May 7, 2014

I was asked to cook for the man known in the hot chilies circles as “The Pope of Peppers”. The event where I cooked for him was in Albuquerque, New Mexico for “The Peppery Pope’s” 70th Anniversary of his Birth. The Pope is also a man. Dave DeWitt by name. He is a man who has reached a starry age I hope to attain one day long, long (!) from now. with grit and wit. He wears his ‘Pepper Crown’ with an easy grin which saves him from the starchy and sanctimonious self-puffery so commonly found in the successful ‘promoters’ of the world.

Peppers for Pope Chilies
Credit Norman Van Aken

Dave along with his lovely wife ‘M.J.’  have created a long line of Chile spearheaded events. The one in Albuquerque was a lollapalooza of one with attendees busting past the 20,000 marker! It all took place at the ‘Sandia Resort and Casino’. My wife, Janet, and I flew out at the request of one of Dave DeWitt’s longtime friends and loyal ‘Chile Head Brethren’ Mr. Dennis Hayes. Denny was not only organizing some of the key moments in The Pope’s party Denny and I am also publishing partners so we have a lot of shared projects and passions. The two of us mix our adoration of chilies in with an equal love of palm trees and sandy beaches. Denny arranged for this to be a surprise for The Pope. We came to realize in the process of this journey it is hard to keep a secret from a Pope. None the less we forged ahead.

I flew with a bag of Bomba Rice purchased at “Delicias de España’ in my carry on. My plan was to create a kind of “Paella” but encase it enrobe it if you will in a roasted and peeled Poblano Pepper.

South of Albuquerque a long time ago one would have encountered Mesoamerica a region that extends roughly from Southern Mexico down thorough Central America. By 7,000 B.C. the people there were planting variations of corn, beans and chilies. Some of the chilies I use most often must be mentioned.

Anchos are a dried poblano chile, and is the most commonly used dried chile in Mexico. Brick red to dark mahogany, with an orange-red cordovan tint when held up to the light. It is the sweetest of the dried chilies.

Chipotles are dried smoked jalapeños. I love these when sold, “en Adobo”.

Habaneros are a very hot, lantern shaped, pepper ranging from dark green to orange, orange-red or red when fully ripe.

Serranos are a smallish tapered pepper with a lean biting heat and pleasantly high acidity ranging in color from green to red, with the red being slightly sweeter.

I also came to learn that Dave has an astonishing knowledge of medical marijuana. It seems like the subjects could be intricately intertwined when one thinks about it. I asked Dave’s wife if she thought he would be hungry enough to eat my stuffed peppers after the large serving of appetizers at the party. She just winked pantomimed a pipe being hit and I got the implication.

As the tall, zaftig singer who lead the birthday band held the proclamation Denny had created to commemorate the august birthday and Dave’s achievements in all things ‘peppers’ Dave looked out at his subjects at the giant restaurant and beaming beatifically and   giving a papal wave said to the congregated  “I love you All!”

How spiritual is that?



Yield: Serves 6 (with leftover paella that can be re-heated for another use.) For the paella mix and rellenos:

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 4 Tablespoons
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves of raw, minced garlic
  • 2 jalapeños, stems and seeds discarded, minced
  • ½ of a red onion, diced medium
  • 1 red bell pepper, stem and seeds discarded, diced small
  • ½ bulb fennel, core discarded and diced small
  • 1 bay leaf, broken
  • 6 large shrimp, peeled and de-veined
  • 1 Cup white wine
  • 1 Cup Arborio rice
  • 1 medium pinch saffron
  • 2 ½ Cups Chicken Stock
  • Kosher salt and cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 6 small poblano chilies, fried and peeled, seeds discarded, stem left on Pre-heat an oven to 400 degrees.

Heat a large saucepan on medium heat and add the butter and olive oil. When they are melted add the garlic, jalapeños, onion, red bell pepper and fennel. Add a little cracked black pepper and the bay leaf. Stir and allow to cook until very fragrant, about 5 minutes. Now add the shrimp and wine. Cover the pot. Turn the heat to high. Remove the shrimp. Turn off the heat.

Cut the shrimp into bite-sized pieces and reserve for later.

Pour the cooked vegetables out into a bowl and keep somewhat warm. Clean out the saucepan and return it to the stove. Turn the heat on to medium and add the reserved 3 Tablespoons olive oil. When it is warm add the rice and stir well to coat all of the grains.

Begin adding the chicken stock by adding 1 Cup of it first, stirring constantly allowing it to become almost entirely assimilated by the rice. Season with a little salt and pepper. Now add in the next ¼ Cup of stock and the saffron and stir again. Repeat stirring and add all of the stock until all of it is absorbed. Season to taste. Fold in the cooked shrimp and vegetables.

Now spoon this mixture into the peeled poblanos and place them on a non-stick baking sheet pan and warm through.

Place the filled poblano in the center of a plate. Serve immediately.