November is usually a slow month in Santa Fe. This year the action picks up with the first annual Santa Fe Harvest Festival. Those savvy folks at Wings Media who brought Restaurant Week to Santa Fe have done it again. The festival, running from Saturday, November 1st through Wednesday, November 23rd, brings cooking events, classes, restaurant discounts and more. The nine-day event is packed with food-oriented events. To attend most events, you’ll need to purchase either a Red or Gold pass.
If you are a fan of TV shows like Iron Chef, where contestants compete to see who can wow the judges most, you’ll love the Festival’s Chef Showdown. Twenty-one culinarians from kitchens around town will compete in this three-day event. The first round takes place at Painted Parrot Restaurant at Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino in Pojoaque. The 12 “survivors” from the event on Saturday, the 5th from, 1 to 4pm go in to the second round, at the Inn & Spa at Loretto on Thursday, November 10th also from 1 to 4pm. The first two rounds will be MCed by local cooking celebrity, Chef Johnny Vee and judged by Rob DeWalt food editor for the Santa Fe New Mexican and Zane Fischer, contributing writer at the Santa Fe Reporter. Among other topics, Fischer covers food and restaurants.
The four chefs left standing after the two preliminary rounds face a real challenge. For the final round, at Best of the Fest, a gala dinner, at the Eldorado Hotel and Spa on Sunday, November 13th, they’ll be front and center on-stage in the hotel’s Pavilion. Four complete kitchens will be set up. The challenge is to cook and plate a three-course dinner in two hours while the diners watch. The actual time allotted to cooking is 20 minutes for the appetizer and half-hour each for the entrée and dessert. If this isn’t challenging enough, three celebrity chefs will judge their efforts. They all have stellar credentials. TV food personality, cookbook author and dining room Executive Chef at the now defunct Gourmet magazine, Sara Moulton, is joined by Chefs John Rivera Sedlar and Bradley Ogden. Gourmet magazine called Sedlar, a Santa Fe native, “the father of modern Southwest cuisine”. The busy Chef, owner of Rivera and Playa restaurants in Los Angeles, was just named Esquire magazine’s 2011 Chef of the Year. Ogden, a James Beard Award-winning restaurateur, is author of the just-released cookbook, Holiday Dinners with Bradley Ogden: 150 Festive Recipes for Bringing Family and Friends Together. Besides bragging rights, the winner gets prizes. The chef deemed Best of the Fest gets airfare for two to Los Angeles with a two-night stay at the Four Star Beverly Hilton Hotel, $1,000 cash and $1,500 in chef ware from Paderno World Cuisine.
There is a set of rules for the challenge. Basically, the chefs are cooking blind. They find out what foods they may use at the event when they receive a mystery basket with their ingredients. Good luck to these intrepid kitchen warriors.
Other events scheduled for the Santa Fe Harvest Festival are an amateur cook challenge; Bar Wars, a two-round mixology challenge and the Grand Gourmet Food and Wine Expo, an event promoters are calling an “epicurean extravaganza”. There are also a host of cooking and wine and spirit classes covering a range of cuisines and beverages.
The Grand Gourmet, a food and wine lovers dream takes place at the Eldorado Hotel & Spa, Sunday, November 13th, from 1 to 4pm. Over 50 booths will feature wine and food tastings, culinary demonstrations, celebrity cookbook and more. Admission is free with passes holders and $25 for non-pass holders.
Even if you don’t give a fig about competitions and classes, you still may want to get a pass for the Santa Fe Harvest Festival. Almost 40 restaurants are offering discounts to pass holders during the entire over three week period. (Discounts are for one person per pass; an entire table can get a discount if they are all pass-holders). Eat out enough and the pass can pay for itself. Even if you don’t dine out a lot, this is a charity event. A portion of the proceeds go to the local non-profit, Cooking with Kids.
If you start getting the winter doldrums in November and you need something to do, think food and the Santa Fe Harvest Festival.
Who’s who in the Chef’-Showdown group photo above:
Top row (from left to right): Michael Meisel, Red Sage at Hilton Santa Fe Golf Resort & Spa at Buffalo Thunder; Kirstin Griffin, Café Café; Rocky Durham, Santa Fe Community College; Cristian Pontiggia, Osteria d’Assisi; Fernando Olea, Epazote; David Sundberg, Blue Corn Café & Brewery.
Middle row (from left to right): Christopher McLean, Las Fuentes at Bishop’s Lodge; Eric Hall, Fuego! at La Posada; Alfred Matter, Eldorado Hotel; Lino Pertusini, Pizzeria da Lino; Roland Richter, Joe’s; Matt Ostrander, Luminaria at Inn & Spa at Loretto; Ahmed Obo of Jambo Café.
Bottom row (from left to right): Marco Aguilar, The Palace; James Campbell Caruso, La Boca; Joseph Wrede, The Palace.
Missing from photo: Mark Connell, Max’s; Jeffrey Kaplan, Castle Ranch Steakhouse; Jose Rodriguez, Plaza Café Southside; Fernando Ruiz, formerly of Milagro, currently at The Lodge at Chama; Brian Sepulveda of Hilton Santa Fe Golf Resort & Spa at Buffalo Thunder and Xavier Grenet of Ristra and Azur.
Author’s note: As former hotel concierges and owners of a travel concierge and trip-planning business in Santa Fe, the writers may have at some time been guests of business or services mentioned in this post. These experiences have not influenced this post in any way.