Celebrity chef stops in Portales

A celebrity New York City chef says he could eat raw Valencia peanuts all day.

Chef, restaurant owner, culinary teacher and cookbook author Suvir Saran visited the Portales area Wednesday and Thursday on his quest to better understand peanut farming and farmers. Since India is the world’s largest producer, user and importer of chile, the New Delhi-born chef said, he was also interested in New Mexico’s chiles.

The National Peanut Board sponsored Saran’s trips to farms growing different varieties of peanuts in Virginia, Georgia and New Mexico.

Wednesday, Portales peanut farmer Richard Robbins met Saran and peanut board Marketing and Communications Project Leader Lauren Highfill Williams in Sudan, Texas, where they saw peanuts being harvested. Richard Robbins’ wife, Laura, said she prepared Mexican food for dinner.

“Talk about pressure,” she said.

Saran was complimentary, and said renowned Mexican food chef Rick Bayless should pay millions for Laura’s roasted chile salsa.

Thursday, after a breakfast of Saran’s biscuits and Parmesan fried eggs, the couple took Saran and Williams to visit peanut and chile fields, meet with New Mexico State University peanut breeder Naveen Puppala and have lunch at The BBQ Shop in Farwell. After lunch, Laura Robbins said, they planned to tour Sunland Inc. and finish the day at the Portales Farmers Market.

Williams said the peanut board, on which Richard Robbins represents New Mexico, had worked with Saran for several years.

When he was interested in coming to New Mexico, Williams said, the Robbins family had the chance to host him because they had hosted people from the peanut board before.

“The experience of hosting a world-renowned chef in my home has been very enlightening,” Laura Robbins said.

Saran has a different perspective, she said, not just because he’s a famous chef, but also because his three cookbooks show tastes evolving from a focus on Indian cuisine to also take in American cooking.

Saran said peanuts are accessible and affordable throughout the world, so he wanted to understand where they come from and the people behind them. On his trips, he said, the farmers who farm through good times and bad made an impact on him.

“In quintessential farming style, the farmers opened their homes, hearts and table, and share everything they have, from stories of peanuts to stories of life and beautiful food. Laura and Richard Robbins gave me New Mexico, and one of my favorite home-cooked meals anywhere in the world.”

Richard Robbins said hosting a famous chef was fun and exciting.

“He’s humorous and outgoing,” Richard Robbins said. “It makes him a great guest. But he’s also impressive with the knowledge he has from agricultural to the knowledge of the world to food.”