They met in Amsterdam, where both were attending graduate school—he in linguistics and she in cognitive science—but did a 180-degree turn, to his rural New Mexico roots.

Daniel Puccini and Kendall Rattner are business and life partners who recently opened Roots Cafe in Tijeras. Last week as this interview was conducted the cafe did a brisk business.

gr roots DSC_1155Leaving academia behind, the pair spent 18 months interning at Turtle Island Preserve, learning old-time farming methods and living without modern conveniences like electricity.

While he worked in the fields, she worked in the kitchen, preparing three meals a day for dozens of workers on a wood stove and without electricity and with no running water except a hose from a spring.

Rattner said she grew up in the city in southern California, and never learned to cook until she went to Amsterdam. Puccini was a good cook, she said, and she learned from him.

So when the pair went to Turtle Island she thought the kitchen seemed like a good place to work. “I had no idea what I was in for,” she laughed, “cooking for six to 60 people, three times a day. I had exhausted my repertoire of menu items after the first week.”

She said after a few months and with Puccini’s help, “it just clicked,” adding, “at least the stress and the pressure to make something good was gone.”

After moving to New Mexico, and returning to his parents’ South 14 property, they decided to try the combo out again—this time by opening their own cafe.

Puccini has a couple of acres under cultivation, doing horse-driven farming. “The biggest constraint is not land, but quantity of water,” he said, adding that the farm has catchment for rain and snowfall.

“The true constraint is not the amount of water falling, it’s the amount of water stored,” he said. “The best place to store water is in the soil.”

Adding organic material like compost creates “a giant sponge that will retain 100 times the water it would otherwise,” he said.

The couple envisions an educational element as well, through visits to the farm, workshops, classes, lectures, or by themselves going into classrooms to talk about what they do. Topics would range from canning and pickling, to beekeeping, farming and building techniques.

Once the weather warms up, the plan is for the farm to supply the cafe.

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