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‘Iron Chef’ grad Tarbellturns up the Tahoe heat

Mark Tarbell is the chef in the spotlight at the festival.
Mark Tarbell is the chef in the spotlight at the festival. Harrah’s Lake Tahoe

Over the years, Harrah’s has succeeded in bringing prominent chefs to its properties. The recently deceased Paul Prudhomme cooked in Reno, Martin Yan has made multiple appearances, and even the late Dom DeLuise demonstrated his mother’s Italian recipes.

Big-name chefs are a major part of Harrah’s and Harveys’ annual South Lake Tahoe Food and Wine Festival, which starts Friday, Oct. 16, with a sake tasting at Harrah’s Sushi Kai restaurant followed by a kick-off party sponsored by Grey Goose at Harrah’s PEEK nightclub.

The chef in the spotlight this year is Mark Tarbell, familiar from his appearances on “Today,” “Good Morning, America,” and Food Network programs such as “Iron Chef America.” Tarbell, who owns restaurants in Arizona, has an extensive résumé that includes cooking for the likes of the Dalai Lama and Muhammed Ali as well as writing a weekly wine column for the “Arizona Republic.”

Tarbell will be a familiar face at the festival, offering demonstrations at Saturday’s Grand Market Expo and hosting Saturday night’s “President’s Dinner” at Harveys’ 19 Kitchen + Bar, where he’ll discuss his craft and serve a four-course dinner.

The Grand Market Expo, running from 1 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Harveys Convention Center, is always a highlight of the festival, now in its sixth year. Tastings are plentiful, not only from visiting wineries and area craft breweries, but also from Harrah’s chefs who fly in from across the country.

Events including wine and whiskey presentations take place throughout the weekend; it all culminates Sunday morning with the traditional “Farewell Champagne Brunch” in Harrah’s Forest Buffet (9 a.m. to 2 p.m.).

Most events are ticketed. (Ticketmaster; search under Harrah’s Lake Tahoe)

Keeping with the food-and-drink theme of the weekend, the Gin Blossoms are set to perform Saturday, Oct. 17 in the South Shore Room at Harrah’s Tahoe.

The band’s name was inspired by an infamous photo and caption of W.C. Fields in Kenneth Anger’s book “Hollywood Babylon.” They became one of the hottest bands of the 1990s, coming out of Phoenix with a stream of radio-friendly hits such as “Hey Jealousy,” “Found Out About You,” and “Mrs. Rita.” In the past few years, the band has been a staple on the touring circuit, and they’re well suited to rock an intimate venue like the one at Harrah’s. (7:30 p.m.; $30; Ticketmaster)

Also this week: Olivia Newton-John, who had her debut 39 years ago at Sahara Tahoe – before the “Grease” phenomenon and the “Xanadu” disaster – continues to perform and carry on her fight against breast cancer. She plays two shows this weekend at Cache Creek. (8 p.m. Saturday; 4 p.m. Sunday; $75, $89;

Lastly, Reno’s Artown presents “This American Life’s” Ira Glass on Saturday, Oct. 17, at the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts. ($30, $40, $50;