I’ll never forget doing chile shots with Charles. But I’ll kick myself for not capturing him on film, or CompactFlash media for that matter. Ouch.
By the time we got to El Santuario Chimayó we were starving. We were either lightheaded from hunger, respectful of his culture, or merely too mesmerized by Señor Charles Medina to take out the camera.
A pity really, because words cannot describe this enchanting character.
An artist by trade, Charles sells dried chile spice mixes across the street from Chimayó. He crafts incredible crosses from small pieces of turquoise and scrap metal recycled from the old roof of El Santuario chapel, but also works in various other media.
Charles and his sister operate a small store and gallery which has a great looking menu of traditional New Mexican fare. I was excited about the tamales. Unfortunately, they were not serving anything off the menu. It was apparently the off season. Our choices included a tortilla burger, or a tortilla burger.
Having never had one before, I opted for the tortilla burger and we talked them into preparing René a quesadilla. But the highlight was Charles and his patented procedure for peddling his chile:
- Crack a pistachio and offer it to the customer. Tell them not to chew it, just moisten it and hold it in their mouth.
- Describe the “Mambo #2” chile mix, but mention you’ll save that for later.
- Dip the pistachio shell into #1 and offer it to the customer. Have them take the spice and chew it with the nut.
- Repeat with the green chile #3 and add a chaser of salt licked from the customers moistened hand.
- Remind them about Mambo #2.
- Repeat with various remaining spice mixes, finishing with Mambo #2.
- Give customer a reminder of #1.
Like I said, words don’t do it justice. You simply had to be there. To hear the accent, to gaze into the deep eyes, to catch the quirky mannerisms. So if you ever get the chance to visit Chimayó, be sure go see Charles. Just remember to bring change. Conveniently, neither he or his sister had change for our $20 bill.
We just wanted to get one spice mix and pay for our burger … before we knew it, Charles threw a couple other spices and some fresh Piñon – pine nuts, the largest I had ever seen – in our bag and took our twenty. How could we argue? The experience alone was well worth it.
The best part? When he described how you must speak up for your food, with respect. Oh, and when he motioned to Rene and told me I know how to pick them.
See Also: Meeting the Magical Mr. Medina, Again