Connections: Taos with Zak Pelaccio and Jori Jayne Emde

Taos’ nickname, the Soul of the Southwest, says it all. This small, high desert town nestled at the edge of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of northern New Mexico moves at a speed all its own. People come here to both get lost and find themselves. It is truly still the wild west home to wondrous landscapes of sage brushed mesas and plains, a rich Indigenous heritage, art galleries and adobe architecture, serious ski terrain, and miles of hiking trails. A diverse and vibrant food scene has only gotten more exciting since chefs Zak Pelaccio and Jori Jayne Emde put down roots here in 2020. The duo behind award-winning Hudson Valley restaurant, Fish + Game, opened town’s first natural wine bar, Corner Office to much acclaim in 2022. We spoke with the couple about the magnetic pull of Taos and why it’s like nowhere else in the lower 48.

At All Roads North, we believe that a place is nothing without its people. So often, when we ask our clients the most memorable parts of their journey, it’s not the Instagram-worthy landscape or acclaimed hotel that they mention, it’s the encounters they had along the way. That’s why our trips are carefully designed to make those connections, providing you with an authentic and immersive experience. These experiences– whether it be with a local craftsman, musician, chef or marine biologist– are the inspiration for our Connections series, where we talk to friends of All Roads North to get an insider’s look at some of our favorite places across the U.S.

What originally lured you to Taos?

Zak: In 1995, a couple of ski bumming buddies of mine called me up and said I had to get out to Taos and ski at Taos Ski Valley. I flew out with another friend. We slept in sleeping bags on the floors of the dirtbag apartment, in which they were living and skied every day. We hiked Kachina Peak, skied the west basin…the terrain blew my mind. Also, there was no one around, the mountain was quiet; no lift lines, no crowded trails, just bluebird days and steep terrain. In college I had always dreamt of becoming a ski bum, but my career got in the way.

What made you decide to call it home?

Jori: Zak and I were living in the Hudson Valley and running Fish + Game. The winters were slow, long, and dark so we would close and spend our winter breaks away in Taos. We’re both avid lovers of mountains and snow and skiing and I crave the sunshine, and Taos had it all. We bought a house in 2017 and holed up there during the pandemic, then decided to sell our restaurants and our home in New York and make Taos our full-time place.

Taos Pueblo

Taos Pueblo

Three words that describe Taos.

Jori: Land of mañana
Zak: Untethered, anachronistic, expansive

What lives up to the hype?

Zak: The landscape. The light changes every day. The mountains take on different shapes and inhabit different spaces. The weather can change faster than you blink. This is the second largest rift in the world and in that sea of sagebrush and endless horizon the significance of the individual shrinks…and eventually disappears.

What’s underrated in Taos, overrated in Taos, personal favorite, and a recent discovery?

Jori: Underrated: The stone fruit that grows here! Seriously the best apricots, cherries, and plums I’ve ever had anywhere. The Fruit Basket in Velarde (between Santa Fe and Taos) has been in business by the same family since 1598. Overrated: The Motorcycle Rally in Red River each summer (oh man, everyone in Taos is going to hate me now). It’s so loud. Personal Favorite: Chokola Bean to Bar is a worldwide, award-winning chocolatier with exceptional products that blow my mind. Recent Discovery: A man called Harold who has a shop inside his family’s home in the Taos Pueblo has a herd of true wild buffalo on his land outside the Pueblo village and he takes people with him to feed them in the mornings.

What was the inspiration for Corner Office?

Jori: Our wine cellar that we moved with us from New York was down to the final three cases. At the time, nobody in this state sold the wines we wanted to drink so we decided if we were to get the wines we were interested in drinking, we should open a wine bar.  Also, there isn’t a natural wine bar in Taos and we felt the town needed that gap filled. The food menu changes seasonally with a few staples that might not ever come off the menu as well
as weekly specials. 

Where do you go to get your nature fix?

Jori: The whole place is just one massive nature fix. It’s only a short drive from our house to the parking lot for the hike to Wheeler Peak (the highest peak in New Mexico) or the lot for Lift 1 for skiing. There are a gazillion trails from flat mesa walks to steep climbs everywhere. The Rio Grande is eight minutes from our house and there are lots of trails to traverse via foot or bike down into the gorge for a swim in the summer. 

Zak: Go a bit further and you have the Rio Costilla, Valle Vidal, Conejos River, San Luis Valley…it’s all sky and earth here.

Rio Grande Gorge

The Rio Grande Gorge

What surprised you most about the food scene?

Jori: For a small town, I was surprised by the diversity of the cuisine, from Middle Eastern, Indian, Filipino, farm-to-table, sushi, Mexican, New Mexican, Native cuisine, and more. 

Zak: There’s a sense of independence here and also a certain scarcity due to how remote it is, which means people cook for themselves, butcher their own meat, and forage for the country’s best porcini. I think this has created natural relationship with cuisine that is quite unique from other parts of the States in which I’ve lived where a greater variety of products are available and dining out is more of a routine. 

Where do you take friends to eat when they’re in town?

Jori: Our standard go-to since we moved here is Medley. We describe it as the town’s tavern. It’s great for groups. There’s something for everyone and they make great cocktails. For lunch, there’s nothing better than Ranchos Plaza Grill for the absolute best red chile sauce in all the land.   

What’s your Sunday morning in Taos look like?

Jori: Sunday is our last day of service at Corner Office before our “weekend”,so often the morning is very mellow and depending on my exhaustion level is either some outdoor activity or a cuddle into the couch with a movie or book until it’s time to head to work.

Zak: Tuesday is our Sunday and that means if it’s ski season, I’m up on the mountain, if not, probably a couple hours biking in the desert or Jori, and my dog Waylon and I are down by the Rio Grande, drinking wine, playing in the river, enjoying the sunshine.

Get in touch to start planning your own New Mexico adventure or take a peek at our sample journey, Back to the Future in New Mexico



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