2021 NCRLA Chef Showdown

Six years ago I was approached by the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association, otherwise known as the NCRLA, to organize a fun, one evening dinner event that put the spotlight on North Carolina Chefs and Pastry chefs, and that is how the NCRLA Chef Showdown was born. That first year, 12 chefs competed for the titles of NCRLA Chef of the Year and NCRLA Pastry Chef of the Year.


Today, I am happy to join the NCRLA, proud advocates of the North Carolina’s restaurant, foodservice and lodging industry, in announcing the fifth annual NCRLA Chef Showdown, North Carolina’s premiere culinary & mixology competition of the year.

Since that first year in 2016, the annual Chef Showdown event has grown from one evening event to a six month series with 4 preliminary rounds and 2 regional rounds of play; all leading up to a spectacular Grand Finale, which this year takes place on August 9, 2021 at Bay 7 in Durham NC.

I couldn’t be more proud.

Today, I continue to contract with the hardworking team at the NCRLA to help run and organize this statewide event. As the NCRLA works to advance the North Carolina hospitality industry,
this annual competition is designed to promote and spotlight the culinary
talent of chefs, pastry chefs and mixologists across North Carolina.

chefs group shot
There I am front and center with all of the chefs who competed in the 2018 NCRLA Chef Showdown. ( I’m the one in the polkadot shoes!) Photo thanks to Daniel and Candice at The Beautiful Mess photography

In Support of the North Carolina Restaurant & Hospitality Industry

The NCRLA has done so much this past year, to help secure funds, support and lobby on behalf of members of hospitality industry across the state of North Carolina. Perhaps more than most, chefs, restaurants, bars and hotels across the state have been hit hard by all things 2020. While recoup is insight, there is still much to be done. The annual NCRLA Chef Showdown is time to shine the spotlight on North Carolina chefs, restaurants, mixologists and distilleries for all they continue to do to serve patrons and guests across the state.

These chefs have each had to make a pivot and had to face hard decisions as they have worked their way through the past year; but they have all kept going strong.

Sweet dreams, remembering this dessert from the 2019 NCRLA Pastry Chef of Year, Jamie Turner. Jamie prepared this plate for the 2019 Charlotte preliminary round of competition and it’s what propelled her ahead to the regional rounds.

The NCRLA Chef Showdown is a fun way to take a breath and celebrate the industry and the local food and drink these chefs will put on our plates and in our glasses.

NCRLA Chef Showdown puts chefs, mixologists in the spotlight

This year we had over 60 chefs and 14 North Carolina distilleries and mixologists go through the application process.

chef plating
2018 Chef of the Year, Travis Myers from Winston-Salem plates sample sized portions of his winning NC duck dish for Chef Showdown guests.

I’m excited to announce that we have selected and invited 48 stellar chefs from across the state to participate in the four rounds preliminary rounds of competition. Each, the first step on the road to the 2021 win for the coveted titles of NCRLA Chef of the Year and NCRLA Pastry Chef of the Year, to be awarded at the competition’s Grand Finale on August 9, 2021 at Bay 7 in Durham, North Carolina.

Keeping it Local and Loving it

A big shout out, too, to my friends at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture who have been NCRLA Chef Showdown supporters since the beginning.

As presenting sponsors of the event, they work with the NC hospitality industry to help put local proteins, produce and products in front of chefs, so that chefs can put the same in front of all of us. Eating and drinking locally is one of the tenants of the NCRLA Chef Showdown. You know, I love that. too! I’m delighted for yet another way to promote local farmers and producers across the state.

The 2021 Chef Showdown heats up with Preliminary Rounds of Competition

The preliminary rounds of the 2021 NCRLA Chef Showdown series, presented by GotToBeNC Agriculture, are not open to the public. But you can follow my social media (@heidibillotto on instagram; @heidicooks on twitter and @Heidi Billotto Cooks on Facebook); and that of the NCRLA Chef Showdown (@NCRLAChefShowdown) on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, to keep up with the play by play.

At each preliminary round, chefs competing that day will serve finished sweet or savory plates to a panel of three judges in a private presentation.

Our goal is for the judges to have time and space to get to know each of the competing chefs and to be able to carefully consider each dish. Chefs will be judged on creativity, composition, the number of locally produced NC products, proteins and produce incorporated in each dish; and of course, on taste.

Chefs and Pastry Chefs Competing in the 2021 NCRLA Preliminary Rounds of Competition Include:

But That’s Not All…

And the list goes on…

North Carolina Culinary Schools help Set the Stage

The preliminary rounds of competition will take place in these four North Carolina cities.

April 26 – Carteret Community College  Hospitality and Culinary Arts Center. | Morehead
City nc
May 17 – Central Piedmont Community College Culinary School |
Charlotte NC
June 7 – Bobby Boy Bakeshop | Winston-Salem, NC
June 14 – Wake Technical Community College School of Baking &
Pastry Arts | Raleigh NC

Here’s the cool thing about these preliminary rounds and the regional rounds, too. You’ll notice that each of them, save one, takes place in a local community college culinary school where North Carolina’s chefs of tomorrow are learning the ropes.

While we are cautiously optimistic, taking Covid precautions at each of these events, culinary students are invited to help chefs serve the judges, and may watch the plating and prep as time and space allow. It’s great for aspiring chefs to see working chefs in action and our competing chefs are happy to be a positive and inspiring influence on these up and coming culinary students.

Stay tuned….

I can’t wait to bring you pictures and more of the story as we travel from school to school. In fact, you can see more of the brand new culinary facility at the Carteret County Community College in Morehead City, in a “Good eats and Drinks in Beaufort NC” post, that I am finishing up to go live the end of this week… stay tuned!

And then, there is Bobby Boy Bakeshop in Winston-Salem, NC. Chef and Pastry chef, husband and wife, John and Lucia Bobby have been supporters, participants and judges in the Chef Showdown since it inception. When they opened their own restaurant/coffeeshop/ bake shop in Winston-Salem in 2019, it just seemed a logical ask to use their space as the location for our 2021 Triad preliminary round of competition. You can read more about the bake shop in this North and South Carolina bakery round up I wrote last year for AAA Magazine.

NCRLA Chef Showdown fun continues on to Regional rounds

Based on the scores of the four teams of preliminary round judges, the field of 2021 competitors will narrow by the end of June to 15 savory chefs and five pastry chefs. These 20 talented chefs will go on to “cook for the win” in one of two semi-final regional rounds of competition to be held in July.

steven goff plates
2019 NCRLA Chef of the Year, Steven Goff, here with his wife and sous chef, Sam, plates for his presentation to Regional round judges.

One round will take place in Charlotte on July 12 and the other in Raleigh on July 19. The same 20 chefs move on to cook for the public and a chance at People’s Choice honors at the Aug 9, 2021 Grand Finale in Durham, NC.

Did someone say cocktails?

Over the years, the scope of the Chef Showdown has grown in breadth and depth.

As man and woman cannot live on food alone, in 2017 we added a liquid component to the competition. North Carolina mixologists and distilleries have applied to compete as well. The competition is tough as the bar has been set high by previous NCRLA Mixologist of the Year winners.


This year we have six top shelf North Carolina mixologists, representing six NC distilleries who will shake and stir things up for the crowd at the NCRLA Chef Showdown’s August 9 Grand Finale.

2019 NCRLA Chef Showdown Mixologistst of the Year, Jonny Burritt representing Chemist Spirits from Asheville NC

In the process they will compete for People’s Choice honors and the titles of 2021 NCRLA Mixologist & Distillery of the Year. Can’t wait to see what they will be pouring.

2021 NCRLA Chef Showdown Mixology and Distillery Contenders

  • Colleen Hughes representing Sutler’s Spirits Co.| Winston-Salem
  • David Schmidt representing The Hackney Distillery | Washington, NC
  • Larisa Yanicak representing Mayberry Distillery | Mt Airy NC 
  • Max Barwick representing Fainting Goat Distillery | Greensboro NC
  • MJ Weber representing Durham Distillery | Durham NC
  • Rhea Buck representing Muddy River Distillery | Belmont NC

Save the Date: Aug 9, 2021; but remember Tickets Go On Sale in June

While the preliminary and regional rounds of 2021 Chef Showdown competition are private events between chefs and judges. The August 9 Grand Finale is open to the public. We will, of course, operate under whatever current Covid restrictions may be in place at the time, but you’ll want to be sure and make plans to attend. You’ll not only get to spend the evening sampling fine food and drink, but you’ll get to cast your vote for People’s Choice honors in three categories – sweet, savory and cocktail, as well.

Tickets for the August 9 NCRLA Chef Showdown Grand Finale go on sale here, June 21, 2021.

Mark your calendars now, this is an event you won’t want to miss. Join in the fun and you be the judge, as you taste & sip your way through this spectacular evening of local food and drink. #TellThemHeidiSentYou , I’ll see you there!

Interested in Playing a Part?

Are you someone who would like to connect with North Carolina chefs and mixologists, support the NC hospitality industry and play a part as a sponsor of the 2021 NCRLA Chef Showdown? If you fit this description, I’d love to chat with you. Please shoot me an email at HeidiBillotto@gmail.com and we can talk more about possibilities and all the benefits.


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