Story and photos by Sally Finnegan
“Spiritually—I don’t know how to say this but—spiritually and physically, the food is just very good,” Leah Aufill said, smacking her lips.
Beginning in 1999, Leah sold cut flowers and produce at the Stillwater farmers market, but on meeting her late husband, Bobby Aufill, things changed. Bobby was from New Mexico and had restaurants both there and in Stillwater for over 50 years, including the former Bobo’s Mexican Restaurant in Stillwater. “His quality was being able to put together taste and texture to make an excellent dish,” Leah said.
Even after the restaurant closed in 1997, locals continued to ask for his food, so Leah and Bobby made a leap. “We remodeled our garage and started a licensed kitchen,” Leah said.
The kitchen is named for the patron saint of the kitchen, hence Cocina San Pasqual, and has been up and running for the past 14 years.
With over 25 Mexican food regions, or styles, of food to choose from, Cocina San Pasqual features New Mexican, Santa Fe-style foods. The main ingredients that make Santa Fe different from other regions are the common use of chilies and garlic.
Cocina San Pasqual offers, tamales, fresh salsa and appetizers, green chili quiche, fudge, breakfast burritos and sauerkraut. Though sauerkraut isn’t traditional to the Santa Fe region, Cocina San Pasqual’s sauerkraut is made with a slow fermenting process, taking four, sometimes eight, weeks to make, ensuring that the sauerkraut is very good when transported. Their food has no preservatives, so it needs to be eaten fresh or kept frozen until ready to eat.
The food they make focuses on the quality of the ingredients used and flavor of the product. “We aren’t out to make the cheapest tamales or the cheapest salsa, we’re out to make the best tasting,” Leah said.
Leah said she has seen that when people move out of New Mexico, similar to someone who grew up in Cajun culture or another unique region, food is what they miss most, because “you can’t find it anywhere else.” Cocina San Pasqual aims to reach the niche market of Santa Fe food-lovers.
“One year when we sold at the Edmond Farmer’s Market, I had this elderly man try our tamales. He came back the next week and told us it was the best tamales he had had in 20 years—he knew the difference. It’s those kinds of compliments you know that you’re doing something right and just to keep doing it.”
When asked for three words to describe Cocina San Pasqual, Leah said: flavor, traditional, unique.
“I believe in my product so it’s really easy to sell and try to help other people to get interested,” Leah said. “People who are looking for quality, ya’know something that’s not fast food.”
“The work that I’ve done through the kitchen has grown in many ways outside of making money,” Leah said. For her, the food is more of an outlet to love people than it is a business. “I feel blessed for the people I get to serve whether they’re paying customers or it’s a charity meal.”
The Love Feast charity meal is a Stillwater outreach put together by multiple groups in the area and serves fresh-cooked meals to 60 people 18 times throughout the year. At different times people have received as much as 3 meals from The Love Feast—one meal on-site, any leftovers, and pancakes courteously of the Knights of Columbus. “It’s a really neat way to evangelize—we have had people ask us for rosaries, Mary medals,” she said. Usually attendees will be invited to the free breakfast at St. Francis Catholic Church that’s hosted once a month.
Leah grew up in a family of six—four children and two parents. They grew their own garden and raised their own animals, knowing that they needed to make sure there was enough to eat for the entire year. “So you plan—you need a jar or 2 jars of green beans every week, so you make sure you get that many put up, “she said.
When asked if her family influenced how she approached Cocina San Pasqual, she said, ”I think it’s made me interested in cooking big. That approach. It seems like a little bit extra work cooking for 20 instead of two. But you have all that food for a little extra work—and I love leftovers.”
Though Leah is good at cooking, food isn’t necessarily her area of expertise. She has a Master’s degree in horticulture; “I know plant designs, maintenance, and installation really, really well. I have rental properties so I have a lot of experience doing maintenance, repairs and construction.” She even built a cougar sanctuary just south of Perkins on Highway 177 that she welded or built with concrete blocks and tile.
“The cooking was my husbands, and since I love to cook for people I just continued his work,” Leah said. “I just want to make food that other people want to eat.”
At different times Cocina San Pasqual has sold at up to five markets a week, but right now they want to focus on quality.
Currently, you can find Cocina San Pasqual products at Food Pyramid in the produce and frozen sections, GreenAcres Market, or email email@example.com for event catering for parties of up to 150 people.
You can also find products at Ralph’s in Perkins and the OSU-OKC Farmer’s Market, or order online at OklahomaFood.coop, where once ordered it is taken to the distribution center in Oklahoma City where it’s shipped all over the state that day.
For other inquiries follow @CocinaSanPasqual on Facebook.