Simi Winery chef to compete in Food Network show

[caption id="attachment_52048" align="alignleft" width="224" caption="Eric Lee"][/caption]

HEALDSBURG -- Simi Winery executive chef Eric Lee is set to compete against 14 other captains of cuisine in season eight of the show Food Network Star, the network announced today.

Mr. Lee, a 44-year-old Petaluma resident, has been been in charge of introducing visitors to the 135-year-old winery through innovative dishes for 11 years.

This season, celebrity chef hosts Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis and Alton Brown will lead hand-picked teams of finalists. The winning chef will get a show on Food Network, produced by the team leader. The season premieres May 13, the winner announced on the July 22 episode.

The other finalists are Philip "Ippy" Aiona of Kamuela, Hawaii; Judson Allen of Chicago; Martie Duncan of Birmingham, Ala.; Emily Ellyn of Orlando, Fla.; Martita Jara of San Diego;  Yvan Lemoine of Maspeth, N.Y.; Josh Lyons of Jupiter, Fla.; Linkie Marais of North Attleborough, Mass.; Nikki Martin of West Hollywood, Calif.; Malcolm Mitchell of Washington, D.C.; Michele Ragussis of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Cristie Schoen of New Orleans; Kara Sigle of Chicago; and Justin Warner of Brooklyn, N.Y.

In the premiere, the finalists arrive in New York City to meet the host-leaders. After that, special guest Robert Irvine challenges the teams to their first "Star Challenge": create a pop-up restaurant an extremely limited budget and little time.

Each episode also features a "Producer's Challenge," in which the contestants up for elimination each shoot a segment with their mentor-producer to be presented to the selection committee in the "pitch room." Returning judges and  Food Network executives Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson decide who stays and goes, along with a roster of guest judges.

Episodes will include holiday-themed specials hosted by Guy Fieri. He help start in Santa Rosa restaurant chains Johnny Garlic's and Tex Wasabi, successes that propelled him to a spot on Food Network Star, which he won in 2006.

Other challenges this season will include a Chopped-style battle judged by Alex Guarnaschelli, Scott Conant and Marc Murphy; a Ted Allen-hosted New York Fashion Week food makeover challenge with a cash prize from Discover Card; ; and a Miami beachside competition where finalists shop at Target to style a VIP event for Paula Deen. Season guest stars also include Food Network's Sunny Anderson, Anne Burrell, Melissa d'Arabian, Jeff Mauro, Aaron Sanchez and Geoffrey Zakarian, along with Entertainment Weekly's Jess Cagle and Jill Bernstein, Entertainment Tonight's Christina McLarty and Serious Eats' Ed Levine.

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