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Winemaker Karl Wente Judges Iron Chef America Battle on December 4

I’m a fan of the Iron Chef America series. I enjoy seeing what some of the best chef’s in the world (and their talented teams) can do with a “mystery” ingredient. The show exposes me to some chef’s and restaurants I’ve not been aware of previously too. I also appreciate the focus on food and the craft of cooking instead of interpersonal drama.

There are two things I don’t see enough of on Iron Chef though: wine and West Coast judges. Perhaps it’s been done, but I’ve never seen Iron Chef America use wine as the secret ingredient. And, while West Coast chefs are frequent contestants — and chefs Elizabeth Faulkner and Michael Chiarello are currently battling on The Next Iron Chef — judges from this region are uncommon. San Francisco’s Martin Yan has made appearances, but he is really focused on Asia. There have been many entertainment celebrities too, some of whom are based in southern California. But they don’t speak to our food scene.

This Sunday, one of those issues will be remedied. There will be two Californian judges for the Holiday Battle between Iron Chefs Morimoto and Michael Symon. The judges will be Karl Wente, winemaker at Wente Vineyards, bi-coastal TV chef and author Candice Kumai plus Iron Chef veteran Donatella Arpaia.

I don’t know the secret ingredient. But it won’t be wine. It’s a shame to bring a winemaker onto the show and not take advantage of his particular expertise. And wine is a versatile ingredient that can be incorporated into both savory and sweet dishes. But Karl Wente is there due to the Food Network’s joint venture with Wente Vineyards on the “entwine” wine label, not because this particular show will have a wine focus.

Karl_Wente_vineyards-cropNonetheless, I think Karl Wente will be more interesting than most of the non-culinary guest judges. He’s got an excellent technical background: a Chemical Engineering degree at Stanford and Masters degrees from U.C. Davis in horticulture/viticulture and food science/enology. He has been in charge of all of the winemaking at his family’s Wente Vineyards for several years. Prior to that, he worked for Peter Michael Winery and at Brown Brothers in Australia.

Fortunately for Iron Chef America viewers, Karl Wente is not just a wine and chemistry geek. I’ve seen him do consumer tours at the winery. He’s well-spoken and doesn’t rely on technical jargon. The kitchen in his backyard, The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards, is arguably the best in eastern Alameda County too. It’s current executive chef, Matt Greco, spent the last ten years cooking at top restaurants in Manhattan, including two New York Times 3-star establishments, Café Boulud and A Voce. So, Karl should be able to make astute comments about the Iron Chefs’ dishes.

I’m looking forward to an entertaining show that gives some well-deserved attention to West Coast palates. And maybe, just maybe, there'll be a glass of wine in there somewhere.

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This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. Photo of Karl Wente courtesy of Wente Vineyards. All rights reserved.