Craving a Competition? I Got What You Need!

PrintAs many of you know I freelance in the culinary world, which means I have irons in many fires. I’m a food writer and blogger, I work with chefs and restaurants to fine tune and manage their social media,  I teach cooking classes, I share stories in print and on television about local products and take my readers on virtual food and drink-centric three day weekends.

In addition to all of that I am most pleased to be working with the team at the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association – NCRLA as the organizer/coordinator, writer of blog posts and host of the 2017 NC Chef Showdown event to be held in Raleigh on August 21, 2017!  I did the 2016 NC Chef Showdown as well, the inaugural year for this now annual event, but this year promise to be even bigger and better.

Sixteen chefs from across the state will compete for the titles of 2017 NCRLA Chef of the Year and 2017 NCRLA Pastry Chef of the Year... and I’ll be there to bring it all to you bite by bite!
Just take a look at the stellar line up of chefs and restaurants who will be participating in this year’s evening of competition. They will be there preparing dish which represents them and their restaurant.  I am thrilled to be instrumental in helping them tell their story –  getting to know these chefs from across the state of North Carolina,  writing about them and their restaurants, inns and hotels and sharing with each of my readers, followers and fans what this talented group of North Carolina chefs does so well – can’t wait to see what fabulous sweets and savories they will  bring to the table!  

IMG_2670Just this morning I wrote a blog post similar to this one for the NC Chef Showdown Website & Blog announcing the list of chefs recently selected to participate in the 2017 NC Chef Showdown competition, and just in case you missed it -I wanted to share it here with you as well.

With nearly 40 talented applicants from across the state applying to compete, and only 16 spots to fill, the competition was fierce and the decision of the selection committee, a formidable one.

In all, 16 of North Carolina’s top culinarians will be competing on the evening of August 21, 2017.  The event will take place in Raleigh, North Carolina at 214 Martin Street and Market Hall Raleigh’s historic downtown City Market and the presenting sponsor is the North Carolina Department of Agriculture.

Cooking for a crowd of 300 plus, competing chefs will each have a station representing their restaurant or culinary outlet. Chefs will serve tasting-size portions to guests and plated tapas-sized portions to a panel of six culinary judges.

The presentation of the plates to the judges will be done live on stage in front of the crowd throughout the course of the evening. Chefs will have an opportunity to introduce themselves to the judges and the crowd and will share the concept of the dish they have each created for the evening.

This year’s event will see the following talented chefs on the savory side of the table competing for the title of the 2017 NCRLA Chef of the Year. If you just can’t wait to see what these talented chefs will be cooking in August, spend this summer visiting their restaurants and eat with them now! You can visit all of their websites here – be sure to #TellThemHeidiSentYou !

And competing with dishes to satisfy the collective sweet tooth of the 2017 NC Chef Showdown crowd will be the following four North Carolina Pastry chefs all going for the title of 2017 NCRLA Pastry Chef of the Year.

All 16 chefs will be judged on the look and taste of the dish as well as the best use and number of local North Carolina ingredients including on each plate.

The judging panel of industry professionals will offer the top honors of 2017 NCRLA Chef of the Year and 2017 Pastry Chef of the Year, in addition to  awards for  competitors in both the sweet and savory categories for the “Best Use of a North Carolina Product” and the “Most Creative Presentation”

092836adcfb3f147e9ddba652c15f755New in 2017, the NCRLA will also crown a 2017 NCRLA Mixologist of the Year, as six NC distilleries will be featured with hand-picked bartenders slinging their spirits.  Look for the announcement of competing teams of distilleries and mixologists to come in the weeks ahead.

Attendees to the 2017 NC Chef Showdown will also get a say in the matter as each guest will get one vote in each category to determine the People’s Choice winners for Best Savory Dish, 2017 Best Pastry Dish and 2017 Best Cocktail.

The 2017 Chef Showdown will take place after the first day of the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Expo at the Raleigh Convention Center. Centrally located in the state’s capital city, this is an event that offers members of North Carolina’s hospitality industry two back to back days of meetings and seminars as well as a trade show.

static1.squarespaceTickets for  the 2017 NC Chef Showdown are priced at $125 per person. The event takes place on August 21, 2017 from 6-9 pm.

Your ticket price includes unlimited tasting sized portions from all 16 of these talented chefs, tasting sized cocktails from six North Carolina distilleries represented by six of the state’s talented mixologists, a chance to vote in the evening’s People’s Choice awards,  a selection of wine or beer, a gift bag to take home and an evening of fun, live music and more! Don’t wait, Get Your Tickets Now!


Those of you who have a business that caters to the hospitality industry may be interested in  playing a slightly bigger role in the 2017 NC Chef Showdown event. if you are interested in being a sponsor at any number of levels, please contact Mindy Wharton at the NCRLA  with any questions or to work out all the details: 919.277.8585 or

Questions about becoming a member of the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association, visit the NCRLA website here.


To keep up with all the details of the 2017 NC Chef Showdown and to learn more about each of the competing chefs and their restaurants – go to the NCChefShowdown website and follow that blog just as you do this one.


Get Your Panther Game Day Eats On

img_4477Football season 2016 is kicking off and Carolina Panther’s fans of all ages are feeling the roar!  Time to suit up for the season, and start planning your tailgate!

If you don’t have season tickets (or a friend with season tickets) at the stadium, you might be looking for a new great place stop and take in all the action.

Sports bars may be the place that first comes to mind, but honestly, they aren’t  everyone’s cup-o-tea; and although they are often packed on game days, sometimes you just want more than the obligatory wings and spinach artichoke dip to go with your game.

Enter this month’s list for my Charlotte Today September Restaurant Roundup : Places you may not think of ( but you should) to go for Panthers’ game day eats in and around the Queen City.

This list was originally broadcast on WCNC’s Charlotte Today on Friday Sept 16. In case you missed it, you can watch the original video with show hosts Colleen Odegaard and Eugene Robinson here, then scroll down for photos, details and links to all the restaurant websites.

img_4494First up with the coin toss, Mimosa Grill in Uptown Charlotte, located at 327 S Tryon Street. While Mimosa may not be the place to go and watch the game, it is definitely THE place to go to start your game day activities. A Panther Game Day -themed Sunday brunch starts at 10:30 am with a delicious hearty buffet plus several ala cart items and daily specials. Enter the Game Day Burger I featured on the show. This beefy  burger made from a ground mix of chuck, brisket and short ribs served grilled to order with bacon, cheese and  garlic aioli with salt roasted  fries is sure to fit the bill and is served on Panther game days only.

img_4490If you live north of the Queen City, make your running pass to the relatively new Novanta 90 Pizzeria Napoletana -120 Langtree Village Dr #102, Mooresville, NC 28117. In the Langtree complex right off of I-77 this family run, authentic Napoletana restaurant is the real deal with  a matching pair of wood fired pizza ovens from Naples that turn out true Italian pizza in just 90 seconds.  My favorite pastas on the menu as of this writing include the Peppedew pepper puttanesca with buccatini pasta (pictured here) and the made to order deconstructed lasagna – in both beefy and vegetarian variations. Hot and bubbly  with just the right bit of char on the crust, the pies at Novanta are deliciously different from NY style pizza or Chicago pies or even other wood fired pizza’s you’ll find in the area. The magic is in the dough, made with Italian Typo 00 flour, just the right amount  of rising time and a lotta love. They are big enough to share, but small enough to order for yourself or to order a couple of alternatives to enjoy several variations as you watch the game from the bar or pizza bar at Novanta. Mozzarella is fresh made in house every day, meats are all local from Mills Family Farm in Mooresville and other ingredients are imported direct from Italy, including the vodka served on the rocks or straight up in the lemoncello martini – just sayin’.

img_4496Perhaps you do have tickets to the game and a space to tailgate, or you’re hosting a Panther party at your home in front of your own big screen, but you just don’t want to cook. While you play armchair quarterback, turn to any location of Midwood Smokehouse – there are  three around Charlotte – as your own personal offensive lineman when it comes to putting together your buffet. This season they are offering three different packages of your choice of smoked meats, sauces, sides and rolls each specifically designed to suit the size of your crowd.  Locations  at 1401 Central Avenue in the Plaza Midwood neighborhood;  in Ballantyne at 12410 Johnston Road; and now the new Midwood Smokeshack in Matthews at 3335 Siskey Pkwy. 24 hours notice is needed for the package deals, but you can always go in and order to go anytime. The Pittmasters at Midwood burn hickory wood, 24/7, so things are always smokin’.

img_4500If your looking for someplace you probably haven’t thought of yet to watch from the sidelines, check out Vivace in Midtown Charlotte, located at 1100 Metropolitan Avenue.

This contemporary Italian trattoria may not be a place you would think of for game day eats, but think again. With new executive chef Rodrigo Velazco now heading the culinary team, Vivace boasts a new line up of bar bites perfect for game day munching, among them this order of three algrodolce drumsticks with a balsamic drizzle and delicious crispy prosciutto crusted melon.


There are televisions around the bar at Vivace but if you head upstairs, where there is also a beautiful view of the city; the game is piped in over the speakers and you can enjoy the action and the fabulous food play by play.


Set on taking the game in at a sports bar? Then head to the Uptown Charlotte location of Duckworth’s, also home to The Cellar at Duckworth’s all at  330 N Tryon Street. As I said to Colleen and Eugene on the show, just five words for you here: “one-hundered-seventy-five-televisions” No doubt you can get a great view of the game from any seat in the house. Typical sports bar game day fare here, but the nachos are the bomb, constructed in layers of fresh house-fried tortilla chips, a mix of cheeses with or without chicken or chili and toppings that include jalapenos, tomatoes, onions, guacamole and sour cream. plenty for your team to share.

img_4473While Duckworth’s boasts an outstanding offensive line of cooks ( shown here) in the kitchen creating each platter of game day nachos, wings and more. Downstairs at The Cellar at Duckworth’s – open from 5-11 pm on Sundays, you can take a break from the game day festivities,  or enjoy an afterparty dinner and craft cocktails from  the creative gastrobpub menu.


img_4504Look for more of my Restaurant Roundup posts on this blog once or twice, each and every  month , or just subscribe to the blog and posts will come to your inbox as soon as they go up.

Also check out the  Saturday morning news on WCNC in the weeks ahead  for my appearance with Colleen on a segment called Tackle Your Tailgate for a slightly different version of our original Panthers-centric Restaurant Round-up video.

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!




Fire in the City Competition Dining 2014 | Charlotte Chefs are Hot to Get This Party Started

The GotToBeNC Competition Dining Series, a single-elimination culinary tournament of chefs, highlights the best of the state’s food, agriculture and culinary talent. North Carolina’s favorite culinary sport starts in Charlotte on August 18, 2014 when sixteen local chefs will go up one against the other, head to head, battle by battle in Charlotte’s own Fire in the City culinary competition.Each Fire in the City dinner takes place at the beautiful Bonterra Dining and Wine Room located at 1829 Cleveland Ave in historic SouthEnd. The  Bonterra kitchen provides a neutral battle field for these chefs from restaurants all around the city. The chefs come in around 11 or so, and following the lead of Chef Refs Laurence Willard and Billy Seay, take stock of what foodstuffs are available to them to use from the mobile pantry and then sit down for a presentation from Competition Dining host and creator, Jimmy Crippen, to learn the details on the secret ingredient for the evening. Then they get cooking till its time to plate and serve upwards of 150 guests each evening of the competition  – the fun and festivities each evening kick off at 7 pm.

There is nothing else like it any place else, you could say its the Sweet Sixteen of Charlotte’s culinary community.  To paraphrase Oprah, what I know for sure is, YOU DO NOT WANT TO MISS IT!  To make it even more fun, at each Competition Dining dinner two teams of talented chefs must each prepare their three courses using a secret or featured ingredient that comes from a North Carolina farmer or artisan producer. Award winning NC wines and local NC craft beers are also featured at each dinner.  Competition Dining is all about things Grown, Raised, Caught and Made in the great state of North Carolina.

Heidi with the city crew

Heidi Billotto with all of the 2014 Fire in the City chefs standing in front of the mobile pantry


And the best part is, you get the be the judge! At each dinner – or culinary battle – you, the diner, will delight in savoring six courses without knowing which chef prepared each dish. Its a blind tasting of sorts and as you eat, you’ll rate each plate using a specially designed interactive app which you will download on your smart phone. No smartphone, you say? No worries! The tech talented team at HitsTech, Competition Dining’s NC based tech support team, are on site and have smart phones you can borrow for the evening.

At meals end, final scores are revealed and just like you see on Iron Chef or Chopped, one team moves on to the next round and one team goes home.

And for the winner…

At stake for the series winner. along with the all important braggin rites, is a grand prize of $2,000, a handmade chef knife by Charlotte’s Own, Steve Watkins of Ironman Forge and the coveted “Red Chef Jacket.”

Additionally, the Fire In The City winning team moves on to the Final Fire Battle of Champions.
Hosted in Raleigh this November, the Final Fire will pit the Fire in the City winner up against other regional winners from 2014 competition dining series in the mountains (Fire on the Rock), the coast (Fire on the Dock), Fire in the Triad (Winston Salem Greensboro and High Point) and Fire in the Triangle (Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill) to crown a statewide winner.

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODThe Fire in the City Official Blog

As the official blogger of Fire in the City series and now the social media maven for Competition Dining across the state ( that’s me behind all of the Competition Dining Tweets and Facebook post) I’ll be there at every battle.  covering all the action, tweeting and facebooking along  the way and then posting the recap with notes on my favorite dishes and details on the  secret ingredients here on these blog pages each morning after.

If you want to follow along during each battle, periodically check  the Competition Dining Facebook page through the evening or follow along on Twitter by searching #CompDiningNC. Feel free to post your own ooohs and aaaahs as the food photos and course descriptives are posted and by all means, don’t hesitate to post your own comments on the action or in support of your favorite chefs along the way.

I can tell you from experience, that one or two nights of following along on the social media and you’re going to wish you were there in person. These dinners are like eating dinner at TWO of your favorite Charlotte restaurants at the same time and I can promise, its the most fun you’ll ever have on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday evening! So, Don’t Miss Out on this incredible culinary experience.

Make your reservations now, simply click here and then select each individual battle to link to that specific reservation page.

For more information about where you will find these chefs and their restaurants, outside of Competition Dining, follow the links to restaurant websites at the bottom of this page

as a PNG - charlotte living peice

I encourage you to go and dine with each of the Got To Be NC  Fire In The City chefs at their own individual restaurants, outside of all the Competition Dining fun, as well –

Here they are with links to their websites: 

Chef Luca Annunziate – Passion 8 – Passion8 Bistro on Urbanspoon

Chef Clark Barlowe – Heirloom Restaurant – Heirloom Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Chef Tom Dyrness – Mama Ricotta’s – Mama Ricotta's on Urbanspoon

Chef Brian Mottola  – e2 Emeril’s Eatery- E2 Emeril's Eatery on Urbanspoon

Chef David Feimster – Fahrenheit – Fahrenheit on Urbanspoon

Chef David Quintana – Southminster-

Chef David Moore – Gallery Restaurant – Gallery Restaurant at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge on Urbanspoon

Chef Ben Phillpott – Block and Grinder – Block & Grinder on Urbanspoon

Chef Brent Martin – The Summit Room- The Summit Room on Urbanspoon

Chef Jon Spencer – Epic Chophouse and Chillfire Bar and Grill- Epic Chophouse on Urbanspoon

Chef Chris Coleman – The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel – The Asbury on Urbanspoon

Chef Brian Williams – Upstream – Upstream on Urbanspoon

Chef Nicholas Daniels – The Wooden Vine – The Wooden Vine Wine Bar and Bistro on Urbanspoon

Chef  Paul Ketterhagen – Carpe Diem – Carpe Diem Restaurant and Caterers on Urbanspoon

Chef Jon Fortes – Mimosa Grill – Mimosa Grill on Urbanspoon

Chef David “Sully” Sullivan – The Fish Market – Fish Market Seafood Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon




Weekend One of Charlotte’s 2014 Spring Show Cooking Stage: Recap & Recipes

cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgIt is, each and every year, my great pleasure to coordinate the chefs and host the culinary action on the Southern Shows Spring Home and Garden Show cooking stage in late February and then again I do the same in August for the Southern Shows Ideal Home show.
This year the spring show ran two consecutive weekends in a row and with nearly 60 different chefs, sous chefs, foodies and farmers making appearances on stage, every hour on the hour, the action was hot!

With so many different chefs I made the decision to make the stage “paperless” this year – so aside from coupons, business cards and menus for the crowd to pick up and share, there were no printed recipes.

bannerInstead of all the paper,  my good friends at Charlotte Living magazine have created a Southern Spring Home & Garden cooking stage landing page where readers will find an index of all the participating chefs, links to their printed recipes and further links to restaurant, chef, farm and shop websites. the link to the recipe index from the first weekend is at the end of this post; recipes for the second weekend will be up next week and I’ll soon write a recap blog post for that as well –  but first a brief recap of the first weekend of fun, food and flavor!

Heidi and Tom in the Booth  spring show 2-14

Heidi and Tom Billotto in Charlotte NC at the Southern Spring Home & Garden Show 2014

As I mentioned, this year, The Southern Spring & Garden show ran Feb 22 – Feb 24 and Feb 28 – Mar 2, While I was at the Cooking Stage, my very talented husband Musician Tom Billotto, was performing instrumental and vocals in the show’s gardens. We sold his CD, Two and A Half Guitars, at the Heidi Billotto & Friends booth directly across from the  cooking stage and then we played it between chefs  –  the crowd seemed to enjoy the blending of food and mood.

If you missed purchasing Tom’s CD for a little food and mood of your own – its available through his website – look for the link at the end of this post.

So what follows is the low down on the line up of first weekend chefs, farmers and foodies that I am proud to call my friends and colleagues as they shared their skills, tips and techniques with the audience. – Thank you every one!


Heidi Billotto with Cantina 1511's Vince Giancarlo and Greg Balch

Heidi Billotto with Cantina 1511’s Vince Giancarlo and Greg Balch

Chefs Vince Giancarlo, Kyle Biddy and Greg Balch from Cantina 1511 kicked things off on Feb 21 at 11 am preparing Al Pastor Pork from Cantina’s new spring menu.

Al Pastor Pork on a griddle fried corn arapas

Al Pastor Pork on a griddle fried corn arapas

This delicious little bite is one you should certainly request when next you eat at either of Cantinas two locations – the big news is that the East Blvd. location will soon be moving to Park Road Shopping Center – stay tuned on these blog pages and on my Facebook page for details as they happen.

Paul Verica and his son Alex from Heritage Food and Drink

Paul Verica and his son Alex from Heritage Food and Drink

Baby bacon Doughnuts from chefs Paul and Alex Verica

Baby bacon Doughnuts from chefs Paul and Alex Verica

As it turned out it was a pork-centric beginning to the day as Chef Paul Verica and his son Alex followed with his version of the story of  “The Three Little Pigs” done Hertitage Food and Drink style with Maple Glazed Pork Belly, Pulled pork with old school biscuits and  Bacon Doughnuts, oh my!

A big supporter of local farmers and farmers markets, Paul has spent the last 20 years developing his personal style of New American Cuisine, and  the opening of Heritage Food & Drink in downtown Waxhaw NC  the culmination of years of hard work and dedication – like all the restaurants featured in this post Heritage is well worth your consideration next time you plan to enjoy dinner out!

Heidi with Chef Bill Bigham

Heidi with Chef Bill Bigham

Then the day on the stage took a turn toward poultry with Private chef Chef Bill Bigham who shared his quick and easy recipe for Mojito Chicken.

Chris Coleman from The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel

Chris Coleman from The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel

Bill was followed by Chef Chris Coleman from The Asbury at The Dunhill Hotel, a modern southern restaurant that honors the past, celebrates the seasons, and looks forward serving break fast lunch and dinner 7 days a week. Chris followed the poultry theme  preparing Cured and pan roasted duck with NC peanut Farro Risotto using local duck local peanuts and local farro – Chris is another big believer in the farm to fork concept and the menu at The Asbury reflects this philosophy.

Heidi Billotto with chefs David Moore and Kelly Morrow from The Gallery

Heidi Billotto with chefs David Moore and Kelly Morrow from The Gallery

North Carolina Peanut

North Carolina Peanut

Chef David Moore from The Gallery at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge was also inspired by all things local and Southern as he too worked with NC peanuts, crafting the legume into a delicious brittle that sported quick a kick as he added South Carolina’s now famous hot sauce, The Grim Reaper, grown and produced by the Puckerbutt Hot Sauce Company in Ft Mill, SC. The Grim reaper chili has recently been classified as the hottest Chili in the world by the fine folks at Guinness who keep all the records!

Private chef Jill Aker-Ray

Private chef Jill Aker-Ray

Rachel Klebaur from Orrman's cheese shop

Rachel Klebaur from Orrman’s cheese shop

Private chef Jill Aker Ray lightened things up a bit with her easy Primavera sauce and I followed with Rachel Klebaur of Orrman’s Cheese Shop, making my recipes for Local Bosky Acres goat cheese fondue and beer cheese stuffed jalapenos.

Greg and Subrina Collier from The Yolk in Rock Hill

Greg and Subrina Collier from The Yolk in Rock Hill

Later, I took the stage once more to share perfect pairings of Pour Olive ultra premium extra virgin olive oils and artisan Balsamic vinegars and then Chef Greg Collier put a cap on the evening as he entertained the crowd while he prepared a twist on a breakfast classic – steel cut oats. Instead of making a sweet oatmeal, Greg transformed the oats into a melt in your mouth mushroom risotto – what a way to end our first day and one reason you should definitely check out the breakfast menus at The Yolk located in Rock Hill, SC!


Heidi with DJ Ivey and Jon Fortes form Mimosa Grill

Heidi with DJ Ivey and Jon Fortes from Mimosa Grill

The action Continue at a fever pitch on Saturday, Feb 22 with appearances by four of Charlotte’s top restaurant chefs one right after the other:

Carpe Diem's Chef Paul Ketterhagen with his biggest fan

Carpe Diem’s Chef Paul Ketterhagen with his biggest fan

Chef Paul Ketterhagen from Carpe Diem, a fine dining restaurant and catering company
located at 1535 Elizabeth Avenue  in Charlotte delighted show goers with recipes for  a springtime farro salad with a duo of vinaigrettes – look for creative dishes like this one on the carpe diem springtime menu

Chef Sam Stachon from The Kings Kitchen

Chef Sam Stachon from The Kings Kitchen

Then Chef Sam Stachon from The Kings Kitchen a not for profit restaurant in Uptown , with a mission  to help and feed our city’s hungry and homeless, brought it all back home with his melt in your mouth biscuits and sasauge gravy. Kings Kitchen is now open for breakfast and these biscuits are featured on the breakfast and lunch menus.

Chef Tim Groody from Fork! in Cornelius

Chef Tim Groody from Fork! in Cornelius

Smoked pork potstickers by Chef Tim Groody

Smoked pork potstickers by Chef Tim Groody

Show goers were ready for more as Chef Tim Groody from Fork Restaurant  on Main Street in Cornelius, a farms to fork restaurant supporting dozens of local farms in the Carolinas, put an international spin on a bevy of local ingredients to make his tasty smoked local pork pot stickers!

Creole stuffed hushpuppies by chef Jon Fortes of Mimosa Grill

Creole stuffed hushpuppies by chef Jon Fortes of Mimosa Grill

Chef Jonathan Fortes, winner of the 2013 Fire in the City Competition dining series,  and his team from Mimosa Grill located in Uptown Charlotte, wowed show goers with his  creole stuffed hushpuppies – the crowd, quit literally, ate it all up.

Nada Vergili of Nada's Italy

Nada Vergili of Nada’s Italy

a beautiful presentation of homemade Boursin cheese by chef Jill Aker Ray

a beautiful presentation of homemade Boursin cheese by chef Jill Aker Ray

I made real Italian biscotti while Italian travel expert Nada Vergili  expounded on all that is wonderful about traveling in Italy; while private chef Jill Aker-Ray stepped up for  the first of  three separate time slots on stage over the course of the show  sharing her recipes for  primavera sauce, boursin cheese and southern pesto.

On Sunday Feb 23 – The crew from the Papi Queso Food Truck was unable to attend as scheduled, so I stepped in sharing a few tips I’ve learned from Papi Queso and others on making superlative grilled cheese sandwiches  -the big trick is to use real mayo instead of butter on the bread for a truly golden and crispy finish ( the brand is your call but my go-to is Carolinas-made Dukes) – other than that, use interesting breads and fill with your favorite combinations of cheese, fruits, meats and veggies and you’re good to grill!

Heidi Billotto with Chef Nathan Volz from the Ritz -Carlton in Charlotte

Heidi Billotto with Chef Nathan Volz from the Ritz -Carlton in Charlotte

Profiteroles with foie gras filling from Chef Nathan Volz

Profiteroles with foie gras filling from Chef Nathan Volz

I was followed on stage  by a new, very talented, chef in town. So glad to have Nathan Volz, executive sous chef at Charlotte’s Ritz Carlton join us on stage.  Nathan’s “taste of the Ritz- Carlton” this day were bite sized pistachio profiteroles filled with a foie gras mousse – ah – what a way to start the day!

Heidi Billotto with Chef David Lucarelli from The Cowfish

Heidi Billotto with Chef David Lucarelli from The Cowfish

After the foie gras, amuse, so to speak, Chef David Lucarelli from The Cowfish, sushi burger bar, gave the crowd a rundown on making the very best burgers and  cheeseburgers and shared recipes for some of his favorite sauces.

Mary and Ray Roberts-Tarlton with enough fresh picked certified organic spinach  to feed the crowd!

Mary and Ray Roberts-Tarlton with enough fresh picked certified organic spinach to feed the crowd!

Next things took a light turn as Windcrest Farms’ Mary Roberts  joined me on stage to talk about al things organic and to tell guests int he audience how to grow from their own organic gardens.

Windcrest Organic Farms spinach - just beautiful!

Windcrest Organic Farms spinach – just beautiful!

Mary and her husband Ray brought along two huge bags of fresh picked organic spinach which we served to the crowd paired with organic strawberries for a  light spinach salad and then backed with Bosky Acres goat cheese and grated parmigiana reggiana for a rich warm spinach soufflé. We also sautéed this wonderful seasonal green with organic chick peas and tomatoes to create a tasty simply side dish as well. 

Heidi Billotto and chef Ben Philpott

Heidi Billotto and chef Ben Philpott

Inspired by Ben's mustard recipe I went home and made my own local mustard! - seeds soaking here....

Inspired by Ben’s mustard recipe I went home and made my own local mustard! – seeds soaking here….

That afternoon  I welcomed Chef Ben Philpott from Block and Grinder to the stage . At Block & Grinder, Ben makes delicious charcuterie and so he brought some of his duck ham to share with the cooking stage crowd and then he made a homemade mustard to go with. Keeping true to the philosophy that the show must go on, Ben persevered through an explosion of his blender and the fact that the fire alarm in the building went off in the middle of his demo.  After the all clear, we all realized that sometimes you just have to laugh and keep moving on.

Scott MacCabe from the Savory Spice Shop Southend

Scott MacCabe from the Savory Spice Shop Southend

Heidi with Scott and Amy from Savory Spice Shop Southend

Heidi with Scott and Amy from Savory Spice Shop Southend

The weekend ended with a presentation from Amy and Scott McCabe from The Savory Spice Shop SouthEnd  – my go -to place for all spices and herbs sweet and savory. Scott cooked up a rigatoni pasta dish while Amy handed spice samples out to the crowd – the perfect cap off for the evening and the first weekend of the show..

For all the recipes from this talented line up of first weekend of chefs at the cooking stage at the Southern Spring & Garden Show in Charlotte click on over to

Each of the recipes on the Charlotte Living site offer links to the chef restaurants and websites… recipes from the second weekend of chefs will be up and online mid March 2014. 

Meanwhile, for more information about any of our first weekend chefs  – just follow these links to get to their respective websites ….

For more information on me, Heidi Billotto and my cooking classes – friend me on Facebook at Heidi Billotto or follow me on Twitter at @heidicooks  and follow this blog and all the details will come to you as I post…


The Secret Ingredient… Meet Final Fire’s first Clandestine Combo: Cheerwine and Cacklacky Cheerwine Sauce

comp dining logoNovember 20, 2013 marked the first battle of Final Fire –  the culmination of the eighth season of North Carolina’s favorite culinary sport: Competition Dining.

Throughout the Competition Dining’s Charlotte Fire in the City series, I detailed each and every battle and will do so with each night of the Final Fire, the competition of champions, as well.

In addition, during Final Fire,  I will also blog about each night’s secret ingredients – the all local heart and sole of each night of Competition Dining, revealed to competing chefs at 11 am the day of the battle and to the Competition Dining guests and the public who follows the social media as each dinner begins.

This narrative is the first of four 2013 “secret ingredient” posts – enjoy!

The 2013 season was the second and biggest year since founder and creator Jimmy Crippen took  the Competition statewide. Winning chefs from Blowing Rock’s Fire on the Rock, Wilmington’s Fire in the Dock,  Greensboro’s Fire in the Triad, Raleigh’s Fire in the Triangle and Charlotte’s Fire in the City all donning their coveted red jackets from the regional wins, have gathered at the Renaissance Hotel in Raleigh to compete in Final Fire to determine the statewide Champion.

Battle cheerwine and cackalacky 036

Chefs from Noble’s Grille in Winston-Salem, NC and Mimosa Grill in Charlotte, NC join Competition Dining Chef refs in an after-the -battle toast to the first battle of Final Fire.

With a $4000 cash prize, a set of Handmade Ironman Forge knives from Charlotte’s own bladesmith Steve Watkins, a trip to the CIA Napa campus compliments of Kikkoman and, of course, bragging rights.  This night, the contenders were Chef Jon Fortes and his team Chef Thomas Marlow and Chef DJ Ivey –  from Mimosa Grill in Charlotte vs chef John Bobby and his team – Chef Lucia Bobby and Chef Sara Brown – from Noble’s Grille in Winston-Salem.

In the end, Chef John Bobby and his team from Noble’s Grill pulled out the win by a third of a point – it was a close battle and a delightful evening. For more details check out my Final Fire blog post on battle Cheerwine and Cackalacky Sweet Sauce specifics; but meanwhile, read a bit more about the secret ingredients that fueled this battle’s fire…

Final Fire's November 20 Sweet Secret

Final Fire’s November 20 Sweet Secret

A Clandestine Combo

As is the case with each Competition Dining battle the evening revolves around a secret, made-or-produced-in-North-Carolina, ingredient or two. This night the secret ingredient was, in fact, a tasty twosome.

First, Cheerwine,  a legendary homegrown nectar from Salisbury, NC made with a hint on wild cherry,  and delivered with a bubbly effervescence, just as it has been since its creation in 1917. Chefs this night were required to include Cheerwine or Cheerwine syrup in each and every dish. This is a truly local beverage and many people who live outside of North Carolina may have never tasted Cheerwine until they moved to or visited the Tarheel State. Such was the case with this food writer.  Now with the intervention of the internet- Cheerwine is happily available to all.

But not so long ago, before dot coms and the internet, I grew up a Florida girl, and my first Cheerwine experience wasn’t until I came to live in North Carolina during the time I attended Queen College, now Queens University in Charlotte. My roommate was from Kannapolis and when we would go to visit her family we would stop in at a local What-A-Burger and enjoy a WitchDoctor with our delivered-to-the-car-by-a-car-hop burgers. Locally there remains a What-A-Burger in Concord NC and WitchDoctors are still available if you are interested in doing a little research. The WitchDoctor “mocktail” is a blend of Cheerwine and Sundrop (a southern-made citrus soda developed in the early 1950s) served over ice with two spears of dill pickle – an elixir of sweet and salty, it works.

Cheerwine and  a variety of Cheerwine merchandise, for those who live outside the regular distribution area, may be placed at

November Raleigh and Final Fire 134The first night of Final Fire the Cheerwine was paired with a slightly newer, made in North Carolina, kid on the block – the famously original Cackalacky Sweet Cheerwine Sauce made Chapel Hill, NC.  Final Fire chefs were required to include the tasty Cackalacky Sweet Cheerwine Sauce in at least one of there three dishes of the evening.

Page Skelton, creator of the Cackalacky brand,  first crafted his original zesty, award-winning Cackalacky condiment, dip, and topping from North Carolina-grown sweet potatoes and began to market it ten years ago. The original “famously original” Cacklacky Spice Sauce debuted in 2003.

This year Skelton decided to give his zesty Cackalacky a sweeter side and so conceptualized a sweet version of his popular sauce.

Cheerwine's Brad Porter, left, and Cackalacky's Page Skelton at Battle One of the 2013 Final Fire

New friends and business collaborators, Cheerwine’s Brad Porter, left, and Cackalacky’s Page Skelton at Battle One of the 2013 Final Fire

It was important to Page to continue to keep his product all local.

“As I began the search for a sweet North Carolina-made product to add to my original sauce – Cheerwine came to mind – it was a no brainer from there,” Skelton explained.

And why did Cheerwine consider the partnership? “We met Page and loved his enthusiasm and his energy, ” Brad Porter of Cheerwine told me. “It just seemed like a good idea that would really work.”

And work it has – the sweeter Cackalacky sauce has proven to be every bit as popular as the original brand.

North Carolina is the number one producer of sweet potatoes in the country, and Skelton is quick to acknowledge the role the North Carolina Department of Agriculture has played in making his vision for his original zesty sauce and the new sweeter version a reality.

Everyone knows that Goodness Grows in North Carolina; and as Skelton explains, “The folks at Cheerwine have been an absolute joy to work with on this project! “We are both family-owned North Carolina businesses who share a passion for creating happy moments!”

agriculture%20(stacked)And now you, dear reader  can experience happy moments all your own. With the November debut of the new Cackalacky Sweet Cheerwine Sauce, Page and the folks at Cackalacky are extending a special offer.

Simply visit and click on the Got to be NC logo found in the bottom left hand corner of the homepage – a pop up screen will appear asking for a password; just type in the word “legend” and enjoy special pricing on your first Cackalacky Sweet Cheerwine Sauce order. While you are on the website – check out all the other fabulous Cackalacky products and swag; then after you place your order, prepare to be entertained by clicking on the You Tube link at the top of the home page to see Cackalacky creator Page Skelton, a man who definitely thinks and lives “outside the box” in action – my personal favorite is the How Cackalacky ® Sauce Gets Made video – enjoy!

The Fire in the City Finale ends with a dramatic flourish as Chefs Phil Barnes from Roosters and Chef Jon Fortes from Mimosa Grill meet each other in a culinary face-off. Fortes edges out Barnes by just .27ths of a point for the win and the Championship!

All 16 2013 Competition Dining Chefs pose in front of the trademarked mobile pantry with Competition Dining host and founder Jimmy Crippen

All 16 2013 Competition Dining Chefs pose in front of the trademarked mobile pantry with Competition Dining host and founder Jimmy Crippen

Competition Dining – the amazing new culinary sport that is Charlotte’s Fire in the City, kicked off at the beginning of September with 16 Charlotte area chefs in the bracketed competition. The series  has now come to the end of its inaugural season.

Monday October 21, 2013 marked the final night of the competition and so from 16, now there were just two.

Team Roosters, from left, Chef Brian XXX, Exec Chef Phil Barnes and Chef Zack Renner

Team Roosters, from left, Chef Ryan Daughtry , Exec Chef Phil Barnes and Chef Zack Renner

Team Mimosa Grill, from left, Chef DJ Ivey, Exec chef Jon Fortes and Chef Thomas Marlow

Team Mimosa Grill, from left, Chef DJ Ivey, Exec chef Jon Fortes and Chef Thomas Marlow

The 16th and  last night of the Fire in the City series, Battle Cheese and Honey, found Chef Jon Fortes and his talented team from Mimosa Grill up against Chef Phil Barnes and the accomplished team from Roosters. Together the six chefs cooked, plated and served six amazing courses for 132 Competition Dining-goers.

At the dinners end, as is the format for each Competition Dining dinner, chefs each took a victory lap around the room greeting diners and fans and enjoying the accolades each team truly deserved for making it all the way to this final round.

But, never let it be said that North Carolina’s new sport of Competitive Dining is not without its own special drama.

When the time came for scores to be electronically tallied and teams stood ready for scores to be revealed, a technical glitch delayed the announcement of winners.

Finale Pro Judge J&W Culinary Dean Mark Allison locks in his final scores

Finale Pro Judges J&W Culinary Dean Mark Allison and WCCB’s Terrance Bates locks in their final scores

This night the thrill of victory and the disappointment of defeat were not to be known.

The chefs and crowd lingered in the dining room at Bonterra to see if the problem had an easy fix, but alas Derek Sanderson and the experts at HITS Tech couldn’t solve the problem on site. Sanderson told me that there were a total of 5280 votes that had been cast during the evening ( this includes the times that diners when back and forth to reconsider a vote before locking everything in) – he could see that the votes were all in and accounted for – but the system would not allow him to tabulate and it was too much to do by hand.

The delay in gathering votes gave way for some great photo opt time - here I am with all of the finales chefs and my two favorite Chef Refs  - Laurence Willard and Billy Seay

The delay in gathering votes gave way for some great photo opt time – here I am with all of the finale’s chefs and my two favorite Chef Refs – Laurence Willard and Billy Seay – a rock star group to be sure!

The crowd who had attended the dinner held at Bonterra Dining & Wine Room left appreciative of the food and skill shared by Fortes and Chef Phil Barnes of Rooster’s Wood-Fired Kitchen and anticipated the announcement of the winner via Facebook, Twitter and this the official Fire in the City Blog, the next day.

Sanderson and his colleagues worked through the night re-entering each and every vote and had the winning scores at 4 am the morning after.

At 9 am the morning of Tuesday October 22 the chefs and their team gathered at Central Piedmont Community College’s Culinary Building and finally at 10 am that morning, the winning scores were announced.

“Throughout two years of the statewide competition, this is the first time we’ve ever had a technical issue of any kind. It’s my worst nightmare,” said Jimmy Crippen, host and founder of the event. “I want to ensure everyone that the scores submitted by our pro judges and diners are the scores that they submitted. This was a close contest, and these numbers are authentic and correct.”

Crippen continues, “I also want the Charlotte community to know what great chef talent we have here. This has been a terrific host community for us. Charlotte should be very proud, and your champion will represent you well at Final Fire.”

Looking Glass Creamery Chocolate Lab Cheese

Looking Glass Creamery Chocolate Lab Cheese

The last evening of Fire in the City challenged the chefs to use two  featured North Carolina ingredients in each and every dish they prepared. This night the secret ingredients were Looking Glass Creamery’s Chocolate Lab cheese from Fairview, N.C. and St. Dominic’s honey from Mayodan, N.C.

St Dominic's Honey was one of the finale's Good to be NC secret ingredients

St Dominic’s Honey was one of the finale’s Good to be NC secret ingredients

Looking Glass Creamery  is a very small family farm and licensed cheesemaking facility located in Fairview, just outside of Asheville, North Carolina.  The business was started by Jennifer & Andy Perkins in January of 2009 and since the farm has become an artisanal producer of exceptional, handmade cheese. The Chocolate Lab cheese like all the other cheeses at Looking Glass is made by hand in small batches.  It is a pasteurized aged cheese and the farms original washed-rind cheese, with the pungency and intensity that is typical of the style without being overwhelming. An excellent cow’s milk cheese for eating, Chocolate Lab is also wonderful to cook with as competition diners this night were soon to find out.

St Dominic’s Honey is a family owned and operated bee yard located in Piedmont, North Carolina, offering delicious raw, wildflower honey- a perfect pairing for the cheese this night, but a product that might be hard to incorporate in a savory dish.

Chefs did  both of these “Good to be in NC” local products proud and flavors this night soared – here’s the culinary buzz for the evening  plate by plate… every delicious biteful…

Course one from Team Roosters and Chef Phil Barnes

Course one from Team Roosters and Chef Phil Barnes

Course 1 by Chef Phil Barnes was quite honestly one of my favorite courses of the evening. Here the Looking Glass Creamery Chocolate Lab was used in a flavorful Fondue at the base of the dish. Atop that was a square of layered melt-in-your-mouth Pear Pavè,  upon which sat a  thick slice of perfectly cooked Honeyed Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast . The plate was finished with Pistachios and Pomegranates. It was a great way to start the evening and I am now (not so secretly) hoping this dish will soon find its way onto the menu at Roosters!

Course two from team Mimosa and Chef Jon Fortes

Course two from team Mimosa and Chef Jon Fortes

Course 2 from Chef Jon Fortes was a trio plate of starters and a hit with the crowd and this food writer as well. It’s always fun to eat small bites and  this plate was no exception. The first bite was a Looking Glass Creamery Chocolate Lab Pimento Cheese on a cheese biscuit with Whipped Honey, Collard Kraut and Pork Confit – a full-flavored Slider or sorts; second bite a St. Dominic’s Honey Bourbon Sweet Potato “Risotto”;  and third a Chocolate Lab Old Fashioned Southern Squash Casserole with Crispy Bacon. They had me at the kraut alone…this was a high scoring plate for Fortes.

Course three from Mimosa Grill and Jon Fortes

Course three from Mimosa Grill and Jon Fortes

Course 3 also from Jon Fortes  – a seafood course of Fried Wanchese NC Shrimp nestled atop Looking Glass Creamery Chocolate Lab Smoked Tomato & Crab Risotto  and then topped with a St. Dominic’s Honey Poblano Relish and Pure Wild Honey Butter.  Not bad but not as good and the rest of what Fortes and team Mimosa put out this night. For me this was Fortes weakest plate of the night and the scores reflected that the crowd felt the same.


Course Four from Team Roosters and chef Phil Barnes

Course Four from Team Roosters and chef Phil Barnes

Course 4 from Chef Phil Barnes came in the guise of a tender St. Dominic’s Honey Glazed Cheshire Pork Belly over tasty Braised Honey Collards and  Looking Glass Creamery Chocolate Lab Sweet Potato Puree. The plate was finished with the crunch of a  Chocolate Lab Tuille

Course Five from team Roosters and chef Phil Barnes

Course Five from team Roosters and chef Phil Barnes

Course 5 was also from Chef Phil Barnes – and was the first of this nights two desserts. The plate was another trio of small bites and a sweet end to the savory courses of the evening.

Here a luscious Honey Lavender Semifreddo, atop a smear of Raspberry Coulis  and beside a rich Looking Glass Creamery Chocolate Lab Chocolate Custard Tart. To finish the plate a simple slices of Chocolate Lab drizzled with  Smoked St. Dominic’s Honey &  a delightful finish of Candied Fennel. This was another of my faves but the heavy taste of the lavender might have been too much for the crowd at large.


Course six from team Mimosa Grill and Chef Jon Fortes

Course six from team Mimosa Grill and Chef Jon Fortes

Course 6  was the final course from Chef Jon Fortes – a honey bun of sorts – the chef created a Looking Glass Creamery Chocolate Lab Cornmeal Cake soaked in Autumn Spiced St. Dominic’s Honey and topped with Apples. An Almond Honey Semifreddo sat alongside the cake and finished the plate. Desserts like these make for Sweet Dreams and Happy endings…

Team Mimosa donning the Coveted red chef jackets for the first time

Team Mimosa donning the Coveted Red Chef Jackets for the first time

Chef Jon Fortes gets the BIG check for his Fire in the City win!!

Chef Jon Fortes gets the BIG check for his Fire in the City win!!

It was a battle that could have gone to  either of these talented chefs and in the end, Chef Jon Fortes and teammates had the edge by less than a third of a point. Fortes took home the trophy, a $2000 check and a handmade chef knife made by Charlotte-based Ironman Forge in addition to the coveted red chef’s jacket. The $2000 check was presented by Mac Sullivan, chief executive officer of Pate Dawson-Southern Foods, the lead sponsor of the event and host Jimmy Crippen.

Jimmy Crippen and Fire in the City Winner Jon Fortes

Jimmy Crippen and Fire in the City Winner Jon Fortes

For more information about Mimosa Grill located in Uptown Charlotte at 327 S Tryon St  Charlotte, NC 28202; 704.343.0700,, visit

For more information on Roosters Wood-Fired Kitchen, located at 6601 Morrison Blvd, Charlotte; 704.366.8688 with a sister restaurant Roosters Uptown at 150 N College St, Charlotte; 704.370.7667, visit

Jimmy Crippen wields the Ironman Forge chefs knife that went to Fire in the City Champ  Chef Jon Fortes

Jimmy Crippen wields the Ironman Forge chefs knife that went to Fire in the City Champ Chef Jon Fortes

Chef Jon Fortes will now compete Nov. 20-23 in Raleigh, N.C. at Final Fire: Battle of the Champions against the Got To Be NC Competition Dining Champions from Asheville, Wilmington, the Triad and the Triangle.

Final Fire tickets go on sale online on Oct. 30 at 7 p.m.

Chef Jon Fortes of Mimiosa Grill and Terrance Bates of WCCB

Chef Jon Fortes of Mimiosa Grill and Terrance Bates of WCCB

The day after the winners were announced Chef Jon Fortes did a local media tour to celebrate his victory –

Here’s the link to his appearance  and interview on WCCB’s Morning News Rising show with reporter and new found Competition Dining fan, Terrance Bates:

Chef Jon Fortes with Charlotte Today's Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway

Chef Jon Fortes with Charlotte Today’s Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway






Jon prepared his Copper Ale Beer cheese soup with beer battered broccoli and a crab salad with a beer vinaigrette all made with "Good to be in NC" products such as OMB Copper beer, Ashe county cheddar cheese and  Texas Pete hot sauce. The finished plates nd products are pictured here with the hand made Ironman Forge knife by Charlotte's own Steve Watkins. The knife was one of the prizes Jon won  competition champion!

Jon prepared his Copper Ale Beer cheese soup with beer battered broccoli and a crab salad with a beer vinaigrette all made with “Good to be in NC” products such as OMB Copper beer, Ashe county cheddar cheese and Texas Pete hot sauce. The finished plate and products are pictured here with the hand made Ironman Forge knife by Charlotte’s own Steve Watkins. The knife was one of the prizes Jon won competition champion!

And the link to his cooking appearance on WCNC’s Charlotte Today with co-host Ramona Holloway: