2011 Challenge Judges

LAURIE HOOK, CHIEF WINEMAKER, BERINGER VINEYARDS
When Laurie Hook learned that she had family roots in wine making, her interest was sparked. “I found out that my family had owned a Chateau (Chateau Olivier) in France before the revolution. I started to read about wine and to taste wine and then discovered you could get a degree in wine making. 

It seemed to really pull together my love of history, science, creativity, and connection to the earth. I love that winemaking has such a long history – the Mesopotamians were making wine in 6,000 BC. After that, for the past 8,000 years, we’ve been learning to make it better. That’s what we are still doing today.”
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BILL POWELL, Director of Culinary Development at LongHorn Steakhouse 

As Director of Culinary Development for the past nine years, Bill Powell has been responsible for all menu development for a company with more than 360 restaurants, 20,000 employees and nearly $1 billion in annual sales. Bill has more than 30 years of culinary experience dedicated to research and development. Bill has a deep passion for food and collaborating with others to create new and innovative business opportunities.

In his role, Bill leads a team of culinary professionals, working closely with marketing, operations and suppliers to develop and test new menu items that capture LongHorn’s passion for grilling inspired by the spirit of the American West.

Bill joined LongHorn from Ruby Tuesday’s, where he spent four years serving as Culinary Director, leading the team responsible for strategic development and implementation of new menu and promotional items. Prior to that, he spent nine years as head of culinary development for Gilbert Robinson, where he created signature menu items for Houlihan’s Restaurants.
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CHEF THOMAS DRITSAS has served as Corporate Executive Chef for the Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group since October of 2003, and oversees the day-to-day culinary operations for all Del Frisco’s Double Eagle and Sullivan’s Steakhouses. Prior to this position, Thomas joined on with the Sullivan’s Steakhouse Brand in 1999, where he served in various culinary capacities and
was part of new opening teams. From 2003 to 2006, Thomas also served as Corporate Executive Chef for Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon, Inc., during
which time he oversaw the daily culinary operations for all brands under the Lone Star umbrella. Before joining Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon, Inc., Thomas assisted in the opening of numerous independent restaurants and owned and operated his own restaurant. He has worked for the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group in Atlanta in the creation and implementation of some of their various restaurant concepts. Chef Dritsas graduated from the Culinary Institute of America with an AOS in Culinary Arts in 1993. 
Karine Bakhoum – President, KB Network News 

Tastemaker and Consultant Karine Bakhoum is a visionary of hospitality consulting, public relations and networking. Bakhoum established her sincere passion for food when she began to cook with her family at the age of three. As a teenager, Bakhoum created and sold her own “All Natural, Homemade Honey Nut Bran Muffins” to health food stores on the Upper East Side on Manhattan, a prelude to her future career. Her exposure to a diverse collection of flavors and cultures put her on the path to culinary success as a food expert, restaurant consultant, and imminent cookbook author. In 1993, Bakhoum founded KB Network News (www.kbnetworknews.com), a leading restaurant consulting and public relations firm in New York City. Her remarkable palate and extensive knowledge of food earned her a spot as a frequent judge on Iron Chef America, which led to the creation of her moniker, the Iron Palate™.
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