QUEEN CITY FOOD FIGHT: Charlotte Chefs Take the Spotlight

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODIt is said that a rising tide lifts all boats, when one wins they all win, and so it is  in the Charlotte culinary community. As a food writer and restaurant critic here in the Queen City, I have seen this to be true.  In an industry with a general reputation toward  egocentric representatives, Charlotte chefs and culinarians are for the most part a breed apart working together to promote the whole and help each other along the way.

You find this kind of camaraderie here and there in other cities, but in Charlotte it really seems to be something special. So much so that when the Piedmont Culinary Guild was originally formed with founding members Chef Luca Annunziata, Chef Kris Reid and writer Cat Harris, they came up with the idea of All Ships Rising as it related to the local Charlotte and greater Piedmont region culinary community and wanted to try to equally promote the things Guild members were involved with as well as all their culinary accomplishments to make our community and the rest of the world aware of all the depth and breadth of  culinary talent we have here in the Queen City.

guild logoTo do so they came up with the Hashtag #PCG_Charlotte to use on all their social media posts.  Chef Paul Verica of Heritage Food & Drink  and Provision’s Market, both in Waxhaw took it a step further and started using the hashtage #CLTRising in his social media.  Recently Chef Bruce Moffett of Barrington’s, Stagioni and Good Food on Montford, not a Guild member but a long time, well known and much loved chef in the Charlotte community has started a campaign complete with a hashtag as well – #CharlotteCooksToo.  All in an effort to promote what Charlotte chefs do, and do quite well, day in and day out in restaurants, at catering venues and in Cooking Schools.

When one gets a nod, the industry here gets a nod.  When one wins, we all win. All ships rise.

That’s not to say that chefs in the greater Charlotte area don’t enjoy a little competition, on the contrary they are happy to take part in a friendly fisticuffs now and again. Hence the success of the very popular GotToBeNC Competition Dining series in this area –  with which, as many of you will know, I am involved doing social media and local farmer/ producer and sponsor relationships –  as well as several other competitive events.

food fight posterEnter the first Queen City Food Fight – a challenge from one group of Charlotte area chefs to another . The North Carolina chapter of the American Culinary Federation, a national networking organization for chefs and culinary professionals, challenged the Piedmont Culinary Guild, a Charlotte-based member-only ensemble of chefs, farmers and other members of our culinary community, this food writer included, to a food fight.

In a friendly throwdown format, four teams of chefs from both sides, prepared four separate incredible courses. This first of what I am sure will become an annual event was held Sunday August 30 in the teaching kitchens at Central Piedmont Community Center’s Van Every Culinary Center.

Celebrity judges for the first ever Queen City Food Fight: from left, Matt, Kathleen and George

Celebrity judges for the first ever Queen City Food Fight: from left, Matt, Kathleen and George

The chefs brought their best to the table while QC Food Fight Guests and the trio of Celebrity Judges –  George Smith of Copper Barrel Distillery, Kathleen Purvis of The Charlotte Observer and Matt Morano, Charlotte Meteorologist – had the opportunity to rate every course, ranking each one using a list of criteria including taste, presentation and overall appeal.

the wine line up - all localEach dish was paired with a North Carolina wine and several wine makers and representatives of wineries were on hand to pour and chat with Food Fight guests.  In the house and in each glass, were fine samplings from RayLen Vineyards, Jones and Von Drehle Winery, Divine Llama Vineyards and Childress Vineyards.  While the wine and food pairing was not a consideration in the voting, I will note that I thought the pairings were spot on each bringing out the best in both food and wine.

bartender from HauntIn addition  and in included in the ticket price, were two drink vouchers and guest also enjoyed a choice of two signature Queen City Food Fight cocktails made with local spirits from NC’s own Copper Barrel Moonshine, especially prepared for the event by mixologist, Kevin Gavagan  of Haunt Bar in Charlotte

The Queen City Food Fight team from ACF North Carolina

The Queen City Food Fight team from ACF North Carolina

All the dishes showed well,  but this day, at this food fight, it was the chefs from the Piedmont Culinary Guild who took the overall win from the judges and the People’s Choice win, as well as  the win for best plate. Best plate honors were a tight race between Chef Jon Fortes of The Flipside  Cafe and The Flipside Restaurant in Ft Mill and Pastry Chef Ashley Bivens of 300 East in Charlotte and Heritage Food & Drink in Waxhaw.

Ummm, hard to choose between perfectly done pork belly with a killer green tomato chimichurri and the rich creamy bruleed butternut squash and chocolate creameux. This year, chocolate wins and Chef Ashley and her team took home the bragging rites.

The Queen City Championship Team from Piedmont Culinary Guild in Charlotte

The Queen City Championship Team from Piedmont Culinary Guild in Charlotte



Well deserved kudos to all the participating chefs  who supported the first Queen City Food Fight event and cheers to the dishes they prepared so well.    Its competition yes, but in the end its an intentional collaboration within the Charlotte culinary community to put Charlotte area chefs and restaurants front and center.  Its working. Attention is being paid.

If you didn’t attend, or perhaps weren’t aware of the event, you most certainly want to put it on your radar for next year. In fact, You’ll also want to know that the ACF and Piedmont Culinary Guild both sponsor lots of great culinary events, open to the public, throughout the year. Best to follow each organization on social media to keep abreast of what is happening and when it is taking place. In the meantime though, here is a pictorial taste of what you missed at the Food Fight with recognition to  the chefs who made it happen. For more fun photos taken throughout the event, visit my FaceBook Page at Heidi Billotto  or Heidi Billotto Cooks.

First the four plates from The Piedmont Culinary Guild chefs and then the four from the American Culinry Federation NC chefs – all in all they made for a simply delicious Sunday afternoon. #CLTRising #PCG_Charlotte #CharlotteCooksToo

PCG amuse by Blake Hartwick


PGC Amuse: Rappahannok Oyster amuse from chef Blake Hartwick of Bonterra Dining and Wine Room  in Charlotte


PCG appetizer by Paul Verica


PCG Appetizer: Chef Paul Verica of Heritage Food & Drink’s interpretation of Local Corn and crab with Roasted Bell Pepper, Basil and Chipotle


PCG entree by Jon Fortes


PCG Entree: 5 Spice heritage farm BBQ Pork Belly with deconstructed porchetta “Deviled Ham”. cripsy pork rind, root and green tomato chimichurri by Chef Jon Fortes of The Flipside Restaurant


pcg dessert by ashley bivens


PCG Dessert: Bruleed Butternut Squash & chocolte cremeux, chocolate shortbread & Ganache, Vanilla Squash puree, Squah Souffle cake, Cinnamon Ice Milk by pastry chef Ashley Bivens Boyd of 300 East and Heritage Food & Drink


acf amuse by Melissa Cherry


ACF Amuse: – “Hop, Skip, Sip to a Chilly Alibi”, Alibi Beer Poached Shrimp, corn buttermilk and goat cream, Hops garnish by Chef Melissa Cherry



ACF appertizer by


ACF Appetizer: “Carmelized Watermelon Reaper” Carolina Reaper Pressed & Pickled Watermelon, Redux of Micro greens, Mini Southern Sourdough Biscuit, Smeared Fig & Watermelon Jam by chef Kris Siuta, executive chef, Carowinds


ACF entree by chef


ACF  Entree: ” Three Sisters from the Mountains” Flash Fried Cornmeal Trout, Corn Squash and Bean Succotash, Farro Risotto, Grape and Heirloom Tomato Relish by chef Phillip Lloyd of The Art Institute in Charlotte


acf dessert by


ACF Dessert: ” Smoked peaches and Cream” Creamed Goat cheese phyllo tart, Smoked peaches, molassed cram anglaise, Sweet Charleston Tea-infused pecans, chocolate mint by chef Emma Barnes, pastry chef-instructor, CPCC


In Celebration of Julia Child

cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgThis past Saturday, August 15 2015  would have been Julia Child’s 103rd birthday.

julia in color photo

Julia Child on the WGBH set of The French Chef 1963-1973

Child, who passed away in August of 2004 was our nation’s grande dame of cuisine and my personal  culinary hero. She got her  start at what would become  her lifelong career because she wasn’t afraid to take a chance and then happened to be in the right place at the right moment and made it work; but I don’t think even she had any idea of what her eventual  impact would be. She took her passion and ran with it, with wild abandon, to lead the charge to change the culinary world. She brought the style and technique of French cuisine to American home cooks first in a two volume culinary tome, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, VOLs. 1 and 2, which she co-authored; and then continued to influence the world via of number of her own television series. It all started with The French Chef produced by Boston PBS station WGBH in 1963 .

Ask any food writer, chef or culinary professional and they probably have a Julia Child story.

My Julia Child story started in the mid 1960’s when I was eight or nine. I loved to watch what was then the first television show of its kind, the new Julia’s PBS series, The French Chef.  I wasn’t so interested in cooking at first, as much as I was fascinated by Julia herself, her attitude and her panache; to say nothing of all of the little bowls into which each and every ingredient was placed, the mis en place, ready for Julia to whip into something wonderful. And I loved her flourish as she raised her glass and to toast us all goodbye and “Bon Appetit!”

julia child on set

Back then, the home I grew up in in Jacksonville, Florida was set up so that my brother Jaimie and I shared a large bathroom fitted with a lengthy vanity and large wall mirror situated low enough to the counter top that we could see ourselves without having to stand on a stool.

Inspired by Julia, I would often while away hours by taking a few pots and pans and every little bowl I could find with me into the bathroom, cover the sink with Mom’s well-worn wooden cutting board and would pretend to cook, with all of the Julia –like flourish I could muster, watching myself in the mirror just as I had watched my mentor on television.

Several years later my parents gave me my very own copy of The French Chef Cookbook and encouraged me to move from the bathroom to the actual kitchen, where I began to cook for real.

Fast forward to September 2001. I was living in Charlotte, North Carolina and was teaching cooking classes  and catering and working as a food writer and restaurant critic.  The 40th Anniversary edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia’s first cookbook, originally published in 1961 had just been released. In promotion for the new edition, Julia Child was available for interviews. I set up the interview and dialed the number the PR people had given me. Low and behold it was Julia’s home and I got her answering machine. In her own unmistakable warble, she explained that “no one was home right now, please leave a message…”  I left my name. Later that day, I came home to find a message on my machine.

“ Hiiiiiideeeee, Julia here…” My heart raced, I think I may have actually stopped breathing for a moment. She was headed out to dinner with friends but I could call her back in the morning. I don’t think I slept a wink that night.  I saved her message on the machine ( in a time before the world was digital, like most of the rest of the world I had a mini cassette tape voice recorder) for months until the tape  finally broke from repeated play.

Heidi Billotto 2003 at The Julia Child Kitchen exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC

Heidi Billotto 2003 at The Julia Child Kitchen exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC

I never met Child in person, but had the great good fortune to interview her over the phone on two occasions. Initially in that first conversation with this culinary icon, I stammered and stumbled over my questions, unable to think of much more than the fact that I was actually speaking on the phone with Julia Child. She was her delightful and unpretentious self and immediately put me at ease. After a while it was like chatting with an old friend. She even asked me for a recipe.

“I hear your fried chicken is really quite good down there,” she said. “Would you send me the recipe, if you have a good one?”

Julia Child asked me for a recipe – I was floating on cloud nine. I mailed a recipe off the next day and still have her number and address in my old paper bound address book.

A native Californian, Julia graduated from Smith College in Massachusetts in the 1930’s. At that time women were expected to graduate to become be a nurse or a secretary or a wife and a mother, but that was not for her.

“I just wanted to have a good time,” she said. And she did. In 1944, she found herself in working in Washington DC in the office of War Information. She was later upgraded to the Office of Strategic Services or OSS, the precursor to the CIA and was sent on assignment to Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, to gather intelligence during World War II. In Ceylon she met the man who would become her husband, Paul Child. Just after the war the Childs moved to Paris, France where he was a diplomat at the American Embassy.

If you have seen the movie Julie & Julia or much better still, read the book “My Life In France”, then you know the story, but I am so honored that I heard it first from Julia herself.

Julia told me that she had taken French all of her life, but when she got to France, she couldn’t say a word.

“At least not a word that anyone could understand,” she laughed. “My husband was practically bi-lingual; he was taken for French all the time, but somehow I could just never pull it off.”

Eventually she found herself looking for something to do and began taking a culinary class set up for housewives at Le Cordon Bleu. Her interest piqued and Julia talked the famous culinary school into admitted her to a training class for former GI’s offered as a part of the GI bill. After six months of classes she was hooked! “This was for me”, she said. Indeed.

Heidi Billotto's much loved and much used collection of Julaa Child cookbooks

Heidi Billotto’s much loved and much used collection of Julia Child cookbooks

Friends and fans have continuously celebrated and applauded her life and her career. All of her cookbooks remain in publication and several of her television shows are syndicated. Video clips are now available on itunes and YouTube and she even has her own Facebook Page!


While Julia refused to ever allow her name to be attached to a kind of cookware or kitchen utensil brand, in 2000-2001 she did allow her good friend Gary Ibsen, a grower of more than 400 varieties of heirloom tomatoes and founder of the annual Carmel TomatoFest in Carmel, California, to name a tomato for her. Her only request was: “That it be tasty.”

Julia Child in 1992 from kitchen at her home in Cambridge, Mass.

heidi with Julia Child tomatoes

Heidi Billotto early summer 2015 with Julia Child Heirloom variety tomatoes from The Matthews Community Farmers Market

Ibsen complied and today one can purchase packets of seeds for The Julia Child Heirloom Tomato through Ibsen’s website  where you can also read a bit about Ibsen’s long time friendship with Julia and his memories of her.

If you live in or around Charlotte NC, early in the tomato season  the Julia Child variety is available from farmers Cathy and Eric McCall of Great Falls, SC at  the As Hot As Possible Hot Pepper and Herb Farm booth at the Matthews Community Farmers Market.

I look forward to tomato season every year, but ever since I realized that the tomatoes Julia herself told me about so many years ago are available locally for me, the season has taken on a whole new meaning. Sort of my own personal, you heard it here first kind of story.

The kitchen Julia and Paul Child shared in their Cambridge. MA home, the same kitchen seen in her last three PBS television shows, was disassembled in November of 2001 when Julia moved back to California. Julia donated the kitchen to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in the hope that it would inspire home and professional cooks to ”make your kitchen a real family room and an important part of your lives.”

Literally millions of visitors a year, “tour” Julia’s kitchen. It has been rebuild exactly as it was and encased in clear glass walls so visitors can peep in where windows, doors and wall used to be and see it all in all its glory. Julia was a gadget person and as she told me, “sort of a knife freak.”  That is an understatement. Julia’s collection of kitchen gadgetry is amazing and it’s all there, including the knives lined up on magnetic strips and the pots and pans hanging on the pegboard wall. It’s a wonderful exhibit – a must-see for culinary enthusiasts of any age. If you don’t have time for a trip to the Smithsonian right now, you can take a virtual tour of the kitchen at http://americanhistory.si.edu/juliachild/ and hear Julia’s thoughts on making the donation and having the kitchen open and available for everyone to see and visit.

Julia child in kitchenJulia Child lived a full and happy 91 years of life. Much success, many cookbooks, television shows and a multitude of special guest appearances have studded her culinary career of some 42 years. She helped to found several professional organizations for the culinary trade, including the American Institute of Wine and Food and the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Thanks to Julia’s efforts and influence, many scholarships now exist for up and coming chefs who otherwise might not be able to attend culinary school or invest the time required to train in the field.

Heidi Billotto 2008


Over and above that she has influenced many more of us than she would have ever know, including a little girl who pretended to cook in front of the bathroom mirror and now gets to do it for real.

We raise our glasses to you Julia, Happy Birthday and  Bon Appetit!


Competition Dining Heads to Greenville, South Carolina

Logo500x200 - laurel wreathThe Competition Dining Series Greenville, a single-elimination tournament highlighting the best of the state’s food, agriculture and culinary talent, will pit 14 highly competitive chefs against each other in its upcoming series in the South Carolina Upstate. After  years of competing across the state of North Carolina, the summer of 2015 marks the first foray for Competition Dining across state lines into South Carolina. Each  of the 13 interactive Greenville battles will be hosted at Larkin’s Sawmill from Aug. 3 through Sept. 7. Tickets, info on participating chefs & more are available online. at the Competition Dining website.

travelers rest frms market signAs many of you know, I travel with the Competition Dining team, as the voice behind all of Competition Dining’s social media; as a liason between all of our  current and potential sponsors; and as a connection between the chefs and literally hundreds of North and South Carolina farmers. I love scouting local farmers markets and niche grocery stores in each region in which we compete, looking for great product to feature in  battles in Raleigh, Winston-Salem, Charlotte, NC and now in Greenville, SC, too!

greenville sat market photoThe Greenville farmers’ markets are the bomb, from the Downtown Greenville TD Saturday Market to the market at Travelers Rest. If the crowds are any indicator, its a sure thing that Greenville locals know that shopping Local is the only way to go!  I can’t wait for Competition Dining Greenville guests to taste all the great LOCAL Certified South Carolina product we’ve found to feature in each of the Greenville Battles; and I can’t wait to see how our 14 Greenville series chefs showcase it all!


comp dining promoCompetition Dining is the Carolina’s favorite culinary sport. At each dinner, two teams of chefs battle it out, each preparing three courses centered on a secret featured regional ingredient. Ticketed guests from across the Carolinas arrive the evening of competition to savor a six-course meal without knowing which chef prepared which dishes. Unlike any other cooking competition, attendees vote on each course using their smart device and a specially designed app, and ultimately help determine who moves on to the next round and who goes home. It’s addictive and you’ll most certainly want to come & experience it more than once!



Greenville chefs FB cover Best                                   The Greenville  SC Series Brackets:

Quarter Finals:

Semi Finals:

  • August 31 Dinner: Winner of Aug 19 Battle versus Winner of Aug 25 Battle RESERVATIONS
  • September 1 Dinner: Winner of Aug 24 Battle versus Winner of Aug 26 Battle RESERVATIONS

       Grand Finale:   September 7 Dinner: Winner of Aug 31 Battle Versus Winner of Sept 1 Battle                                                                                             RESERVATIONS
OwnerJimmyCrippenindiningroom“Since we started these battles, Competition Dining Series has hosted hundreds of chefs and thousands of community members in North Carolina,” said Jimmy Crippen, Competition Dining Series founder and host. “We’re thrilled to do the same in Greenville with the launch of our first South Carolina series. We have chefs from here in Greenville and all over the region, and it’s sure to be a highly competitive tournament.”



By the end of the 2015 season, the Competition Dining Series will have hosted 80 individual teams of Carolina chefs in three regions of North Carolina: Raleigh, Winston-Salem & Charlotte as well as the series in Greenville, SC.

Graze team shrineUltimately, five regional winning chefs will have received a grand prize of $2,000 and a handmade chef knife by Ironman Forge and each winning team member will have been awarded with Competition Dining’s coveted Red Chef Jacket.  Additionally, all five regional championship teams win the right to move on to compete in the Battle of Champions Final Fire held in October in Raleigh, NC.

Winners and winning teams so far for the 2015 season include: Chef Ryan Conklin and team REX Healthcare in Raleigh; Chef Joe Cornett and team The Flipside Restaurant in Rock Hill, SC and Chef Brent Martin and team The Summit Room in Charlotte, NC and most recently Chef Richard Miller and team Graze in Winston Salem.

Who will the Greenville, SC winner be? Only time will tell. But time goes fast, so if you want to come and see for your self, make your Greenville reservations now!

An interactive culinary experience, Competition Dining is unlike any other dining event in the country. and as host Jimmy Crippen is fond of saying, “Its the most fun you can have on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday night!”

Make Your Reservations Today Online at CompetitionDining.com; click on the Greenville Icon OR SIMPLE USE THE RESERVATION LINKS IN THIS POST. I’ll be at each and every Greenville Battle – Hope to see you there! 

For more information: visit www.competitiondining.com or get in on the conversation at www.facebook.com/competitiondining and @CompDiningNC on Twitter or Instagram