If you are unsure of what exactly the Santa Fe Harvest Festival is, you are not alone. When I think of a harvest festival, I imagine stacks of hay and pumpkins, long wagon rides and naively hot farmers' daughters—none of which are part of this inaugural festival.

True, my vision of a harvest festival proves I grew up with a television instead of a tractor, but then, so did festival organizers: Nary a plant can be plucked, but the festival has plenty of head-to-head chef competitions, a bartender brawl and a waitstaff rumble. It ought to be called Santa Fe Food Fight.

Ostensibly, organizers engineered the event to increase business at local restaurants during one of the slower periods of the year (just as with the spring event New Mexico Restaurant Week), and dozens of restaurants and quite a few hotels are offering discounts through the duration of the festival. But a few other factors are at work, as well.

Harvest is a benefit, this year for Cooking with Kids, and a celebration of all things culinary, gourmet and glad-handy—or, at least, another celebration of all those things, in between the Wine & Chile Fiesta and the Souper Bowl and not too far from the Farmers Market Fall Fiesta & Gala, a flurry of Slow Food Santa Fe events and a couple of minor blips such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. So this is sort of a slow time of year, but sort of not so much.

What I really don't get is why organizers call the event a "harvest festival." Discounts began on Nov. 1, but the real action starts on Nov. 5 with the elbow-intensive and cheat-likely Restaurant Relay race around the Plaza and the first elimination round of the Chef's Showdown.

I am a judge for the first two elimination rounds of the showdown (the second is on Nov. 10). Apparently, a celebrity panel of judges—including Sara Moulton, John Sedlar and Bradley Ogden—determines the final winners on Nov. 13, but the contestants have to get through me (and some other people) first.

As a judge, I'm aiming for a combination of Anthony Bourdain, Simon Cowell and Padma Lakshmi, which is to say, kind of a belligerent asshole, but with a really good wardrobe. Of course, I'm kidding. I'm sure all the local judges will be polite and deferential. No one wants to be poisoned next time he or she walks into a Santa Fe restaurant, and at least 21 local chefs are competing at the first elimination round.

The first round takes place at Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino's Painted Parrot restaurant, which is fun for a change of venue, but the Nov. 6 cocktail competition also happens at Buffalo Thunder, which is a lot farther from home than I prefer to drink without a private chauffeur.

The trick with the Santa Fe Food Fight, er, Harvest Festival, isn't to nitpick; it's to kick ass. May the best chef win, and may deal-hunting diners get some real good dishes in the meantime.

Santa Fe Harvest Festival

Through Nov. 23


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