A rare 80-degree June day in the region complemented the perfect setting in the courtyard at Willows Lodge for the first round of the fourth annual Iron Vintner Challenge on June 5.
Avennia’s winemaker Chris Peterson was squaring off against DiStefano Winery’s winemaker Tracey La Pierre in a head-to-head cooking competition, benefitting Willow Lodge’s charity of choice, Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center.
Attendees were greeted with a choice of a red or white wine from the evening’s winery competitors, Avennia and DiStefano. The Barking Frog’s Mobile Kitchen provided an array of food offerings that paired well with the wines.
The evening included observing the guest chefs learning their secret protein was salmon, followed by an intense hour of food preparation before presenting their appetizers and entrees to judges Holly Smith, chef/owner of Café Juanita; Julien Perry, editor of Eater Seattle; and Ian MacNeil, founder of Glass Vodka Distillery.
Holly Smith was excited to be a part of the evening’s competition. "I love working with winemakers because they already have such a developed palate that when they dine at Café Juanita, they appreciate the work I do – maybe even more than I do myself," she said.
Peterson, while playing down his cooking skills as mediocre at best, said, "I’m here because I wanted to help a good cause."
La Pierre was nervous before the event began. "I’m great in the winery making wines, but I’m not great in the kitchen," she said. On hand to help her was DiStefano owner Mark Newton who inspired her to enter the competition.
Winning the coveted first round event was Peterson, who was accompanied in the makeshift kitchen by his sous chef, Lauren Smith. They won the event by just one point.
A benefit auction, with offerings of magnums of wine from local wineries, a day in the kitchen with Holly Smith at her restaurant, a bottle of Glass Distillery Vodka, plus a guest package at Willows Lodge, helped raise funds for the riding center’s operational budget.
Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center recently moved to Dunmire Stables in Redmond. While they currently have 200 riders in their program, they have set a goal to double that number so more can benefit from the positive effects of riding therapy.
There are three more challenge events scheduled. Lisa Baer of Baer Winery will face off against Tyson Schiffner of Betz Winery for the second round of competition on June 12.
The championship round on June 19 will feature round one winner Chris Peterson competing with the winner of the second round.
Then, on June 26, Barking Frog will host the Championship Winemaker Dinner. The restaurant’s executive chef, Bobby Moore, who is emceeing the first three competitions, will put down the microphone to prepare a four-course meal featuring the winning appetizer and entrée along with wine pairings from the participating Challenge winemakers.
Tickets and additional information for the remaining events for this year’s Iron Vintner Challenge can be found by visiting Willow Lodge’s website: www.willowslodge.com.