People say that the kitchen is the heart of the home, the space where everyone comes together to cook and connect and create memories. If you've stayed here at the inn or taken a tour, you know there's a state-of-the art commercial kitchen hiding behind a pair of purple doors here. Since we opened in 2015, the kitchen has slowly evolved from a quiet space occassionally used by a few caterers and vendors to a bustling hub for Ajo cooks. We're happily watching it become the heart of the inn.
Our kitchen serves two purposes. First off, it's our catering facility, where local and visiting chefs create delicious meals for groups staying here. We partner with a number of cooks in Ajo who can whip up just about anything, but specialize in local flavors and ingredients unique to the Southwest and Mexico. Two of the caterers you'll often find in our kitchen are cousins Dionne Vega and Christina Vega-Zubiate, who make incredible dishes like chiles en nogada and a Oaxacan mole made with fruit called manchamanteles - literally "table cloth stainer". I'm drooling just writing those words, and can't wait for some of Dionne's upcoming meals for our Road Scholar and REI Adventures hiking groups in November.
Second, it's a community commissary, available for rent to cooks who wants to produce food for the farmers' market, private events, public festivals, and to sell online and at retail outlets. We have a growing roster of vendors who come in throughout the week to prepare foods, and this fall, the Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture is organizing vendors for a weekly Friday cooking session to prepare for each Saturday's Authentically Ajo Farmers Market. This week, vendors churned out an incredible array of foods for the first market of the season including homemade ice cream sandwiches, quiches, tamales, chili, jams, and fresh-roasted coffee. As our staff popped in and out of the kitchen Friday, we saw it coming to life with beautiful, fresh foods and a group of talented, focused vendors.
A shared kitchen like this doesn't run itself. We're fortunate to have a powerhouse Chef/Manager steering the ship, Kerry Stambler. Kerry joined us last winter and since coming on board has accelerated the transformation of the kitchen. She's reorganized it, cleaned it top to bottom with the help of our housekeeping crew, developed new systems to make sure users have what they need, and done trainings so they know how to use the equipment. Kerry's also our breakfast guru, getting up at the crack of dawn to make breakfast for groups. Her (gluten-free!) muffins and sausage strata are to-die-for.
Even with this recent uptick in activity, we're just scratching the surface of possibilities for this kitchen. We'd love to sign up more vendors and caterers; hold more frequent workshops (we've done these before and they've been popular); host visiting chefs and an Ajo Culinary Weekend Retreat...what ideas to you have for our kitchen? Tell us in the comments section or by emailing us at email@example.com!