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Local Baker Pratt Morales Does Chile With Care

By Amy L. Currens

OCTOBER 6, 1997:  The excitement of the fall season is inevitable with the intoxicating smell of roasting green chile in the air. The need to talk to someone who is enthusiastic about this time of year, who also has a hand in the roasting and preparing business, was necessary. Pratt Morales, owner and "guy Friday" of Golden Panaderia or (Panaderia Rex as he likes to call it) maintains one of the last neighborhood bakeries in this rapidly growing city of Albuquerque. Faced with the dilemma of being forced out of his original location 14 years ago--Stephens Restaurant now resides there--he found a special place for his delicious fare and fantastic chile-roasting talent nearby, on 11th and Mountain Road.

I used to work at Stephens Restaurant, where the original bakery had been, and, occasionally, customers would ask about Pratt and his whereabouts. Unfortunately, at the time, I didn't know anything about him or the existence of his new location. I finally met him and put two and two together and the search was over. Wow! All those people with questions about this much-loved baker who has been in the business for more than 30 years. Even with all the word-of-mouth publicity Pratt receives, he deserves more recognition for the amazing job he does. Pratt is an idea machine--a progressive baker with countless hours of hard work and fantastic attention given to his craft. I was interested in hearing about his most recent ideas and his experiences in and views on the neighborhood and community in which he practices his craft, the art of baking traditional New Mexican fare as well as being one of the most caring and innovative chile roasters around.

When I arrived at Golden Panaderia, I figured I would spend the afternoon following Pratt around the bakery, asking a great deal of questions given this season of green chile roasting. He was lovely and lively when I arrived and stuck his cheek out without shaking my hand or hugging me because his hands were covered with chile residue. I gave him a kiss, said a warm hello and we engaged in lovely conversation between sessions of roasting and peeling chile. The man is one of the most fastidious chile roasters and peelers around. Yes, he actually peels the chile. And the beautiful job he does of roasting and peeling costs a mere $15 per bushel. The intoxicating smell of roasting green chile had my mouth watering for the fresh taste of the green. We talked of this year's harvest and where it's coming from.

Having received a great deal more rain than normal this summer, the chile harvest has been a difficult one in areas such as Hatch due to attacks of fungus and rot. As a result, this year's crop of Hatch green chile is a little waterlogged; however, the flavor is still there and the chile is mild. There are large and small chiles coming out of Socorro and Hatch as well as from other small villages around the state. "The chile coming out of Socorro is really nice," said Pratt, but he is looking forward to later on in the season as chile starts coming from surrounding areas and from Roswell.

One of the most amazing things about Pratt is that he has the patience for something most roasters do not: roasting red chile. What a concept, huh? Red chile is extremely flavorful fresh off of the vine, but the difficulty of peeling red chile is what keeps people drying the chiles rather than roasting and peeling them. And the tradition of drying chiles has long been in place, as the advent of freezers for preservation is a relatively new one. The red chile fruit is harder to peel because every part of the chile has had enough time on the vine to adhere and become more united. The meat and peel, in essence, have become one. It takes layers of patience to deal with the extremely careful task of removing the skin, a quality Pratt possesses. He sells roasted red chile in small ziploc bags for red chile rellenos and a variety of flavorful stews.

But Pratt is not just about chile. It just seems that way this time of year. The man has a whole lot more going on in his bakery, with its old-fashioned display cases and the smell of fresh baked empanadas and biscochitos wafting through the warm air rising from ovens at work. Pratt has made some changes in traditional recipes to accommodate those who don't like all the fat or sugar in their diets. He has taken the dairy, lard and eggs out of the biscochitos, and believe me, they taste every bit as good as, if not better than, those made according to traditional recipe. For everyone who walks into the bakery, he offers a free biscochito. He thinks everyone should try one. As he joked about giving free biscochitos away he said, "I tell all who come in that the free biscochitos are for all kids, including 80-year-old kids." What a beautiful way to think.

Speaking of his biscochitos, Pratt enjoys a fantastic export business. Europeans, in particular, order from Pratt on a regular basis. He is extremely proud of not only his product, but also by his way of packaging them so they do not break. His innovative method includes tubes with clear windows for a view of what you are getting and a greeting card with a biscochito inside.

Pratt jokes about the dinosaur quality of the business he's in, but he takes it quite seriously as he watches corporate-run suburban businesses replace small vendors with assembly lines and impersonal service. Pratt enjoys talking with his customers and knowing he can be depended upon by the neighborhood for innovative treats such as blue corn and green chile pizza crusts that are so beautiful by themselves it is hard to place ingredients over them. And all the traditional New Mexican pastries and breads are part of Pratt's repertoire as well. I am in love with his raspberry empanadas and feel indebted to him for working so hard to feed our happy neighborhood tummies and countries beyond with a personal touch. It is extremely rare to find someone who works as hard as Pratt does in all areas of his baking and roasting life, and for that, I thank him.

--Amy L. Currens

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