SANTA FE, THE TOWN
During my professional cooking days, Santa Fe was the hub that I used for years as a short “shoulder season” between working my gig in Alaska during the summer/fall seasons, to working my Colorado and Utah Ski Resorts job in the winter/spring seasons. It was a good circuit that enabled me to learn all things Southwestern from this most enigmatic and eclectic New Mexican hilltop town. I’ve always found Santa Fe to be both very friendly and accommodating to outsiders and tourists. During the Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta this was even more so.
The town was eager to show the best it had to offer to the gastronomic and oenophilic public. Arriving early in the week gave me time to settle in and visit some of my old haunts to get in the proper mood for the four-day extravaganza. Since parking is at a premium in Santa Fe, I chose a location that would allow me to walk to all of the instructional and tasting venues. This post is big because the festival itself was huge!
We stayed at the Hotel St. Francis in the heart of Historic Downtown. This turned out to be a capital idea, since it allowed me to be within a few blocks of the wine classes and chef demonstrations. It also allowed me to visit some of the great shops as well as local drinking and eating establishments that Santa Fe is most famous for. The hotel itself offers free WiFi and is pet friendly, but doesn’t have the excess of perks other hotels might, so check the website if you are thinking of staying here. The parking lot was small, but the pay-lot across the street was validated by the hotel.
Some of my old haunts include:
This is by no means a complete list of great places to eat, drink or both in Santa Fe. There are literally dozens of other worthy places in and around town. Santa Fe is a culinary destination for some, but it’s not the only thing going on in town. The shopping, art, and antique market scenes are just as compelling and I always mix them all in every time I’m in town. There is plenty of hiking, mountain biking, vineyard tours and other outdoor activities here to boot. Santa Fe nearly has it all.
During the week of the Wine and Chile Fiesta most of the wine seminars and food tastings are located in, or around the downtown area. Many are at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center, which offers quite a few rooms for the wine makers to give tastings and lectures about their respective vintages.
Among the wine seminars were Grgich Hills, Tablas Creek Esprit (California) De Beaucastel Vertical, Selbach-Oster (Germany), Gobelsburg and Nikolhof (Austria), Donnhoff, Louis Jadot, Henri Boillot, Volnay, Domaine Paul Pernot Chassagne Montrachet (France), and Fontanafredda Barolo Vertical (Italy) to mention just a few.
Celebrity Chefs included Rick Bayless of Topolobampo in Chicago and of PBS fame Mexico-One Plate at a Time, Stephan Pyles, Flora Street Cafe, Dallas (Father of Modern Texas Cuisine), Martin Rios, Restaurant Martin, Santa Fe (Best Chef in the Southwest 2016 & 2017) and a much anticipated mole demonstration from Chef Fernando Olea, Sazon, Santa Fe given at the Santa Fe Cooking School.
HOG ISLAND OYSTER AND CHAMPAGNE FEST
The Hog Island Oyster’s and Champagne walk-around was hosted at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center on the patio. The champagne (all French, of course) was from Perrier Jouet Grand Brut, Laurent Perrier Ultra Brut, Louis Roederer Brut Premier, and Gaston Chiquet Tradition, all at or above 90+ ranking and free flowing to wash all the fresh shucked Tomales Bay, Northern California oysters down.
The oysters were served four ways: fresh shucked, grilled, fried and cold marinated. Kevin Nash (2017 Best Chef of the Midwest) was on hand to oversee the production.
THE GRAND TASTING
The Grand Tasting was held on Saturday at the Santa Fe Opera House grounds, in order to accommodate the huge sold-out crowd. This was the most comprehensive celebration of a single city’s culinary heritage and the spirits that match, that I have ever seen. The Grand Tasting of the Wine and Chile Fiesta pulls out all the stops. Nearly 80 Santa Fe restaurants catered the food and over 180 world class wines and liquors are served non stop for four hours. The list of wine vineyards alone read like a who’s-who of modern wine making:
(Alexander Valley, Bodegas Ontanon, B R Cohn, Browne Family Vineyards, Cakebread, Caymus, Chalk Hill, Louis Roederer, Chateau Bligny, Cline Cellars, Clos du Val, Duboeuf, Duckhorn, Ferrari-Carano, Francis Ford Coppola, Grgich Hills, Hahn Family, Hess Collection, J Lohr, Jordan, Kenwood, Kendal Jackson, Louis Jadot, Oberon, Perrier Jouet, Ramey Wine Cellars, Robert Mondavi, Rodney Strong, Schramsberg, Schug Carneros, Ste. Michelle, and the list goes on and on.)
This list isn’t comprehensive and does not include the ports and dessert wines. I even found someone in the chocolate tent free pouring a Jeroboam of Grahams 30 yr old tawny port! This is a food and wine festival gone wild.
My summary for the Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta met and exceeded my expectations. Every wine seminar, cooking demonstration, guest celebrity chef, and food & wine tasting were held flawlessly. The weather this year threatened a hard rain, but was held off except for a few brief light showers. Other than that, every day was exceptional.
Each night my wife and I had fun trying out new places. At the Hotel St Francis they had an exceptionally good bar called the “Secreto Lounge”. My wife favored the Smoked Sage Margarita: Espalon Reposado Tequila, O3 Brazilian Orange Liqueur, fresh squeezed lime juice, Smoked Sage infused with Hickory Smoked Sea Salt rim. Delicious! The Hotel Restaurant, Tabla de la Santos Restaurant, did a good breakfast with a catty-corner view of Cafe Pasqual’s. On a couple of mornings my wife and I were sat as soon as we walked in, at a table near a great fireplace.
We watched endless lines of patrons huddled in the cold waiting to get into Cafe Pasqual’s while we sat with a steaming hot cup of coffee and good sized breakfast featuring a house-made green chile sausage that can’t be missed. There was a great crowd in town the week of the festival. Everyone we met seemed in a convivial good mood, eager to make/share memories in Santa Fe. I can’t say this about every city I pass through, but every time I’m in Santa Fe…Santa Fe delivers.