A Foodie's Delight: Eating Your Way Through the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta

A Foodie's Delight: Eating Your Way Through the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta

Santa Fe, New Mexico is the oldest capital in the US, its a place where the earth and sky defy description, it has an abode of never-ending adobe architecture, and is a wonderful culinary destination. All of these descriptors and more define this 400-year-old, yet still totally hip, town of Santa Fe.

Located 7,000 feet above sea level, Santa Fe is surrounded by majestic mountains and the Rio Grande River. Santa Fe stops and steals hearts with its breathtaking beauty. Look up, down, sideways, in and out and you’ll find wonders in every direction marinated in charm and character. There is always a reason to be in this city, but one that calls to epicureans is the annual Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta. This four day gathering of gourmet glitterati which took place from September 24-28 this year celebrates fine food and wine through a series of events sure to tempt any foodie.

santa fePhoto Courtesy of Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta

The opening auction luncheon of the fiesta honors the 25th anniversary of New Mexico’s own Gruet Champagne. Each course—prepared by five culinary celebs—sets the stage for lively bidding on irresistible lifestyle experiences with the proceeds going to local charities. In addition the event features wine seminars, cooking demos, a bicycle ride and Sunday brunch which rounds out the roster of activities interspersed between celebrity chef luncheons and vintner-hosted, wine-paired dinners offered by the town’s most coveted restaurants.

The Fiesta’s Grand Tasting, held at the iconic Santa Fe Opera House, is the tour de force of the weekend. In a walk-around format, 100 world class wineries and 80 renowned Santa Fe restaurants all aim to outdo each other to capture the hearts and stomachs of hungry enthusiasts. Three thousand attendees have been coming for over a quarter of a century. 

Santa Fe Wine & Chile FiestaPhoto Courtesy of Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta

Come for the Fiesta but stay for the endless activities that make this town a connoisseur’s delight. The Santa Fe School of Cooking offers both demonstration and hands-on classes, which cover many aspects of Native American and Southwest cuisine. Their philosophy is to combine rich traditions and indigenous ingredients with seasonally available products to maximize the nutrition and flavor of well-honed recipes.

In the hands-on class named Taco Making, participants at the Santa Fe School of Cooking were divided into groups of four and worked on various components of the menu so that the meal in total was prepared by students with the guidance of the class instructors. While the meal was being devoured, the chef/instructor reviewed the finer points of each recipe so that you could leave with a thorough understanding of how to prepare each item. In the demonstration class Contemporary Southwest, the instructors prepared recipes and added their stories, wisdom and “tricks of the trade,” while participants took notes, asked questions and waited for the moment when the meal was served to experience the fruits of their labor.

santa fePhoto Credit: Michael Reiss

Whether you are an enthusiastic novice or experienced cook, a class at The Santa Fe School of Cooking will enhance your cultural, as well as culinary acumen. One of the things you can experience while there as well is a Great Southwest Adventure to the Pueblos and Taos for an in depth understanding of the history, geography, and cultures that have shaped this area. Our guide, Bruce, was an enthusiastic fount of knowledge and appreciation of the area. From Georgia O’Keefe’s much-painted skyline—pierced by volcanic mountain peaks—to the Rio Grande and from the sacred pilgrimage town of Chimayo to the UNESCO World Heritage Site the Pueblo of Taos, this day-long excursion will enlighten and enhance your appreciation of the terrain and its people.

During the fest, we participated in a Food Tour New Mexico walking excursion of five top food spots in a town of hundreds of great restaurants. What a way to sample some of Santa Fe’s finest fares and get tons of great local and historical info thrown in for good measure. You can do the tour daily and will get a new five restaurants to savor. Throw in a New Mexican Wine Tour as well to really discover the wonders of the oldest vineyards in the United States!

santa fePhoto Credit: Michael Reiss

When not dining at the fiesta, one of the restaurants to explore is La Plazuela at La Fonda Hotel. Located in the oldest hotel on the Plaza, the ambience is quintessential old Santa Fe. The food is modern with hints of the old Southwest. The tortilla soup is deservedly legendary, the deconstructed heirloom tomato salad is delectable, and the Northern New Mexico Filet and Enchiladas with green and red salsa are worth ordering. Wine pairings include local Gruet Sparkling and Gruet Pinot Noir, as well as luscious California zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon.

santa fePhoto Credit: Michael Reiss

If you want a restaurant a bit more exotic, try L’Olivier, a French restaurant with Southwest influences. The ambience at L’Olivier is cozy, the reception warm, and the food and wine brings you right back to France. The Foie Gras Torchon, Duck Confit Salad, and the escargot are purely French.

Any way you choose to do your Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta, you’ll have no shortage of delectable selections to fill your foodie cravings. Be sure to mark your calendars for next year’s event, you won’t want to miss it.