Local Winemakers Strengthen Community In Annual Cook-Off
Interviews by Ethan Chung | Photos by Jeff Caven
Chef Bobby Moore of Barking Frog at Willows Lodge helped start the Iron Vintner Challenge in 2010. He didn’t know what path the event would take at the time, but he knew he wanted to bring together the Eastside’s best winemakers to do something special for kids in need. Since the event’s inception, Moore and these all-star winemakers have brought the Eastside community together to raise more than $116,000 for Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center in Woodinville. The organization provides equine-assisted therapy for children and adults with disabilities. “Hosting this event has been an amazing experience … Any time you can help those in need and have fun at the same time is a win-win for everyone.”
How does the challenge work? Every year, four local winemakers are selected to compete in the competition. Each Wednesday in June, two winemakers face off in a dizzying culinary challenge featuring a secret ingredient. The winemakers make an appetizer and an entrée for a panel of celebrity judges. The crowd cheers their favorite winemakers and bids on winemaker dinners, overnight stays and vintages. The winners compete in a finale. The event culminates in a special dinner featuring all the winemakers at Barking Frog.
This year is Iron Vintner Challenge’s fifth and final year as organizers hope to plan new events. This year’s finale will feature the four winners from previous years — Darby English (Darby Winery), Chris Gorman (Gorman Winery), Morgan Lee (Covington Cellars) and Lisa Baer (Baer Winery). Instead of a winemaker dinner as the finale, the Iron Vintner Challenge will close with a barbecue celebration, which will allow more people to revel in the event’s accomplishments. “The incredible success of Iron Vintner Challenge tells me that Eastsiders are very loyal to their local winemakers, as well as an incredibly generous bunch that strives to support their community. We couldn’t have done this without them,” said Moore.
Meet the Iron Vintners
Darby English, Darby Winery
What’s your strategy for winning? Get the freshest ingredients possible and practice. For each round we cooked four nights in a row to get the timing down and figure out what we wanted to make. We made a serious mess of my kitchen!
Describe your cuisine. I love tinkering with molecular gastronomy, but I always use it in small doses. I look for food that is in season and fresh and use classic techniques with a modern twist.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever cooked? I vacation every Thanksgiving on the Sonoma coast, a place called Sea Ranch. We forage for wild porcini mushrooms in the morning and dive for abalone and sea urchin in the afternoon. Last year I made a version of carbonara pasta with sea urchin and porcini with a plate of charcoal-grilled abalone. It is so amazing to cook with ingredients you foraged for with friends.
Describe Darby Winery wines: Big and bold yet balanced and complex, and the best in Woodinville!
Chris Gorman, Gorman Winery
What’s your strategy for winning? Disinformation, cheating and espionage for starters. If that doesn’t work, then I will rely on some pretty tried and true practices
of killing the judges with flavor.
Describe your cuisine. I am all across the board, very impulsive and cook whatever I am craving. I grocery shop every day, since I have no food at my home, although I own every condiment known to man. I am a fan of slow cooking — stews, paella, cioppino, ribs. I like food that takes hours to make. That’s not very helpful in this competition.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever cooked? I made some pierogi from scratch with my grandma when I was 7. They were awesome.
Describe Gorman Winery wines: Unapologetically delicious. Because we care.
Morgan Lee, Covington Cellars
What’s your strategy for winning? Cook. Eat. Drink. Repeat. You know what they say about practice.
describe your cuisine. You know that saying about throwing noodles at a wall and seeing what sticks? It’s kind of like that.
What was the best thing you’ve ever cooked? The seared tuna and mango salsa that I cooked for my wife on our first date almost 13 years ago. It must have been good, because she’s still with me.
Describe Covington Cellars wines: Vineyard-driven wines with class and a bit of attitude.
Lisa Baer, Baer Winery
What’s your strategy for winning? My ability to cook, or not, is cumulative of what I’ve learned since I first started. I’ve loved to cook since before I can remember. So that’s what I’m going to be putting to the test in June.
Describe your cuisine. Simple with good, basic ingredients. I also like to rework comfort foods. My kitchen is really small, so anything I can make in three pans or less is a favorite.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever cooked? When I was a kid and I made a whole dinner — pot roast and potatoes — for my family all by myself. I felt 10-feet tall. So proud.
Describe Baer Winery wines: A Washington-style expression of blended Bordeaux varietals — plush, and fruit forward with a lifted finish.
Iron Vintner Challenge Details
June 4 Darby vs. Baer
June 11 Gorman vs. Lee
June 18 Championship
June 25 Barbecue Celebration
Tickets are $75 for each event. Purchase tickets and find out more at Willows Lodge.