North Carolina Chefs Showdown

Its a food and lovers’ dream dinner. The 2016 North Carolina Chefs Showdown.

Chefs showdown logoThis is the inaugural year of the NCRLA – the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association’s North Carolina Chef Showdown and I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am to have played a part in putting it all together. The evening features 16 of North Carolina’s best chefs and pastry chefs as well as six of the Triangles most creative mixologists, all together at one venue at Raleigh’s 214 Martin Street/Market Hall for an ambulatory evening of sweet and savory food and drink as a part of the NCRLA 2016 Expo in Raleigh North Carolina.

The 2016 NCRLAExpo is predominantly for the culinary trade and hospitality industry and takes place in Raleigh Aug 29 and 30. The Chef Showdown event is for the trade with tickets now available to the public as well and I am telling you, no matter where you live in the Carolinas, this event will be worth the road trip.

The NCRLA 2016 Chef Showdown in this Monday night August 29; doors open at 6 pm.

You food-centric folk  are going to Eat This Up!!!

While it will be dinner and a ton of fun, its also a competition and to that end, I’ve rounded up a tremendous panel of judges all involved in the  industry, including Master Baker Lionel Vatinet of La Farm Bakery in Cary, Chef Clark Barlowe of Heirloom Restaurant in Charlotte; Chef Ryan Conklin of Rex Healthcare in Raleigh; Certified Master Chef Tony Seta of Butterball; Andrea Weigl, Food Editor from Raleigh’s The News & Observer; and Tim Parrish, Marketing Specialist at North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

This awesome panel of judges will be charged with the task of naming several awards to be announced by our host for the evening, television personality Ken Smith of Raleigh’s WRAL, including recognition for one  dessert plate and one savory dish that make the best use of a North Carolina Grown, Raised, Caught or Made product, produce or protein; One dessert plate and one savory dish  offering the most creative presentation; and then of course the big overall award – the 2016 NCRLA Chef of the Year and the 2016 NCRLA Pastry chef of the year.

In addition there will also be a People’s Choice Awards for the best savory dish, the best dessert and the best craft cocktail  and there is  also an interactive Instagram contest to boot! It’s going to be an exciting evening for sure. The chefs are ready to roll, all that is missing is you!

Don’t Miss This Inaugural Event:

Get your tickets NOW for the Monday night 2016 NCRLA Chef Showdown event with just one click right here

Have I whet your palate? Need a bit of a push – well then, this will seal the deal.. let me tell you  who will be there cooking. You won’t believe that all this culinary talent will be in one room!

2016 chef showdown chefsThese chefs are cooking in this competition without any boundaries or parameters, serving guests and judges alike, with plates that best represent their personal style and what they do on a daily basis at their restaurants. Its going to be fabulous! 

From Charlotte, Luca Annunziata Passion8; Matthew Krenz The Asbury; Tom Marlow Mimosa Grill; Matt Tilman Gallery Restaurant; Ashley Bivens Boyd 300 East and Heritage food & drink; Jossie Perlmutter Block & Grinder – Langtree; #NoellGogg The Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge.

From Hendersonville, Jess Roque Never Blue

From Hickory Sam Stachon Highland Avenue

From the Triad: John Bobby A Noble Grille ,Richard Andrew Miller Graze Restaurant, #PabloDelValle Atelier on Trade,Jay Pierce The Marshall Free House

From the Triangle Chef Gerry Fong at the Dorothy and Roy Park Alumni Center at NC State University

John May Piedmont Restaurant and Christopher Scott James The Angus Barn.

Lionel Vatinet of La Farm Bakery, by Tamara LackeySo what’s dinner and dessert without a little bread and butter?  Guests with a passion for bread ( and who among us doesn’t have that)  will be delighted to know that the evening also includes a Bread Station compliments of the talented team at La Farm Bakery.

Heidi Billotto 2008

And did I mention there would be wine, beer and  craft cocktails, all compliments of these fine Triangel based mixologists: cheers to Alex Flynn, The Haymaker, Raleigh; Kyle Hankin, Fox Liquor Bar, Raleigh; Quentin Hill, The Carolina Inn, Chapel Hill; Drew Schenck, RallyPoint Sports Grill, Cary; Jarod Sneed, Tupelo Honey Cafe, Raleigh; and Tim VanBeek, The Washington Duke Inn, Durham

Cost for the evening is $125 per person. Tickets Available Here and I will see you there! #TellThemHeidiSentYou

Hurry, Hurry…Read All About It

Lots to read about in the culinary sections in both the Fall and Winter issues of Charlotte Living Magazine – ICYMI ( In Case You Missed It), today I wanted to share links to my recent culinary, giving back , art and travel articles 

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODIn between cooking classes and catering, articles and recipes on and posts on my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages, I write four times a year for a fabulous publication in Charlotte: Charlotte Living Magazine.
These perfectly bound glossy pages pair my words with wonderful photos and give me a chance to write in more detail about many of my favorite people and places.
You can pick up a copy of Charlotte Living Magazine at lots of places around Charlotte, including The Savory Spice Shop in Southend, EarthFare, Whole Foods, and The Atherton Mill Farmers’ Market, just to mention a few; or you can read it online in it’s flipbook format at
The Food and Entertaining section online offers links to archived articles I have written over the past year on Kindred Restaurant in Davidson, The Fig Tree Restaurant, Bonterra Dining and Wine RoomPassion 8 Restaurant, Chef Bruce Moffett’s Trio of Restaurants: Barrington’s, Good Food on Montford and Stagioni , a piece about three ever favorites: The Heirloom, The Asbury and Fahrenheit Clt and more.
While a portion of the content in these archived articles may be dated by seasonal references,  the basic information is still current and it is important to note, that these restaurants continue to be places to put on your dining out radar.
over shot for fall recipesOn these pages you’ll also find stories about local product such as Charlotte’s own Cannizzaro more here…. and  a fun story on a new beverage category hitting bottle shops and grocery stores all over the southeast: Islander Ginger Beer.
What makes it new, is this is Alcoholic Ginger Beer and what makes is pertinent to you and Charlotte is that this Ginger Beer has North Carolina roots!
I won’t print any spoilers here – just…read more here… and then I know you’ll head out to buy a four pack for your next batch of Moscow Mules, Mimosas, or perhaps a Dark and Stormy or two. Islanders are available in Harris Teeter’s across the state and locally in Total Wine and Earthfare too.
2015 Fall issue of Charlotte Living
In the Fall 2015 issue we put an incredible dessert by Chef Ben Kallenbach, executive pastry chef at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge on the cover and the cover story is about the hotel’s Gallery Restaurant and the talent Chef David Moore and his team bring to the table. Read more
This fall issue also includes a Three Day Weekend article all about Winston-Salem, the gate way to the North Carolina wine country and home to a host of great places to stay, eat and explore, such as Graze Restaurant, Atelier On Trade, Meridian Restaurant and more …Read More
2016 Winter issue of Charlotte Living
The culinary section in the Winter 2016 issue  is filled with places and products  you simply must try sooner than later if you haven’t already! Pick up an issue as you’ll want to devour each and every page. This issue is on newstands now, but until you have the issue in hand, I’ll tease you with a taste and a link back to my featured stories:
On Chef Tom Condron and his modern take on French cuisine at Lumiere French Kitchen in Charlotte’s Myers Park neighborhood… Read More

On Chef Tim Groody and his farm to The Fork! fare in Cornelius… Read More…in addition to nightly dinners, be sure to check out Fork’s Sunday brunch, too!

elizabeth ave Charlotte Living story heidi with chefsOn the all new Elizabeth Ave corridor in Charlotte, The Queen City’s first streetcar in 77 years  and the chefs ( Luca Annunziata of Passion 8, Paul Ketterhagen of Carpe Diem, Marc Jacksina of Earls Grocery, Trey Wilson of Customshop, Jose Garcia of 1900 Mexican Grille and Tequila Bar and Sun Jae Kim of Elizabeth Creamery) that are making this two block stretch Charlotte’s newest restaurant row… Read More… A big shout out to all of these chefs who came to help a writer out when I called them on a cold and rainy November Monday to come out for a photo at one of the Elizabeth Ave street signs – they all happily obliged and I couldn’t have been more thrilled – here is one of the shots I jumped in for fun just before Jose got there!

And speaking of Charlotte chefs, hope you will enjoy reading a recap I put together on a great giving back effort coordinated by the Charlotte-based Piedmont Culinary Guild and lead by chefs, farmers and people who cared  when our neighbors in South Carolina were affected by the October 2015 flooding. They all pitched in, not for publicity, but because it was the right thing to do, but I wanted to give them a little love and tell the story…Read More

Looking for a great way to Eat Local at home? Don’t miss the detes on my new favorite with Take and Bake product: frozen scones from Charlotte’s own The Scone Shop ( and YES, there is a package in my freezer, even as I type this – so you now I practice what I preach)… Read More

Food is art they say and it was my pleasure in this issue to write about the very talented Loren DiBenedetto, a Charlotte artists who paints the food you love to eat ( You’ll see when you…Read more… that Loren also paints detailed pet portraits, so if you have four legged friends, you’d like have captured on canvas, you might want to reach out to Loren for details. We own 6 of Loren’s charming paints ( 4 cats, a pear and a study of figs) and we love them every one.

blossom shop logoFinally, I would be remiss if I didn’t share one link for an advertisement in this Winter issue – its the back inside cover ad for The Blossom Shop. The Blossom Shop is owned my my dear friends and family by marriage Ted Todd and Debby Sacra. It’s been my go-to florist for years ( even before I married Tom and info the family) and I can’t say enough good things about the work they do – always making every special event in life even more memorable.  Call them, you’ll be thrilled you did.

Heidi Billotto 2008

To see The Blossom Shop ad now, follow this link – which will take you to the  online flipbook, then flip over to page 83. Here you’ll see a wedding photo of my my niece and new nephew from their September 2015 nuptials. As you will see, the bride and groom, Kendel and Chad Parks, were dazzling and the flowers were stunning!

Cheers to photographer Critsey Rowe for capturing it all on film and to the talented staff at Charlotte living for transforming it all into the best ad ever!

The 2015 GotToBeNc Competition Dining Series Springs into High Gear in the Queen City

BlackCompDiningLogoGet ready to enjoy North Carolina’s favorite Culinary Sport – tickets on sale NOW

If you thought you had to wait until late summer to enjoy North Carolina’s favorite culinary sport in the Queen City – think again. This year the GotToBeNc Competition Dining series kicks off the first weekend of Spring with a record breaking 24 chef line up! Charlotte can be proud to celebrate the fact that this, the largest Competition Dining series in history, will take place here from March 22 – May 19 with competitions on most Sundays and every Monday and Tuesday evening. Each of the dinners in Charlotte will take place at Bonterra Dining and Wine Room.

The fun each night starts as guests gather for libations starting around at 6 pm and each dinner kicks off promptly with a dramatically fun video presentation at 6:45.

jimmycrippenAs in years past here in Charlotte and at other series across the state, Competition Dining operates with a focus of bringing the chef, the farmer and the diner together.

Competition Dining creator Jimmy Crippen personally hosts each event with a genuine enthusiasm for what he does. from handling the introduction of chefs, judges and media  to personally walking dinner guests to their seat. His number one rule is to have fun; and that means everyone, from the chefs in the kitchen to the guest in the dining room.

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODIt has been my great pleasure to have gone from the official blogger of the Charlotte series to working as a part of the Competition Dining team.  At dinners across the state, my role is not only blogging the play by play after the fact; but also reporting it to you and the wining and dining public live as it happens via the Competition Dining social media on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Between dinners when I am not teaching cooking classes, catering or otherwise writing from my home base in Charlotte, I am the Competition Dining Sponsor Ambassador, garnering supportive companies, commodities, farms and individuals anxious to be a part of this state’s favorite culinary sport; and I assist chef Ref Bobby Zimmerman in the finding and selection of the much anticipated secret featured ingredients for each night’s battle – needless to say I am in my element and having a blast!

Ironman Forge knife by Charlotte Bladesmith Steve Watkins

Ironman Forge knife by Charlotte Bladesmith Steve Watkins

But enough about my role at Competition Dining dinners each night  – let’s turn the guys and gals that make this competition what it is – twenty four of this area’s most competitive chefs, each leading a team of three, vying for the bragging rites to the title, the coveted red chefs jacket from ALSCO, a custom made knife from Charlotte’s own Bladesmith Steve Watkins of Ironman Forge, and a check for $2000 plus entree into the Final Fire to be held this year in Raleigh on Halloween weekend!


Now that you know the what, when and where, here is the who and the how – the Charlotte line up of competing chefs with links to buy tickets for each individual battle! Come to one or come to them all – but whatever you do, don’t miss out – its so much fun – like eating at two of your favorite restaurants at the same time and enjoying a ton of North Carolina produce and product in the process. Can’t wait to see you there!

The Preliminary Round Battles

Battle March 22


On Sunday March 22, the Competition Dining Battle field finds Chef Miles Payne of littlespoon in Charlotte up against Chef Ryan Forte of Southminster Retirement Community in Charlotte. For Tickets visit

Battle March 23

On Monday March 23 its Chef Paul Verica of Heritage Food and Drink in Waxhaw battling it out with Chef Vincent Giancarlo of Cantina 1511 in Charlotte For tickets visit

Battle March 24


On Tuesday March 24 the action heats up between Chef Tom Marlow of Mimosa Grill in Charlotte and Chef Ben Miles of BLT Steak in Charlotte. For tickets visit March 29


The Competition Dining battle on Sunday March 29 finds Chef Joseph Cornett of The Flipside Cafe in Ft. Mill, SC up against Chef Jon Ernst of Cafe Monte French Bakery and Cafe in Charlotte. For tickets visit

Battle March 30


On Monday March 30 Chef Mike Suppa of Vivace Charlotte goes head to head against Chef Melissa Joy Claude of Joy’s Bistro in Boone NC For tickets visit


Battle March 31The first two weeks of the Charlotte prelims end on Tuesday March 31 with Chef Aaron Rivera of the soon-to-be-open Tapas 51 in Ft. Mill up against another South Carolina culinarian Chef Neil Bratton of Local Dish also in Ft. Mill. For Tickets visit

Slide84The preliminary rounds continue in April just after the Easter holiday with a battle on Monday April 6 in a battle that finds two non-traditional restaurants up against each other. Chef John Morey of Delaware North exec chef for the Bank of America Stadium vs Chef Brady Lutz, exec chef at the Cypress of Charlotte retirement community.  For tickets visit


On Tuesday April 7 its Chefs Ryan Daugherty & Eric Litaker co-exec chefs of Dogwood Battle April 7 Southern Table and Bar take on Chef Travis Garrett of The Mandrake Small Plates and Wine. For Tickets visit

The Quarter Finals

With this new 24-chef Competition format, the brackets have been set as one would for two 12-chef brackets – In the end there will be two championship rounds and eventually two Charlotte series champions will go to the Final Fire to compete for statewide bragging rites and the big prize package.

To keep things fair and the brackets in place, 8 returning Competition Dining chefs drew byes and automatically go on the compete in the series quarter finals against winners of the eight preliminary rounds. These are chefs who have competed in Competition Dining series in Charlotte and Asheville in years past.

Here are ticket links and competitors for the quarter final rounds:

Slide86Returning on Sunday April 12 is the 2014 Competition Dining City Finalist Chef Tom Dyrness of Mama Ricottas Restaurant. he will go up against the winner of the March 22 battle. For tickets to the April 12 event visit


Slide87Returning on Monday April 13 is  2014 Fire on the Rock semi finalist, Chef Steven Goff of the King James Public House in Asheville, NC. Steven will battle the winner of the March 23 battle. For tickets to the April 13 event visit

Slide88Returning on Tuesday April 14 is 2014 Fire in the City Quarter Finalist Chef David Moore from Gallery Restaurant in Charlotte David faces the winner of the March 24 battle. For tickets to the April 14 event visit


Slide89Returning on Sunday April 19 is 2014 Fire in the City Quarter Finalist Chef Chris Coleman from The Asbury in Charlotte. Chris goes up against the winner of the March 29 battle. For tickets to the April 19 event visit  


Slide90Returning on Monday April 20 is 2014 Fire in the City competitor Chef Clark Barlowe of Heirloom Restaurant in Charlotte. Clark will battle the winner of the March 30 battle. For tickets to the April 20 event visit

Slide91Returning to the Competition Dining ring on Tuesday April 21 is 2014 Fire in the City competitor Chef Ben Phillpott of Block & Grinder in Charlotte. Ben will take on the winner of the March 31 battle. For tickets to the April 21 event visit

Slide92Returning to the Competition Dining battle on Monday Tuesday April 27 is 2014 Fire in the City competitor Chef Brent Martin of The Summit in Charlotte. Brent will face the winner of the April 6 battle. For tickets to the April 27 event visit


Slide93Returning to battle in the last quarter final battle of 2015  on Tuesday April 28 is 2014 Fire on the Rock competitor Chef Michael Fisera of Lexington Avenue Brewery in Asheville. Michael will battle the winner of the April  7 event. For tickets to the April 28 event

comp dining promo

Semi Final and Grand Finale Rounds

After the 8 quarter final battles the chefs still standing will go into the semi final and final rounds  – tickets for those events are still available, but moving fast and will most certainly be sold out by the time those battles come around -so You Be The Judge -pick your battles and  purchase your tickets now at

I’ll be looking to see you there – Cheers!




Battle High Rock Farm Chestnuts and TOPO Carolina Whiskey; Chef Phil Barnes of Rooster’s meets Chef David Moore from Gallery Restaurant and Barnes takes the first quarter final win!

The Team from Rooster's From left, chef Zach Renner, Executive Chef Phil Barnes, and Chef Ryan Daugherty

The Team from Rooster’s. From left, chef Zach Renner, Executive Chef Phil Barnes, and Chef Ryan Daugherty

The first quarter final competition of Fire in the City was a  spirited battle between Chef Phil Barnes of Rooster’s and Chef David Moore of Gallery Restaurant at Ballantyne. It was a close battle between these two hard working and talented chefs, but when all the plates were cleared and scores announced,  it was Chef Phil Barnes who took the win and will move on to the Competition’s semi finals on October 14!

The team from Gallery Restaurant. from left, Executive Chef David Moore, Chef Chris Wrenn and Chef Michael Renfield

The team from Gallery Restaurant. from left, Executive Chef David Moore, Chef Chris Wrenn and Chef Michael Renfield

This night of  competition was “Spirited” in more ways than one: first because these six chefs got along so well in the tight quarters of the kitchen at Bonterra Dining and Wine Room; and secondly because the secret ingredient this evening was a local spirit – Top of the Hill’s Carolina Whiskey made from 100% NC local organic wheat and distilled in Chapel Hill.

But wait, that’s not all – the stakes are getting bigger as the quarter finals begin; and so this time out for these chefs, there were two secret ingredients; and for this night at least – the local whiskey was paired with local chestnuts from High Rock Farm in Gibsonville, NC.

The first quarterfinal secret ingredients - TOPO organic whiskey and High Rock Farm Chestnuts

The first quarterfinal secret ingredients – TOPO organic whiskey and High Rock Farm Chestnuts

This was the first time ever that either of these two local North Carolina products have been used in Competition Dining; and  while both chefs found them to be a bit challenging, the smooth creamy, nutty flavors of both of these local NC products  complimented each other and really were a perfect pairing.

Top of the Hill is one of several new local distilleries popping up on the NC horizon. The distinction is that TOPO is the only organic disillery in the south and the only Green Plus Distillery in the country! TOPO produces vodka, gin and whiskey. As the distillery is just two years young, this whiskey – which is clear – is still considered to be Moonshine, but TOPO’s co-owner and spirit guide Esteban McMahan told me that they are working on an aged whiskey to be released soon – at first in airline bottles and then with time in a larger bottle format. If you’d like to taste and start drinking local spirits for yourself, TOPO spirits are available in larger NC ABC stores.

Paired with the whiskey  as the secret ingredient, were North Carolina Chestnuts from High Rock Farm in Gibsonville – just a short drive outside of Greensboro.

As new and young as TOPO distillery is, its partner for this evening  is an historic NC farm. Established in 1807, with nearly 500 trees, High Rock Farm is the largest grower of Chestnuts in the mid-atlantic region. High Rock Farm also grows pecans and produces fresh nuts, chestnut flower and a unique dried chestnut chip of sorts.

Both the Distillery and the farm invite visitors and give tours, so if you’d like to find out more about either of these Good to be Grown in NC treasures, follow the links at the end of this post and give them a visit.

In fact, on November 3 from noon to 5 pm High Rock farms will be hosting their second annual Chestnut Festival. $5 gets you in the door for lots of fun, historic house tours, food, music, local beer and wine and, of course, local chestnuts.

For this evening of competition, chefs had to include the TOPO Whiskey and either the whole chestnuts, the chestnut pieces or the chestnut flour in each dish. They also had the option of including TOPO vodka and gin at their discretion.

Interested in trying your hand at cooking with these two unique local products – take a look at what chefs Phil Barnes and Chef David Moore did this first night of Competition Dining quarter-finals and be inspired!

Course One from Chef David Moore

Course One from Chef David Moore

Course 1 was a beautifully presented plate from Chef David Moore.  The inch and a half tall TOPO Gin Shrimp Mousse stood aside a High Rock Farm Chestnut Crepe stuffed with a smoky Charred Eggplant, and finished with a TOPO Carolina Whiskey Tomatillo Sauce. While I adored the slightly sweet crepe with the smoky rich eggplant filling, I would have loved a bit more of the whiskey sauce. The shrimp mousse here was a non plus for me – it seemed much more of a separate item on the plate rather than an accompaniment to make a cohesive dish. Other dinners obviously agreed as, as pretty as it was,  this was a low scoring dish for Moore.

Course Two by Chef Phil Barnes

Course Two by Chef Phil Barnes

Course 2 from Chef Phil Barnes may have been the favorite plate of the evening. An incredibly well done TOPO Carolina Whiskey Braised Pork Belly was the star of the plate accompanied by Barnes’ take on a High Rock Farm Chestnut Crepe stuffed with Collard Greens, Parsnip & Chestnut Puree
This course was Barnes’ highest scoring plate and the highest scoring course of the evening.

Course three from Chef Phil Barnes

Course three from Chef Phil Barnes

Course 3 also came from Barnes – so in these quarter-final rounds, these chefs were also faced with the challenge of  plating back to back courses. After the competition, Barnes told me that this was his most challenging plate. At first he wanted to make pasta, but while the conception of Chestnut pasta was a good one, there were problems with the process, so the Rooster’s team had to drop back and rethink it. Gnocchi seemed a clever solution and Barnes really pulled it out. The slightly sweet nutty flavor of his High Rock Farm Chestnut Gnocchi, in a Chestnut-Carolina Whiskey-Apple Soubise with
Chestnut & Arugula Pesto was underscored with the intense TOPO Carolina Whiskey Sriracha Apples. For some the apples were too potent an ingredient, but when all the parts where eaten in one bite, I thought it to be  a good blend of taste and texture.

Course Four for Chef David Moore

Course Four for Chef David Moore

Course 4 from Chef David Moore was rich with the High Rock Farm Chestnut Smoked Pork Tenderloin bathed in Chestnut Butter with a side of delicious TOPO Carolina Whiskey Current Jam – Yum!  But for me, the Whole Grain Chestnut Flan which stood beside the pork was this plate’s demise, and honestly, I didn’t think  it was very typical of the way Moore cooks. It just didn’t have the refined sophistication his food usually brings to the table.

Whatever happened in the kitchen here, the flan was dry and crumbly. Easy to be a morning after “Armchair quarterback” but  while it was full of chestnuts I think I might have opted to leave the broken flan off  the plate in lieu of a green of vegetable of some sort.

Cpurse five from Chef David Moore

Course five from Chef David Moore

Conversely in Course 5, Chef David Moore was back. I thought the rich buttery High Rock Farm Chestnut White Chocolate Butter Cake with TOPO Carolina Whiskey Honey Sauce and Roasted Pink Lady Apples was outstanding
It’s crispy browned crust added a nice crunch and the flavors were so nicely blended that nothing overwhelmed. This was a favorite for me,  Moore’s highest scoring plate and the  second highest scoring plate of the evening

Course six by Chef Phil Barnes

Course six by Chef Phil Barnes

Its a tough job when a six course dinner includes two different desserts, but my fellow diners and I were more than happy to take on the assignment.

Course 6 from Chef Phil Barnes with a nice  slice of High Rock Farm Chestnut Pound Cake with a Chocolate Chestnut Mousse topped with chips of deep fried spiced chestnuts and finished with  my favorite part of this particular dessert –  a practically perfect TOPO Carolina Whiskey Caramel,

Chefs from Roosters and Gallery restaurants toast at the end of the evening to a battle well played

Chefs from Rooster’s and Gallery restaurants toast at the end of the evening to a battle well played

As Competition Dining host and creator Jimmy Crippen announced the scores  plate by plate , it was hard to see which was the battle would roll.

In the end the win wound up in  Barnes’ court – congratulations for a job well done!

Cheers to both chefs and their talented teams for sharing what they all do so well with  the 125-130 diners in attendance and  enjoying the process and the spirit of comradely and fellowship in which Competition Dining was conceptualized.

For more information about Rooster’s Wood Fired Kitchen with two locations near Southpark at 6601 Morrison Blvd. Charlotte,  28211;  704.366.8688; or Uptown at 150 N. College Street  Charlotte, 28202; 704.370.7667, visit

New friends as a result of Competition Dining from left Brianne McAlister and Richard Teague of High Rock Farm NC chestnuts; Esteban McMahan, spirit guide from TOPO distillery and yours truly, Heidi Billotto, official blogger of Competition Dining's Fire in the City

New friends as a result of Competition Dining… from left Brianne McAlister and Richard Teague of High Rock Farm NC chestnuts; Esteban McMahan, spirit guide from TOPO distillery and yours truly, Heidi Billotto, official blogger of Competition Dining’s Fire in the City

For more information about Gallery Restaurant at Ballantyne Resort located at 10000 Ballantyne Commons Pkwy  Charlotte 28277;
704.248.4100, visit

For more information about High Rock farm Chestnuts visit or friend High Rock farm on Facebook at

For more information on local spirits and TOPO distillery, visit or friend TOPO on Facebook at 

Battle Uncle Scott’s Root Beer – Chef David Lucarelli from The Cowfish vs Chef David Moore from Gallery Restaurant at Ballantyne. Moore takes the win!

Chefs David Lucarelli and David Moore with Suzanne and Scott Ramsey makers of Uncle Scott's Rootbeer i

Chefs David Lucarelli and David Moore with Suzanne and Scott Ramsey makers of Uncle Scott’s Rootbeer in Mooresville, NC

It was another fabulous evening of Competition Dining last night, Wednesday Sept 4, at the Bonterra Dining & Wine Room in Charlotte’s historic Dilworth neighborhood, with two very talented chefs and their culinary teams battling it out head to head, spoon to spoon.. It was Battle Uncle Scott’s Root Beer with Chef David Lucarelli from The Cowfish vs Chef David Moore from Gallery Restaurant at Ballantyne.

Each of the six courses were as beautiful to look at as they were delicious to eat. There was not a bad or misthought plate in the line up; but in the end the victorious team simply brought out  and accentuated more of the nuances and flavor of this locally brewed and bottled root beer from Mooresville NC.
Enjoy the selection of wines and beers from Juice Wine Purveyors and Triple C Brewing at each Fire in the City dinner.

Enjoy the selection of wines and beers from Juice Wine Purveyors and Triple C Brewing at each Fire in the City dinner.

As is the case with each of the Competition Dining dinners, the evening started with a selection of wines from Juice Wine Purveyors and local beers from Charlotte’s own Triple C Brewing at the Bonterra bar. At each dinner Juice offers a four different wines by the glass and 4 wines by the bottle, each  specially selected for each dinner thru the series; while the beer guys at Triple C offer a trio of local beers each night this week. Guests may also order anything from the Bonterra bar or award winning wine list.

While the action in the kitchen had been going on all day – it was around 7 pm that guests were seated and the game of Competition Dining was ready to begin.   As creator Jimmy Crippen likes to say at the start of each dinner, “The sun is setting, its time to light the fire!”

This second fire of the Fire in the City series was a tremendous battle between two very talented chefs and their culinary teams. Each took a different approach, but both thought the Uncle Scott’s Root Beer was a difficult product with which to work.

The Competition Dining team from The Cowfish

The Competition Dining team from The Cowfish

“The flavor profile was a challenging one, and it first it through us for a loop” noted Chef Lucarelli from The Cowfish. “With all of its aromatic flavors it was a hard product to find ways to  incorporate into a trio of dishes.”

David Moore and the team from Gallery Restaurant at Ballantyne Resort

David Moore and the team from Gallery Restaurant at Ballantyne Resort

Chef Moore agreed taking the approach to bring out some of those unique flavors and highlight them using the  variety of proteins and produce available to both chefs from the Competition Dining mobile pantry.


After 6 1/2 hours of fast and furious prep time and menu planning, the dinner that insued was delicious.  While the diners each evening do know what the secret ingredient is before they start eating, they don’t know which chef prepared each plate and so they vote blind on taste, aroma, texture and the best use and flavor of the secret ingredient.

First Course from Chef David Lucarelli at The Cowfish

First Course from Chef David Lucarelli at The Cowfish

The first plate of the night was as it turned out from Chef Lucarelli and the Cowfish team –  Grilled NC Shrimp, Asian Pear, Jicama Salad, Piperade & Uncle Scott’s Root Beer Balsamic Gastrique .

The shrimp on this plate were perfectly cooked and pear and jicama salad a refreshing foil to start; and  Lucarelli’s piperade here was spot on.

Course 2 from Chef David Moore of Gallery Restaurant

Course 2 from Chef David Moore of Gallery Restaurant

The second plate was from Chef Moore and the team at Gallery restaurant. Toasted Uncle Scott’s Root Beer Spiced Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast, Muscadine & Cubanelle Pepper Root Beer Aspic. As  I had been in early and saw what the chefs were making, I was not voting this evening;  but I will say, as I did on my Twitter feed – @HeidiCooks –  last night , while I loved the tender duck on this dish -it was the root beer aspic that totally blew me away  and the crunchy toasty bits of root beer –  amazing!

Just  a touch of these two intensely flavored items rested on top of the duck, but the flavor was deep, warm and rich    –  this plate was perhaps my personal favorite of the night.

Course Three from Chef David Lucarelli

Course Three from Chef David Lucarelli

The third plate of the evening was again from Chef Lucarelli and interestingly  featured tasty tender  duck as well –  Uncle Scott’s Duck, Root Beer Glazed Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast, Sweet Potato Quinoa Risotto, Fried Leek, Tart Cherry Demi.

On this plate the duck was glazed with a reduced rootbeer, roasted and then thin sliced and with tart cheery demi was for me a winning combination of flavor as well as a  great blend of texture and taste.
Course Four from Chef David Moore

Course Four from Chef David Moore

The fourth plate of the dinner was from Chef Moore and the Gallery Restaurant team. Black Garlic Root Beer Confit Cheshire Pork Belly, Uncle Scott’s Root Beer Braised Yucca Root, Ashe County Redneck Romano Galette, Root Beer, Caramelized Pink Lady Apple & Shallot Jam

It was an excellent plate, but funny to say, what I personally like the best on this plate didn’t have anything to do with the root beer – it was the small crunchy cheese galette  that caught my eye and my tastebuds.

As soon as I knew the secret ingredient was root beer I also knew the evening had potential for some fabulous desserts – while I at first was secretly praying for some sort of cool deconstructed rootbeer float, both chefs far surpassed my hopes and expectations.
Course Five from chef David Lucarelli

Course Five from chef David Lucarelli

From Chef David Lucarelli, the 5th plate – a melt in your mouth bowl of Fig and Goat Cheese Homemade Ice Cream, Fried Wontons, Uncle Scott’s Root Beer Syrup. Ice cream for 100 guests, all served at the same time is an ambitious endeavor to say the least, but The Cowfish team pulled it off with scrumptious results.

Course six from Chef David Moore

Course six from Chef David Moore

The sixth plate, a dessert from Chef David Moore – Uncle Scott’s Root Beer Ganache, Mousse & Glacè, Root Cherry Marmalade. This plate was a sophisticated presentation of flavors that each played one off the other for a perfect finish.

Jimmy Cripppens interviews the battles winning team for a video to post on the Competition Dining website

Jimmy Cripppens interviews the battles winning team for a video to post on the Competition Dining website

In the end, after votes were locked in and tallied, it was Chef David Moore and his team from the Gallery Restaurant at Ballantyne who took the win.

David and his team will go on the battle again in the semi final round against Chef Phil Barnes and his team from Rooster’s  in the first round of Fire in the City  semi finals on Sept 30 – get your tickets now; they will sell out fast!

For more information on The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar visit –

For more information on Gallery Restaurant at Ballantyne Resort visit –

For more information on Uncle Scott’s All Natural Root Beer visit  –


Fire in the City – The Heat is On, Charlotte!!!

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODFor information on how to book your reservations for Charlotte’s Fire in the city Competition Dining series – click here to the NC Competition Dining page on this blog

For the story on how Competition Dining in Charlotte came to be, read on…..

Several years ago I had the distinct pleasure of being a judge for one of the Fire on the Rock culinary competitions at Crippen’s Country Inn and Restaurant  in Blowing Rock.

The idea for a competiton between the  talented  chefs in the Boone and Blowing Rock region  was the brainchild of restaurateur Jimmy Crippen. He saw it as a way to create some culinary excitement in the area during the off-season. The chefs came to compete on neutral ground ( Crippen’s ) and to make it fun,  Jimmy followed the Iron Chef/Chopped idea of featuring a secret ingredient; but made it his own with the help of food distributors from Pate Dawson/Southern Foods.

At competition dining dinners, you see, the secret ingredient is homegrown – Good to Be In NC products are featured at each and every dinner and the chefs must incorporate them in each course.  That first  dinner I attended was delicious and tons of fun – three courses, two plate for each course and not only did the invited professional judges vote, but everyone at the dinner  voted ( via a Smart phone app) for their favorite dish from each course in an effort to come up with the champion of the culinary battle.

I spoke with Jimmy then about how he wanted to develop the concept. It wasn’t long before Fire on the Rock , opened way to Fire on the Dock in the Wilmington area; and then to Fire in the Triad, in the Raleigh , Durham and Greensboro region.  The Competiton Dining concept has been such a success that Jimmy has since sold the old Crippen’s and is now working exclusively on developing Competition Dining.

Jimmy Crippen and his Competition Dining team don’t do anything in a small way – these dinner are top notch culinary events where everyone enjoys the food and the frivolity – while its a serious competition with high stakes on the line, and  the chefs are very intent on their part of the evening;  Crippen makes it all entertaining – never a dull moment from the start to finish of each dinner.

Jimmy Crippen Your host for each evening of the Fire in the City Competition Dining

Jimmy Crippen
Your host for each evening of the Fire in the City Competition Dining

After much anticipation,  starting next week, September 3,  Crippen’s NC Competition Dining now comes to Charlotte as Fire in the City – a bracketed culinary competition between 16 of the Queen City’s most talented chefs, each bringing their A game to the culinary battlefield and having a great time all along the way – don’t miss out on all the fun-filled action.

At each dinner,  two restaurants battle it out side by side in a single elimination,  using a blind dinner format and you can be a part of it all!

The dinners start on September 3 and run though Oct 22. Tickets are on sale now for each individual dinner  at Don’t miss out – make your reservations now!!

I am very proud to say that is the official blog of the Fire in the City competition!

Experience the dinners you can’t attend vicariously, by following me via this blog as I savor my way through each of the 15 evenings of the competition. Check back after each individual dinner to get  front row seat on what went on behind the scenes on the kitchen line, what  the chefs first impressions were, photos of all the dishes, what the secret ingredient was,   what diners thought , and most importantly which chef moved up a bracket to compete another day, one step closer to the prize of being Charlotte’s first Fire in the City champion.

Each of the Fire in the City Competition Dining dinners will take place at Bonterra Dining & Wine Room, a fabulous Charlotte dining spot  in  a  110 year old historic church building  at 1829 Cleveland Ave, Charlotte, NC.    Arrive early if you like and  kick off the evening with a cocktail hour in Bonterra’s award-winning bar. Guests are invited to purchase wine, beer or mixed drinks and enjoy;  then the Dinners begin at 7 pm sharp.

As  a participant , you get to savor a six-course menu (three courses from each chef without knowing whose food you’re tasting) created around a “Mystery” North Carolina ingredient. The ingredient is revealed to the chefs at noon the day of their battle and it must be used in each of their three courses.

Check out my Fire in the City – NC Competition Dining page on this blog to see who the culinary contenders are, check out each of the brackets and decided which dinners you’d like to attend.

Reservations are a must  and tickets are selling like wild fire ( pun intended), so call your friends and make your reservations now!

HOW IT WORKS: Paying guests will savor each course in a blind tasting alongside a panel of culinary and celebrity judges in a series of 15 dinner competitions. Each evening, two restaurants “battle” it out side-by-side in a single elimination format. Guests savor a six-course menu (three dishes from each chef without knowing whose food they’re tasting) created around a “featured” ingredient. For each dinner, the ingredient will come from a North Carolina farmer or artisan producer. The featured ingredient is revealed to the chefs only an hour before they start cooking, and it must be used in each of the three courses. It’s going to be great fun to see what our Charlotte chefs do to creatively and deliciously present this local and regional product.

Diners, alongside culinary and guest judges, will rate each dish and determine who moves on to the next round and who goes home. At stake in each series is a grand prize of $2,000, a handmade chef knife by Ironman Forge in Charlotte, and the coveted “Red Chef Jacket.” The runner-up receives $500. Reservations for dinners cost $59 excluding beverage, tax and tip. Reservations for the semi-final and final are $69. Diners can attend as many dinners as they like.

Don’t wait to make your reservations, I’ll count on seeing you there!   Tickets are on sale now at