Sodexo-NMSU Executive Chef Aida Samaniego crafts specialty meals that the entire community can enjoy. Get a taste at one of the monthly wine dinners where you’re sure to try something you’ve never had before.
Written by Mike Cook
Photos by Arianna Espinoza & Kyle Pierson
New Mexico State University Executive Chief Aida Samaniego is a native of El Paso who made her way back to the Southwest to live and work via Cornell University, the New England Culinary Institute, Weston Hotels in Washington, D.C. and Dallas, and some world travels.
She was working as the catering manager at Columbia University in New York City when hijackers flew planes into the Twin Towers in 2001. “It was the Sept. 11 event that brought me home,” she remembers.
After earning an MBA from NMSU in 2005 and operating her own catering business in El Paso, Samaniego took on the head chef’s job with NMSU-Sodexo. Since October 2014, she’s been in charge of residential and retail dining for Sodexo-NMSU dining services, along with food service at Fulton Center and NMSU’s concessions and catering. That includes ordering for, planning, and preparing about 2,000 meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) for Aggie students—including vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free meals on request—along with special weekly and monthly lunches and dinners and other dining events that offer unique tastes of local, regional, and international cuisine.
Samaniego says preparing plated meals for “upscale events where I can use more creativity” is her favorite part of the job. A good example: NMSU’s monthly wine dinners “when you really get to practice the art,” she says. “The art of it is colors, textures and flavors,” and diners are “almost afraid to eat it because it’s art.”
The wine> dinners are prepared monthly for 40 to 50 people in the 3rd Floor Bistro at the Villanueva Victory Club inside NMSU’s Stan Fulton Athletics Center. Samaniego designs the menus for each dinner and works with NMSU’s wine vendor, National Distributing, which develops the wine pairing to go with each course. Upcoming wine dinners are in May (with a Chinese theme) and June (for Father’s Day).
Other specialty items Samaniego has prepared at the Fulton Center include Raspberry Cream Pavlova for a Valentine’s Day dinner; a tequila dinner that included venison Chichilo with Chochoyotes; an Italian wine dinner featuring Cavolo Nero and zucchine con ricotta e pecorino; a Naples grape tart for a New York state wine dinner; and Pinchos Morunos con tortilla de patata (Moorish-inspired pork skewers with a Spanish potato tortilla) for a Spanish wine dinner. “I really make an effort to get items we don’t get here,” she says.
Samaniego works with NMSU Sous Chef Mike Guerra on “Mike’s Magnificent Meals” that are served from 11am to 2pm each week in the Taos dining room at NMSU’s Corbett Center. The meals are open to the public for $7 to $8 each and Guerra is always brainstorming new and different menus for the specialty lunches.
Samaniego also tries to accommodate special requests from NMSU students and staff. Three of her employees are from Puerto Rico and their requests resulted in a recent “Taste of Puerto Rico” meal. She also put together a student-requested “Taste of Saudi Arabia.”
Samaniego also devotes her culinary talent and experience to NMSU-Sodexo catering services. She offers pre-set menus, or can research recipes at a client’s request and come up with “unique ways to present food. If there’s a special menu request, we will find a way to take care of it,” she says.
Earlier this year, for example, Samaniego and her staff catered a conference in the Corbett Center ballroom that featured goat curry and seven other Nepalese recipes. Sodexo-NMSU also caters off-campus events, including weddings, graduations and proms. Samaniego works with the directors of catering, retail, and concessions to manage Sodexo-NMSU’s 160 employees. “It’s quite an operation that we have,” she says.
Through Sodexo’s global chefs program, Samaniego has welcomed culinary arts experts from as far away as Sweden and France, who prepared their specialties for NMSU students, staff, and community members. “Kids feel so excited to experience that,” she notes.
For residential dining, Samaniego says she works with staff to create menus that change on four-week cycles. NMSU’s retail dining will soon include a new coffee shop inside Zuhl Library, she adds. She has also volunteered her time and talent as a celebrity chef for Rio Grande Rotary Club’s Dress the Child fundraising dinner and Sodexo-NMSU’s Servathon event at El Caldito Soup Kitchen at the Mesilla Valley Community of Hope in March 2015.
taste the magic!
NMSU-Sodexo wine dinners are open to the public by reservation only. The meals will be served on the third floor of the Stan Fulton Center on the NMSU campus. For reservations, prices, and additional information, email email@example.com.
Saturday, May 27
This five-course meal includes dishes like Crab Sui Mai with Red Pepper Sauce; Shiitake Dumpling in Ancho Chile Sauce; Marbled Tea Eggs; Crispy Duck with Star Anise Sauce; and Lychee Ice Cream
Father’s Day Meal
Saturday, June 17
The Father’s Day menu is still in the works, Samaniego says, but it will be paired with beers and whiskeys.
Mother’s Day Brunch
Sunday, May 14
10am to 2pm
This tasty event includes a buffet menu with all the trimmings, along with a made-to-order entrée with choices like Eggs Benedict; Huevos Rancheros; and Blueberry, Lemon Custard, and Pistachio Crepes. Mimosas available for 21+ crowd.
Want more info?
Chef Samaniego’s Summer Get Together
Whether you’re throwing a graduation party or a good old summer BBQ, make it extra memorable by serving some of Chef Samaniego’s favorite seasonal dishes.
Recipes to enjoy
Southwest Grilled Beef Skewers
½ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup lime juice
1 tbsp. tequila
2 bay leaves
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. chipotle chile powder
1 tbsp. Mexican oregano
1 tsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2lb beef, cut into 1-inch pieces
- Mix all the ingredients, except the beef, to make a marinade. Add beef and marinate for 12-24 hours.
- When ready to cook, set gas grill on high or light a grill with coals.
- Skewer beef along with optional vegetables such as mushrooms, onions, cherry tomatoes or bell peppers. Season skewerswith salt and pepper.
- Place skewers over flames. Turn until cooked evenly.
- Serve on a platter as an appetizer or on top of warmed corn tortillas as an entrée.
1lb sea bass or tilapia, chopped
1 cup chopped onion
¾ cup chopped celery
¼ cup chopped cilantro
Sea salt to taste
White pepper to taste
¾ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup fresh lime juice
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
- Mix all ingredients and let sit in the refrigerator for at least four hours. Adjust seasoning if necessary.
- Serve with crackers or tortilla chips.
Note: This is more of a Central American-style of ceviche. For Mexican-style, add chopped tomatoes, chopped jalapenos, and diced avocado.