Arroyo Seco chef grabs screen time for Taos

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As smoke rose from a backyard wood stove, cameramen and producers frantically ran across the grounds of Cooking Studio Taos to ready the location's sets for the day's shoot.

Acclaimed chef and veteran actor Chris Maher brought the small screen to the small town the past weekend as the the crew of "Moveable Feast with Fine Cooking" set up to film on location in his cooking studio in Arroyo Seco. Fine Cooking magazine's television program spotlights chefs internationally and discusses their cuisine with topics from where the ingredients can be found, how the meals are prepared and, of course, how they are shared with participants of the feast. More than 20 people from the area, including some providers of the ingredients, were present to share in the dishes prepared by Maher and chef Andrew Horton.

Joining Maher and Horton for the filming of the episode was Australian celebrity chef, TV personality and author Curtis Stone, who filmed segments of cooking with Maher's son, Milo. During filming, Maher and the other chefs prepared traditional New Mexican dishes with his culinary twists, including green chile stew, tacos and locally grown pinto beans.

"This, for me, is just fun. I don't take it too seriously," said Maher on a film break. "What it will do is help promote us, the school and Taos, which is fabulous."

No stranger to being in front of the camera, Maher has appeared on several TV shows and has even done some acting in movies. While not on camera, Maher and his wife, Valerie, operate Cooking Studio Taos, in which they bring students to their home to learn more about the culinary arts. Maher added that his studio is often responsible for more than 200 hotel room bookings per year from out-of-area participants who also shop locally in Taos and Arroyo Seco. In addition to fine cooking classes, the studio offers classes for children and cooks fine dishes for weddings. With 17 years of experience in the Taos area alone, Maher has built a steady reputation of cooking throughout his life.

Filming for the show paraded the stars and the crew on a trip to visit Taos Farmers Market on the Plaza to grab some locally grown produce, as well as to Taos Pueblo to purchase blue cornmeal for masa. The show focuses on where ingredients for the dishes come from. Maher strives to buy local ingredients whenever possible.

"We picked [Horton and Maher] because they are great chefs and they're great talent," said John Boland, senior vice president of Fine Cooking magazine. "We love to feature people who really respect the local ingredients and high-quality ingredients. They're innovative and incredibly passionate and both of these guys fit the bill perfectly."

As the crew and chefs worked diligently to prepare and film the dishes before guests for the feast arrived at 4 p.m., cameras were focused on sizzling meat, boiling beans and the overall kitchen atmosphere, which included Stone, Maher, Horton and 11-year-old Milo Maher, who acted as an assistant to Stone in several shots. Cooking ate up most of the day and as one dish was finished, two more were being prepared for completion in a different part of the kitchen, including an outdoor wood stove, which Maher used to cook the lamb and heat tortillas for a taco dish.

The elder Maher stopped rarely and only momentarily to rest during the entire day of filming and cooking. Creating a fun, comfortable environment is something Maher strives for, even with the classes at his house. According to a website, more than 70 guests may be found in the kitchen during classes.

"I love people, and I love having people in my home," Maher said about his studio during filming. "When they come to my home, they get a feel for what we really do here."

As guests sat down for the final shots of the day, servers brought out the dishes carefully prepared by the chefs and crew. The day's events will be featured in a future episode of "Moveable Feast" and in Fine Cooking magazine. "Moveable Feast" airs regularly on public TV stations around the nation.

"This feast feels very homey," said Nora Singley, the show's culinary producer. "There's something about the setting here that I think evokes a friends and family kind of party."

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