016 at 12:31 am

I don’t think anyone could mistake awful wine for good wine.

But good wine needn’t be expensive; more often than you’d think its the opposite.

56 Tom G October 22, 2016 at 12:40 pm

What’s his favorite chile con carne recipe?

I like to taste the various spices, not just have it spicy hot.

What is his favorite jalapeno using recipe (they’re my favorite !)

57 Francy October 28, 2016 at 8:53 pm

Our approach and the culture of food / cuisine has changed a great deal in the last 20-30 years. What are a few positive changes he sees and what are a few negatives? Has his own approach changed and if so, in what ways?

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