2023 NCRLA Chef Showdown

Are a working North Carolina chef, pastry chef, bartender or distillery? Or do you know a talented NC chef, pastry chef or bartender or a North Carolina based distillery? Then, the time is now. It’s time to apply to compete in the 2023 NCRLA Chef Showdown. Help me spread the word, share this post and tell your favorite chefs, bartenders and local distillers. We want them to have their time in the spotlight.

Click here for the link to the application portal or visit NCChefShowdown.com.

Working NC Chefs, pastry chefs, bartenders or distilleries may apply to compete in the 2023 NCRLA Chef Showdown NOW till midnight on Monday April 17, 2023.

Visit NCChefShowdown.com To Apply Now! #TellThemHeidiSentYou

You’ll find the rules, dates and details all on the website, as well. This culinary and cocktail competition is THE ONLY statewide contest in which the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association names the NCRLA Chef of the Year, NCRLA Pastry Chef of the Year, and NCRLA Bartender of the Year and the NCRLA Distillery of the Year. 

File This One Under, “Love What I Do”

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!)

It has been my pleasure to work with the team at the NCRLA ( North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association) on this annual event, since it’s inception. I worked with the NCRLA to originally conceptualize the idea. That was 2015. That first year, the competition was a single night event featuring a dozen chefs from across the state. Chef Jessie Roque of Hendersonville, NC took top honors as the first ever NCRLA Chef of the Year. Chef Jossie Lucacik, now of Sweet Spot Studio in Charlotte, joined Jessie that year, being named the first ever NCRLA Pastry Chef of the Year.

Chefs Jessie Roque of NeverBlue in Hendersonville NC and Jossie Lukacik of Sweet Spot Studio in Charlotte. These two chefs took top NCRLA Chef Showdown honors in 2015.

Now, in it’s 7th season, the competition has become a statewide series. I’m delighted to continue to contract with the NCRLA to help run this amazing annual event.

The 2023 series kicks off with 5 preliminary culinary rounds. Competitions are held across the state throughout the months of May and June. As many as 60-70 chefs and pastry chefs will compete to move into the next stage of competition. Based on judges scores, the field of culinary competitors is narrowed to 20 chefs. 15 presenting savory dishes and 5 whipping up the sweeter side of things. Then these chefs compete again, at one of two regional rounds of culinary competition that follow in July, before going on to the event’s Grand Finale on August 14, 2023.

Oh, How the NCRLA Chef Showdown has Grown

Every year we try to add in one new thing as this statewide culinary and mixology competition grows getting bigger and better each year.

In 2017, the one new thing was a mixology component. That year, well-know Charlotte-based mixologist Amanda Britton won the title of 2017 NCRLA Mixologist of the Year with a Clarified Milk Punch I still fondly remember, made with Muddy River Distillery Queen Charlotte rum.

Mixologist Amanda Britton, from Charlotte, center the first NCRLA Mixologist of the Year with Muddy River Distillery’s Robbie and Caroline Delaney in 2017. Muddy River Distillery is located in Belmont NC.

That year and the year that followed only a half dozen distilleries and bartenders were in the mix. Now, we’ve taken the mixology rounds of competition up a notch as well. This year we anticipate that up to 2 dozen teams of NC distilleries and bartenders will compete in one of two regional rounds of Mixology competition. Based on Judges scores, six teams will move on to compete in the Aug 14 Grand Finale.

Both of the regional 2023 Mixology rounds will be held in July at the Ginger Fox in Winston-Salem, NC. This spot is home base to the 2022 NCRLA Bartender of the Year, David Bowen. it also sits nearby to Broad Branch Distillery, the 2022 NCRLA Distillery of the Year, represented at last year’s competition by Daniel Spivey.

Broad Branch Distillery’s Daniel Spivey, left and David Bowen of The Ginger Fox; both in Winston-Salem at the 2022 NCRLA Chef Showdown

Eat Local and Drink Local at the NCRLA Chef Showdown

The NCRLA is presented by Got To Be NC, the NC Department of Agriculture. if you know me, you know that this “eat and drink local” component of the competition that is important to me.  In fact, one of the rules is that competitors work as much local product, proteins or produce as makes sense into their competition plates or glasses.

Obviously, this competition a wonderful way to recognize culinary and hospitality talent across the state, such as the 2023 champion, Chef Oscar Johnson of Jimmy Pearls in Charlotte.

Chefs Oscar Johnson and Daryl “Coop” Cooper of Jimmy Pearls in Charlotte prepare tasting plates for the crowd at the 2022 NCRLA Chef Showdown Grand Finale

But, I also love that its grown to be an equally wonderful way to acknowledge the work of farmers, ranchers and artisan producers across the state, as well.

Supporting Local Farmers and Artisan Producers

There is no secret ingredient or must-use items in this competition. However, in each of these rounds of competition, chefs, pastry chefs and mixologists focus on all the NC products, proteins and produce they can work into their competition plate or cocktail. It’s their choice. Each entry represents that individual chef or bartender on the plate or in the glass.

Fifth Generation Dairy Farmer Randy Lewis of Ran Lew Dairy met Award Winning Pastry Chef, Tie Whitaker of Buttermilk Boutique in Clayton NC through the NCRLA Chef Showdown competition. Now Ran Lew is it the only milk and buttermilk Tie uses in her cakes, ice creams and pastries.
Tie is the 2021 NCRLA Pastry Chef of the Year

That means, competitors can cook whatever they would like to present to the judges. They each shop locally and seasonally, supporting local farmers and producers for each round of competition from as far away as an area farmers markets, through wholesalers specializing in local NC proteins and products, or as close by as the produce growing in their own backyard.

How it Works, & New This Year

  • Chefs and pastry chefs compete first in a preliminary round and then, if they move on based on their scores, in a regional round and in the Aug 14, 2023 Grand Finale in Raleigh.
  • Bartenders and  mixologists must team with a NC distillery and then enter together to compete in one of two regional rounds, creating 2 craft cocktails and a mocktail for a panel of judges. 
  • If they are one of the six mixology teams to move on, they will create the cocktail as selected by the judges and the mocktail for the crowd at the Aug 14 Grand Finale

Plus, I happen to know that more “new” and exciting news for this year will be released soon! So stay tuned as we announce our list of 2023 preliminary round competitors late next week.

How Can You Play a Part? Inquiring Minds Want to Know…

If you are a chef, pastry chef, bartender or distiller, go and apply to compete now! If you are not a chef, pastry chef, bartender or distillery in North Carolina, I know you are asking yourself, “How you I get in on this? Be a part of it all, watch the action and taste the final products?”

Well, the preliminary and regional rounds of competition are only open to competitors, judges. Chefs PR teams and the media are there by invite. 

These are all private events, but you can follow along reading posts on this site with updates after each round of competition. You can also follow the social media – that’s @ncrlachefshowdown on instagram; and NCRLA Chef Showdown on Facebook.

But, then…

The big 2023 Grand Finale on August 14, is open to the public to attend! You are going to have a blast cheering on all of your favorite competitors.

It’s a tremendous ambulatory tasting event with close to 500 attendees in the mix of things. You’ll be able to enjoy tastes and sips of each of the competitors final dishes, cocktails and mocktails. And you can vote for the 2023 People’s Choice Awards, this year sponsored by the NC Sweetpotato Commission. It all takes place at the beautiful Pavilion at The Angus Barn in Raleigh NC. Tickets will go on sale in early July 2023. Stay tuned!

Be A Sponsor and Lend Your Support

In addition, you, or your company, can be a sponsor of the 2023 NCRLA Chef Showdown. The more the merrier! There are lots of possibilities of ways to support the competition; and in turn, the North Carolina hospitality industry. If you are a North Carolina producer, supplier or farmer; or, if you have a NC company that caters to chefs and bartenders, restaurants or farms, let’s talk. There are many ways for you to lend support, meet the 2023 competitors and play a part.

Interested in knowing more? I’d love to hear from you. Send me an email and we’ll talk through all the possibilities and sponsorship benefits. I can’t wait to hear from you!

Cheers to our 2023 Competition Venues

While I have you, I have to brag on another thing I love about this competition. This year, each of our rounds of culinary competition take place at North Carolina Community College Culinary Schools. It’s a great way for culinary students to meet skilled chefs and pastry chefs and watch them at their craft. Like everything the NCRLA does, shining this spotlight on the next generation of culinarians is another wonderful way to support the hospitality industry across the state of North Carolina.

Here’s where we will be in May and June 2023:

Then, in July, we head back to Wake Tech in Raleigh and finally to CPCC in Charlotte. Joining us, our 2023, 20 top chefs for the two final regional culinary rounds of competition.

At each of the preliminary and regional culinary round judges are chefs; the mixology round judges, all NC bartenders and distillers or professionals in that arena. Competitors at every turn of this competition are judged by their peers, often past NCRLA Chef Showdown champions.

All for Now, But, Stay Tuned for More

That’s it for now. The focus between now and April 17 is for as many talented NC chefs, bartenders and distilleries to have the opportunity to apply as is possible. Next step: to announce the list of 2023 competitors sometime the end of next week. And then, that’s when the fun begins. Stay tuned for more updates, thanks to our 2023 sponsors, and fun social media posts as we work our way through each of the preliminary rounds. We can’t wait to see what happen’s next!

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