The Secret Ingredient… Meet Final Fire’s first Clandestine Combo: Cheerwine and Cacklacky Cheerwine Sauce

comp dining logoNovember 20, 2013 marked the first battle of Final Fire –  the culmination of the eighth season of North Carolina’s favorite culinary sport: Competition Dining.

Throughout the Competition Dining’s Charlotte Fire in the City series, I detailed each and every battle and will do so with each night of the Final Fire, the competition of champions, as well.

In addition, during Final Fire,  I will also blog about each night’s secret ingredients – the all local heart and sole of each night of Competition Dining, revealed to competing chefs at 11 am the day of the battle and to the Competition Dining guests and the public who follows the social media as each dinner begins.

This narrative is the first of four 2013 “secret ingredient” posts – enjoy!

The 2013 season was the second and biggest year since founder and creator Jimmy Crippen took  the Competition statewide. Winning chefs from Blowing Rock’s Fire on the Rock, Wilmington’s Fire in the Dock,  Greensboro’s Fire in the Triad, Raleigh’s Fire in the Triangle and Charlotte’s Fire in the City all donning their coveted red jackets from the regional wins, have gathered at the Renaissance Hotel in Raleigh to compete in Final Fire to determine the statewide Champion.

Battle cheerwine and cackalacky 036

Chefs from Noble’s Grille in Winston-Salem, NC and Mimosa Grill in Charlotte, NC join Competition Dining Chef refs in an after-the -battle toast to the first battle of Final Fire.

With a $4000 cash prize, a set of Handmade Ironman Forge knives from Charlotte’s own bladesmith Steve Watkins, a trip to the CIA Napa campus compliments of Kikkoman and, of course, bragging rights.  This night, the contenders were Chef Jon Fortes and his team Chef Thomas Marlow and Chef DJ Ivey –  from Mimosa Grill in Charlotte vs chef John Bobby and his team – Chef Lucia Bobby and Chef Sara Brown – from Noble’s Grille in Winston-Salem.

In the end, Chef John Bobby and his team from Noble’s Grill pulled out the win by a third of a point – it was a close battle and a delightful evening. For more details check out my Final Fire blog post on battle Cheerwine and Cackalacky Sweet Sauce specifics; but meanwhile, read a bit more about the secret ingredients that fueled this battle’s fire…

Final Fire's November 20 Sweet Secret

Final Fire’s November 20 Sweet Secret

A Clandestine Combo

As is the case with each Competition Dining battle the evening revolves around a secret, made-or-produced-in-North-Carolina, ingredient or two. This night the secret ingredient was, in fact, a tasty twosome.

First, Cheerwine,  a legendary homegrown nectar from Salisbury, NC made with a hint on wild cherry,  and delivered with a bubbly effervescence, just as it has been since its creation in 1917. Chefs this night were required to include Cheerwine or Cheerwine syrup in each and every dish. This is a truly local beverage and many people who live outside of North Carolina may have never tasted Cheerwine until they moved to or visited the Tarheel State. Such was the case with this food writer.  Now with the intervention of the internet- Cheerwine is happily available to all.

But not so long ago, before dot coms and the internet, I grew up a Florida girl, and my first Cheerwine experience wasn’t until I came to live in North Carolina during the time I attended Queen College, now Queens University in Charlotte. My roommate was from Kannapolis and when we would go to visit her family we would stop in at a local What-A-Burger and enjoy a WitchDoctor with our delivered-to-the-car-by-a-car-hop burgers. Locally there remains a What-A-Burger in Concord NC and WitchDoctors are still available if you are interested in doing a little research. The WitchDoctor “mocktail” is a blend of Cheerwine and Sundrop (a southern-made citrus soda developed in the early 1950s) served over ice with two spears of dill pickle – an elixir of sweet and salty, it works.

Cheerwine and  a variety of Cheerwine merchandise, for those who live outside the regular distribution area, may be placed at

November Raleigh and Final Fire 134The first night of Final Fire the Cheerwine was paired with a slightly newer, made in North Carolina, kid on the block – the famously original Cackalacky Sweet Cheerwine Sauce made Chapel Hill, NC.  Final Fire chefs were required to include the tasty Cackalacky Sweet Cheerwine Sauce in at least one of there three dishes of the evening.

Page Skelton, creator of the Cackalacky brand,  first crafted his original zesty, award-winning Cackalacky condiment, dip, and topping from North Carolina-grown sweet potatoes and began to market it ten years ago. The original “famously original” Cacklacky Spice Sauce debuted in 2003.

This year Skelton decided to give his zesty Cackalacky a sweeter side and so conceptualized a sweet version of his popular sauce.

Cheerwine's Brad Porter, left, and Cackalacky's Page Skelton at Battle One of the 2013 Final Fire

New friends and business collaborators, Cheerwine’s Brad Porter, left, and Cackalacky’s Page Skelton at Battle One of the 2013 Final Fire

It was important to Page to continue to keep his product all local.

“As I began the search for a sweet North Carolina-made product to add to my original sauce – Cheerwine came to mind – it was a no brainer from there,” Skelton explained.

And why did Cheerwine consider the partnership? “We met Page and loved his enthusiasm and his energy, ” Brad Porter of Cheerwine told me. “It just seemed like a good idea that would really work.”

And work it has – the sweeter Cackalacky sauce has proven to be every bit as popular as the original brand.

North Carolina is the number one producer of sweet potatoes in the country, and Skelton is quick to acknowledge the role the North Carolina Department of Agriculture has played in making his vision for his original zesty sauce and the new sweeter version a reality.

Everyone knows that Goodness Grows in North Carolina; and as Skelton explains, “The folks at Cheerwine have been an absolute joy to work with on this project! “We are both family-owned North Carolina businesses who share a passion for creating happy moments!”

agriculture%20(stacked)And now you, dear reader  can experience happy moments all your own. With the November debut of the new Cackalacky Sweet Cheerwine Sauce, Page and the folks at Cackalacky are extending a special offer.

Simply visit and click on the Got to be NC logo found in the bottom left hand corner of the homepage – a pop up screen will appear asking for a password; just type in the word “legend” and enjoy special pricing on your first Cackalacky Sweet Cheerwine Sauce order. While you are on the website – check out all the other fabulous Cackalacky products and swag; then after you place your order, prepare to be entertained by clicking on the You Tube link at the top of the home page to see Cackalacky creator Page Skelton, a man who definitely thinks and lives “outside the box” in action – my personal favorite is the How Cackalacky ® Sauce Gets Made video – enjoy!

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