Heidi Billotto

NCRLA Chef Showdown 2018: 21 NC Chefs to Compete in August

Mark your calendars and save the date of August 27, 2018.  At 5:30 that evening a remarkable annual culinary event, the third annual NCRLA Chef Showdown, is coming to Charlotte and will take place in the atrium space at Aria at Founders Hall in the Bank of America Center in Uptown Charlotte, NC.  It’s a not to be missed occasion; and you will most certainly want to be in attendance!

The excitement is all about the  North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association Chef Showdown, presented by Got To Be NC Agriculture – I can’t wait!   21 talented chefs from across the state have just been selected to compete in this the third year of this prestigious annual cooking competition, open to the public to attend, and I am delighted to have played a part.

chef showdownI do love what I do!  Through my food writing,  blogging and free lance work catering,  teaching cooking classes and food styling, I am lucky enough to have had the opportunity to travel across the state of North Carolina discovering new places to eat and drink, cool places to explore and spend some time and wonderfully talented members of our collective culinary community along the way. I relish each opportunity to tell the story.

Keep reading this post for the scoop on this year’s Chef Showdown and all it’s delicious details. Tickets are $125 per person. With admission comes all the food and drink, the opportunity to cast your vote for several People’s Choice awards and the absolute guarantee of a fabulous fun-filled food-centric evening, where eating and drinking local will be the name of the game!

To purchase tickets to the 2018 NCRLA Chef Showdown for you and your friends who love chef driven food and drink, simply visit the NCRLA Chef Showdown website here.

It is my pleasure to have been hired by the NCRLA , for the third consecutive year, as co-host and co-organizer of this sensational statewide culinary event. For the past two years, the NC Chef Showdown has taken place in Raleigh on the Monday night of the annual NCRLA Expo – a trade show for members of North Carolina’s hospitality industry. This year the Expo and the newly rebranded NCRLA Chef Showdown come to Charlotte and it is bigger and better than ever!

The NCRLA Chef Showdown is now bigger and better than ever!

chef showdown
Chef Jesse Roque of Never Blue in Hendersonville, 2016 NCRLA Chef of the Year

I  was delighted to work with my friends at the NCRLA to get this culinary competition off the ground in Raleigh in August of 2016 as the NC Chef Showdown.

chef showdown
Chef Jossie Perlmutter of Sweet Affairs in Charlotte, 2016 NCRLA Pastry Chef of the Year

That first year, 16 chefs from across the state participated and the result was the naming of Chef Jesse Roque, chef and owner of The Never Blue in Hendersonville as the first ever NCRLA Chef of the Year with Charlotte’s own Jossie Perlmutter (now Jossie Lukacik)  of her own company, Sweet Affairs,  taking the 2016 NCRLA Pastry Chef of the Year honors.


In the 2017 event chefs applied to compete from across the state and 16 were again in competition for the prestigious titles and the popular People’s Choice awards.

Chef Matthew Krenz of Charlotte’s The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel was awarded the title of 2017 NCRLA Chef of the Year and Ann Marie Stefaney, then of Heirloom Restaurant in Charlotte, the title of 2017 NCRLA Pastry Chef of the Year.  With the 2017 competition came the addition of mixologists. Six local NC mixologists,  each representing a North Carolina distillery stirred things up a bit with six creatively crafted cocktails. 2017 NCRLA Mixologist of the Year honors went to Amanda Britton, now of Bardo and her own bartending company, CrownTown Collective.

chef Showdown
The 2017 NCRLA Chef Showdown winners made for a Charlotte sweep. (From L) NCRLA Pastry Chef of the Year, Ann Marie Stefaney; NCRLA Chef of the Year, Matthew Krenz; NCRLA Mixologist of the Year, Amanda Britton

This year, we’ve rebranded the Chef Showdown with a new logo and a new website. The competition has grown to include 21 chefs and 6 mixologists from across the state. Along with the size of the Chef Showdown, the scope of the competition has grown as well, starting with the call to apply, just after the first of the year, bringing in over 50 chef applications. Those initial 50 chefs were honed down to 32 invited to compete in one of  three private semi-final rounds. Chefs presented dishes to a panel of three expert culinary judges in each region.  Judges scored each plate based presentation, creativity, taste, and the number and very best use of local North Carolina ingredients. 

Chef Showdown Semi Final Rounds  on the coast in New Bern, NC; in western NC in Hickory; and in the center of the state in Raleigh, NC    

The first of three semi-final rounds took place in late May in New Bern, North Carolina at Lawson’s Landing Café located in the North Carolina History Center with seating indoors and out all overlooking the beautiful Trent River.  The back drop made for a beautiful setting for this first day of judging. On the judging panel, I was pleased to host panel of savvy judges that included David R Cartier, owner of Hungry Town Tours in Beaufort, NC Amy Gaw, keeping life salty as the creator and owner  Outer Banks SeaSalt; and Chef Bud Taylor, executive chef and owner of The Bistro at Topsail in Topsail Island, NC. 

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New Bern Semi Final Judges, from left, David Cartier, Amy Gaw and Bud Taylor

Lawson’s Landing Cafe is owned by restaurateur Buddy Bengel who also owns all of Lawson’s  sister restaurants in New Bern including, Beer Army – a beer and burger joint that salutes our nation’s military both on site and in the guise of the brand new Beer Army Food truck; and Baker’s Kitchen, Restaurant & Bakery open for breakfast, lunch and pick up to-go baked goods.

Like Baker’s, Lawson’s Landing Cafe  is regularly open for both breakfast and lunch; but on Thursday and Friday nights the restaurant transforms into an Italian bistro called Aperitivo – the place in New Bern for delicious Italian food and wine.

Thanks to our host venue in Hickory, Highland Avenue

The  semi-final round for chefs competing from western North Carolina took place in one of the gorgeous private dining rooms at Highland Avenue restaurant in Hickory NC. Selected as one of the South Best Restaurants by Southern Living magazine, Highland Ave is the brain child of proprietor Meg Jenkins-Locke; and is located on the second floor of the renovated Holler Hosiery Mill. Locke had a vision to restore the old historic mill and bring it back to its glory.  The beautifully done renovation pays homage to the city’s rich manufacturing history; while the focus on the menu takes the city’s Appalachian roots to a new next level. The team at Highland Avenue are the exclusive caterers to the restaurant’s spectacular events space, the Crossing at Holler Mill.

Our team of noted expert judges in Hickory on June 4 was made up of Chef Mark Allison, Executive Chef of Culinary Innovation at the Cabarrus Health Alliance,  Chef Paul Malcolm of Johnson & Wales University and the new  Streamline Kitchen Food Truck  and Caroline Delaney of Muddy River Distillery – the winning distillery in the 2017 competition.

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NCRLA Chef Showdown Hickory Semi final judges, from left, Chef Paul Malcolm, Caroline Delaney and Chef Mark Allison

Competing chefs from the central part of the state found themselves in Raleigh on June 25 in the upper level of the beautiful Mediterranean-inspired Vidrio restaurant. Vidrio celebrates it’s Greek roots in both the stunning decor and in the tapas-style menu. The spirit of the restaurant is an emphasis on gathering around the table and taking time to enjoy the food and each other. The menu at Vidrio is an ode to traditional Mediterranean dining, with both imported specialties and local ingredients all of which meet on the plate and in the glass to embody the company’s mantra of passion for earth, flavor, and wine.

On the judge’s panel in Raleigh, we were pleased to have the very talented Chef Matthew Krenz from The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel and our 2018 NCRLA Chef of the Year representing along with, the charming Lisa Bullock Prince of the fabulous Flavor NC television show with us on behalf of the NC Department of Agriculture; as well as Tim Parrish,  a dear friend of mine and of the NCRLA and a  supporter of the NCRLA Chef Showdown from its humble beginnings. Tim is the Domestic Marketing Manager for the NC Department of Agriculture.

chef Showdown
Our NCRLA Raleigh Judges, from left , Chef Matthew Krenz, Lisa Prince and Tim Parrish

Each of the judges from all three semi-final regions agreed that the bar was set  and the standard held amazingly high from each of the chefs who competed. 

NCRLA President and CEO Lynn Minges agreed. ” This year’s slate of contenders includes some of the most innovative and talented chefs in our state. At this year’s Chef Showdown, these chefs will use North Carolina ingredients to demonstrate their creativity and shine a light on our incredible hospitality industry. Attendees will get a taste of why North Carolina’s culinary scene is one of the best in the nation.”

31 chefs competed in this year’s semi final rounds, 21 were invited to be a part of the NCRLA Chef Showdown in August.

Selected chefs – sorted into two delicious categories of savory and sweet – will be vying for a number of awards and accolades at this years Chef Showdown. As they did in each semi final round, chefs will each  prepare a dish packed full of Got To Be NC goodness. Each of the 21 chefs will serve tasting-sized portions to Chef Showdown attendees.

Based on the  semi-final scores and rankings, 12 chefs (8 of them preparing savory dishes and 4 of them preparing desserts)  will have the honor of presenting their dishes to a panel of  five distinguished judges at the Aug 27 event in Charlotte. One of these 12 chefs will be the next NCRLA Chef of the Year and one will be the next NCRLA Pastry Chef of the Year. The 12 chefs moving to this next and final round  will not be announced until late the afternoon of the Aug 27 event. Omigosh, the suspense is killing me!

The 15 chefs at the August 27 NCRLA Chef Showdown preparing savory dishes will be:

These “savory chefs” will be joined at the competition by six chefs offering a taste from the sweeter side of the table

The Six  Pastry chefs competing in the 2018 NCRLA Chef Showdown are:

But Wait, That’s Not All at the 2018 Chef Showdown…

Also, back by popular demand, NCRLA will crown the 2018 NCRLA Mixologist of the Year, as six North Carolina distilleries partner with hand-picked bartenders to stir the evening up crafting cocktails for guests and judges to enjoy. Distillery and mixologist teams as well as our NCRLA Chef Showdown panels of judges for chefs and mixologists will be announced in the coming weeks.

The NCRLA Chef Showdown presented by Got to Be NC Agriculture is on Monday Aug. 27, from 5:30 to 9 p.m.

Tickets are $125 per person, include all the food and drink and guarantee an evening of fun. I’ll be up on stage as one of your hosts for the evening and I look forward to seeing you there.

To purchase tickets to the 2018 NCRLA Chef Showdown for you and your friends who love chef driven food and drink, simply visit the NCRLA Chef Showdown website here. #TellThemHeidiSentYou


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