Yao Ming is now battling with Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Mario Andretti and Greg Norman.

But this isn't some made-for-television poker game featuring former sports greats. Yao is joining the ranks of retired athletes with their own winery. This week the eight-time NBA All-Star is launching Yao Family Wines, a California outpost that will be focused on the Chinese market.

"I really like Napa Valley," Yao told the Wall Street Journal. "California represents vacation, casual [living], sunshine -- everything related to a good quality of life."

Not that the 31-year-old always had a taste for the finer things in life. He knew very little about wine growing up and watched as the people around his hometown of Shanghai poured it over ice cubes. It took a lesson from former teammate Dikembe Mutombo, who was swirling his glass at dinner, to kick-start his interest.

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"I always watched him at our dinners and I'd sometimes ask him 'Why are you doing that?'" Yao told the Journal. "I was just trying to copy him."

Now, Yao will copy Mike Ditka, Arnold Palmer and so many other retired athletes who've entered the wine game -- to varying success. His first offering is a cabernet sauvignon made with Napa Valley grapes harvested in 2009. But Houston Rockets fans will need to check their ATM balance before they think of buying it. The 7-foot-6 Yao has priced the bottle out of reach of most wine drinkers at $289.

Yao Family Reserve, a 500-case production available later this year, will be even more expensive. (You can see the entire selection of Yao Family Wine here.)

Fans have spent hundreds for a pair of Air Jordans for decades. Now the question is will they triple that for a little Ming merlot with dinner?

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Most people would jump at the opportunity to be Dwyane Wade's private chef. Richard Ingraham had to do a web search for him first.

"A friend of mine asked if I wanted to cook for an NBA player -- Dwyane Wade," Ingraham recalls. "I said, 'Who is that?'"

Clearly not a Marquette fan, Chef Ingraham did some research on Wade, who the Heat had just selected with the 5th overall pick in the 2003 draft, and jumped at the opportunity. Despite being trained at the Art Institute of Atlanta, working in the restaurant business, teaching culinary arts and serving as a private chef, Ingraham was admittedly nervous before their initial meeting.

"The first day I must've made a ton of food to bring over for him to taste," Ingraham says. "Next thing you know I was being called back."

Eight years later it's clear that Ingraham is doing something right. He lives with his wife and children in Atlanta, but Wade flies the Miami native back to South Beach two to three weeks at a time because he likes the chef's cooking so much.

Among D-Wade's favorites are the spicy Flash Wings that Ingraham created a few years ago. His version is Asian-inspired with chili paste, garlic, ginger and soy. The chef's lasagna is a triumph for a whole different reason.

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"Dwyane doesn't eat leftovers. At all," Ingraham says emphasizing that last part. "But that lasagna -- he'll eat the leftovers."

Chef Ingraham's recipe calls for some of the usual cast in a homemade tomato sauce and fresh basil, but he substitutes cream cheese for ricotta and uses turkey sausage as the protein.

His latest breakthrough with Wade involves the produce section.

"As of late we have just started getting him eating salads because he's not a vegetable fan at all," Ingraham says. "That has been a challenge."

But their relationship in the kitchen was great from the outset. Wade ate a lot of comfort foods when they first met -- heavy sauces, gravy, and white rice. Ingraham knew there were healthier options for his client, but needed to earn his trust. Eventually they sat down and started discussing what foods could properly fuel Wade's body for the rigors of a long NBA season. Ingraham started using less sugar and switched from white to whole wheat flour.

He also became a student again, spending as much time reading about food as cooking it.

"Being a personal chef is quite difficult because you're not in a restaurant. You're not surrounded by the latest foods, spices and techniques," Ingraham says. "So I study flavors and tailor them so the food doesn't become monotonous."

With a client list that includes Wade, Udonis Haslem, Clinton Portis, Terrell Owens and Gabrielle Union, Ingraham is certainly in demand. He's currently working on a cookbook, and will showcase his talents at the end of the month in a partnership with Miguel Paredes -- the official artist for the 12th Annual Latin Grammy Awards. Ingraham will cook for over one thousand guests at the artist's Art Basel event on Nov. 30. He's also been added to First Lady Michelle Obama's Chefs Move 2 Schools Initiative and will be providing his culinary expertise to fight child obesity.

Somewhere down the line, the end game for the chef is a 50-seat restaurant. Ingraham wants a place where he can handle the cooking, but also spend time with his guests. In the meantime, he might have another way to reach the masses.

"Someone said the other day we need a Flash Wing truck riding around Miami," Ingraham says. "That's a good idea."

Or just park it outside American Airlines Arena. With the NBA lockout all but over, Miami fans should snatch up those spicy wings on the way back in to support their Heat.

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Did you buy enough turkey to feed everyone? That's always a tough question at this time of year, but be thankful Sonya "Black Widow" Thomas isn't showing up at your place. On Tuesday, Thomas took on two male gastronomic athletes in the Wild Turkey 81 Eating World Championship near Times Square in New York City. She beat both of them, eating 5.25 pounds of turkey.

Considering a family of four eats about 1.25 pounds of chicken at an average dinner, it's fair to say Sonya ate enough turkey to feed up to a dozen people on Thursday. And unlike you and your family, she only had 10 minutes to do it.

"Turkey is not my favorite food," she confesses. "I like chicken better. And I hate dark meat."

The Black Widow also had to overcome what keeps most novice cooks pacing in front of their ovens all morning on Thursday.

"Turkey can be so dry," says Thomas. "You have to have hot water or tea to help get it down."

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And sadly, there was not a gravy boat in sight Tuesday morning. But Thomas, who's the No. 4 ranked eater in the world, came into the Major League Eating contest with a lot of momentum. She won the first-ever women's hot dog eating championship belt on July 4. Over Labor Day weekend, she dominated the Buffalo chicken wing competition, setting a new world record with 183 eaten in 12 minutes, and maybe even more impressively beating the top-ranked eater in the world, Joey Chestnut.

Now she's crushed two huge rivals -- literally. Eric "Badlands" Booker tips the scales at 400 pounds.

Nearly 45 million turkeys are expected to be consumed across the country during the holiday, but not everyone will have access to the traditional centerpiece of the meal. So Wild Turkey, the event sponsor, is donating 81 birds to a New York City metro food bank to help families on Thursday.

But there will be at least one person who skips the turkey that day.

"I'm going to have different food on Thanksgiving," Thomas says.

No one would blame her for skipping the bird on Christmas either.

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It all started with a sandwich.

Last season, Kansas City Chiefs fans clamored for The Melt, a kicked-up grilled cheese stuffed with pulled short ribs, grilled onions, white and havarti cheese on parmesan toast, and named it Arrowhead's Fan Favorite. So ARAMARK executive chef Erin Wishon decided to take that concept and run with it.

Actually, drive with it.

"Food trucks have taken Kansas City by storm, giving way to Food Truck Festivals where multiple trucks gather together for a one- or two-day event," she says. "So we wanted to bring that trend to our fans."

Wishon helped create The Melt Mobile so Chiefs fans could get their favorite sandwich and more before kickoff. The truck launched last Sunday and the feedback has been outstanding.

"Our fans are loving The Melt Mobile!" Wishon says. "Many are intrigued by the menu because it features interesting ingredients like Captain Morgan pineapple sauce on coconut toast or because we're pairing unlikely flavors like peanut butter, Nutella, marshmallow fluff and bacon."

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You read that correctly. Marshmallow fluff and bacon. This is miles from turkey on wheat. In addition to The Melt, the truck offers handcut French fries and three other signature sandwiches.

The Big Jerk: spicy jerk chicken, pepper jack cheese, pepper slaw, Captain Morgan pineapple sauce on coconut toast
The Frenchy: fried egg, bacon cream cheese, applewood smoked bacon on Grande Marnier French toast- served with a side of maple syrup
The PB S'More: peanut butter, Nutella, marshmallow fluff, applewood smoked bacon on Cinnamon Toast Crunch toast

Wishon not only wanted to create unique flavor combinations, but hearty offerings to keep Chiefs fans fueled in the cold weather. So far it's working and The Melt sandwich is still reigning champion among the fans. It might not stay at the top for long though.

"We're also seeing a great response to The Frenchy," she says.

I guess the only sensible thing to do would be to try them all. The Melt Mobile will be outside Arrowhead for the remainder of the season, but with only three home games left, you're running out of time.

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The Gumbo Bowl in Tuscaloosa last weekend had the top two college football teams in the country, a Guinness World Record pot of seafood gumbo and Sandy Herman.

The Pratville, Ala., native had her gumbo recipe selected out of the thousands of Crimson Tide and Tigers fans who applied to be a part of the Tailgate Cook-off competition outside Bryant–Denny Stadium on Saturday.

Herman was one of four contestants chosen to represent the Alabama
side and face off against four LSU cooks. Her recipe stood out way above the rest though. The judges, which included famed Chef John Folse and former Crimson Tide defensive lineman turned restaurateur Bob Baumhower, were floored.

"They told me it was the best gumbo they've ever tasted," Herman said.

And what did the winner think of the 3,710-pound pot of gumbo Folse and Baumhower made to set the world record and raise $26,000 for charity?

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"I thought mine was better," she says, but adding that it was probably the best her recipe has ever turned out and that it had much longer to simmer and bring the flavors together than the enormous kettle tended by the pros.

Herman says that everyone raves about her gumbo. She first began making the Cajun classic eight years ago to feed the parents and girls involved with her daughter's traveling softball team.

The winning recipe, which has been a crowd-pleaser ever since, came out of a cookbook owned by her husband's grandmother. With her family cheering her on, Herman nailed it last Saturday in her first ever cook-off.

"I was really nervous at first," she says, "but once I got out there and started cooking, it was like cooking at my house, except outside."

Things went Herman's way before the game, but her team lost to No. 1 LSU by a field goal.

So would she give back the gumbo grand prize to have Alabama get the victory?

"Oh yeah," she says. "I'd rather have them win the game."

Now that's a real Crimson Tide fan.

SHRIMP, OYSTER, CRAB AND CRAWFISH TAIL GUMBO

Sandy Herman, Prattville, Alabama
LouisiBama Gumbo Bowl Tailgate Cook-off Grand Champion

SHRIMP STOCK
1 1/2 pounds jumbo shrimp, with heads and tails
1 onion, halved
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp thyme
1/4 tsp cayenne
2 tbsp Old Bay seasoning
2 lemons halved and squeezed

GUMBO
1 stick of butter
1/2 cup of flour
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
4 garlic gloves, finely chopped
1 bag of frozen okra
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp Old Bay seasoning
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
3 bay leaves
1 tbsp of thyme
1 tbsp of gumbo file
2 quarts of shrimp stock
1 1/2 pounds of peeled shrimp
1 pint of raw oysters
2 packages (16 ounces each) of frozen crawfish tails
1 pint of crab meat
3 cups of cooked long grain white rice
Chopped green onions and flat leaf parsley for garnish
Crusty French bread

To make shrimp stock:
Peel the shrimp and toss the heads and tails into a large stock pot. Refrigerate the peeled shrimp until ready to put in the gumbo. Add the onion, bay leaves, thyme, cayenne pepper, Old Bay and lemons to the pot. Cover with 2 1/2 quarts of cold water, allow the liquid to slowly come to a
boil then lower the heat. Gentle simmer for 45 minutes uncovered, skimming any foam off that rises to the top. Strain the stock into another pot to remove the chunky solids. At this point you should have about 2 quarts of broth to use in the gumbo. Cool until needed.

To make the gumbo:
You must start with a roux base, so melt the butter over medium low heat in a Dutch oven or other heavy bottomed pot, and just as the foam subsides, add the flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or whisk, to prevent lumps. Cook the roux until it is the color of walnuts, and smells equally nutty. This should take about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the onions, celery, bell pepper, garlic and okra, and season with salt, cayenne and Old Bay. Mix in the tomatoes, bay leaves, and thyme, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring until the vegetables are soft. Pour in the cooled shrimp stock and stir until combined. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce heat to simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the gumbo is dark and thick. Toss in the shrimp, oysters, crab meat and crawfish tail meat. Cook another 15 minutes and taste. If seasoning needs to be adjusted, do so now.

To serve:
Ladle the gumbo into a shallow bowl and pile rice in the center. Sprinkle with gumbo file, green onions and parsley. Enjoy with the French bread and hot sauce at table.

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There is a Seafood Tower brimming with lobster, crab legs, shrimp, mussels and clams. But this isn't some upscale Manhattan eatery. The patrons cracking claws have come to watch a race. And although Tony Stewart grabbed the checkered flag Sunday, the real winners this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway were in the Speedway Club & Suites.

On Saturday night, the track hosted a Lobster Fest as a special treat for their Club members.

"In the Speedway Club we did a grand chef's table that featured lobster tails, Alaskan King crab legs, crab cakes, bone-in rib eye carved to order and many other culinary masterpieces," executive chef Heath Miles said. "It's a very special treat for our Speedway Club members, and it is a way for us to showcase our culinary talent and passion."

The Club is a private, members-only dining room that features a much higher-end menu than most NASCAR fans require. There are also suites which hold 64 fans that offer the upscale fare. These discerning gear heads don't want hot dogs or barbecue sandwiches. On Sunday, there was Texas chili, as well as turkey, cranberry sauce and squash to go along with the seafood bounty.

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The home-made pork and green chili tamales were a hit as well, as was the Signature Six Layer Carrot Cake.

Chef Miles welcomes the challenge to create upscale food and says that racing fans are more enthusiastic about their food than a lot of people think.

"NASCAR fans are great and very fun to cook for," he said. "We also have an opportunity that most other restaurateurs don't get -- we get to please more people in a weekend than most other businesses do in a year and we do it well."

They also have a commitment to responsibly grown foods that they showcase on their Harvest Tables which feature local and organic items such as their Rotisserie-Style Herb Chicken.

The only bad news is that the AAA Texas 500 was the last NASCAR event of the year at Texas Motor Speedway. The next race is 158 days away, but you don't have to take my word for it.

There is a clock on the track's website counting down the seconds. No doubt installed by a lobster-loving member of the Speedway Club.

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Peanut butter and jelly? Child's play.

Grilled cheese? You can have it.

Ham and Swiss? Not even in the conversation.

Thursday is National Sandwich Day, and some of the best chefs around the NFL and NHL have stepped their games up, rolling out the most over-the-top sammies and heroes ever to grace the cheap seats.

Didn't know there was a day honoring the humble hoagie? Well, if there's a National Strawberry Ice Cream Day (Jan. 15), then the sandwich definitely deserves one.

Seventeen venues around the professional sports landscape will celebrate the holiday with one-of-a-kind creations.

"Sandwiches have always been a popular menu choice among sports fans, so it seems only natural to salute the sandwich at our stadiums and arenas," said Andrew Shipe, vice president of culinary and marketing for ARAMARK Sports and Entertainment. "Our chefs have captured the local essence and tastes of their cities to create original sandwiches that are infused with hometown flair, to further enhance the game day experience

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for fans."

There isn't a single sandwich out of the bunch that we wouldn't fly across the country to chow down on. But a handful stand out from the rest. So here are the Top 5 sandwiches sports fans should reach for:

"Bloomfield" Sausage Meatloaf (Pictured above.)
Heinz Field, Pittsburgh
Sweet and Hot Sausage Loaf, Pepper and Tomato Ragout, Fried Provolone Cheese on Grilled Italian Bread.

The Southern Strip
Mall of America Field at H.H.H. Metrodome, Minneapolis
Crusted Strip Loin, Roma Tomatoes, Baby Spinach, "Tobacco Onions" and Spicy Aioli on a Petit Multigrain Rye Bun.

Sauerbraten Stacker
Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati
Shredded Beef Sauerbraten, Braised Cabbage, Red Onion, Fennel Slaw, Roasted Garlic Aioli on a Caraway Seed Salted Rye Kaiser Roll.

Herb Encrusted Porchetta
Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
Garlic Salt Rubbed Porchetta, Wilted Greens, Sharp Provolone on a Seeded Amoroso Roll.

Chopped Bacon Cheeseburger (Pictured at left.)
Pepsi Center, Denver
Ground Beef, Sautéed Onions, Bacon, House-Made White Cheese Sauce, Lettuce, "Pickle De Gallo" (chopped tomato and pickle), on Warm Flat Bread.

Resist the temptation to lick the picture of that last one. Your IT department just won't understand. If you can't get out to any of these venues and enjoy one of these mouth-watering creations, find your own way to celebrate National Sandwich Day.

Here's a simple recipe: Take last night's leftovers and slap them between two pieces of bread. Now there’s a dinner that would even make the Earl of Sandwich proud.

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Tags:
NFL, NHL, Sandwich