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

It’s Battle Olde Mecklenberg Brewery Copper Amber Ale with Chef Brian Mottola, e2 Emeril’s Eatery VS Charlotte Chef Jon Fortes, Mimosa Grill, Charlotte. Chef Jon Fortes taps the win and pours on into the semi finals!

team e2 Emerils Eaters with chefs

Team e2 Emerils Eaters with chefs Michael Quetti, Chris Langdon and Brian Mottola

Team Mimosa Grill with Chefs

Team Mimosa Grill with Chefs, from left, Jon Fortes, Thomas Marlow and DJ Ivey

It was bound to happen…with so much local beer in the Carolinas it was just a matter of time before beer was the secret ingredient for Competition Dining’s Fire in the City.

On Monday Oct 7, 2013, the third battle of the quarter finals, things were indeed brewing at Bonterra Dining & wine room for Battle Olde Mecklenberg Brewery Copper Amber Ale with two talented chefs at the helm – Chef Brian Mottola and his team from e2 Emeril’s Eatery and Chef Jon Fortes and his team from Mimosa Grill –  two of uptown Charlotte’s best places to dine.

OMB Copper - the secret ingredient for Battle 13 of Fire in the City

OMB Copper – the secret ingredient for Battle 13 of Fire in the City

When I met with all six chefs around noon this day, they had checked out the Mobile Pantry fully stocked for the competition by title sponsors Pate Dawson/Southern Foods, but they had no idea what the secret ingredient might be.

“It’s easier not to think about it so much,” said Chef Thomas Marlow from team Mimosa Grill. ” if you have a plan for what you think it might be, when you find out what is really is, you just have to rethink it all over again.”

When pressed to guess, these chefs though it might be local honey and /or eggs; but I don’t think any of them ever suspected beer. They were dumbfounded for just a moment when Chef Ref Lawrence Willard made the big reveal. Each team had 7 growlers – or 7 (74 oz) glass jugs- of Olde Mecklenberg Brewery’s Copper Amber Ale with which to cook for nearly 130 dinner guests.

If you are doing the math – that’s 780 plates in all – 390 for each team… and all of them had to incorporate the taste and the nuances of OMB’s Copper.

A Taste of the action on the line during service

A Taste of the action on the line during service

While that’s a bunch of people to serve and while each team is responsible for three of the six plates, one of the truly wonderful things about Competition  Dining is the camaraderie the chefs find in the kitchen. It goes without saying that everyone wants to win – but each night after the food and the flavor, its about getting it all out to the guests so the chefs work together on the line to help each other plate.

Chef Ref Lawrence Willard sets the Copper on tap at the Bonterra Bar

Chef Ref Lawrence Willard sets the Copper on tap at the Bonterra Bar

If you could take a look in the kitchen at any given time during service, you wouldn’t know which chef’s plates were going out because its a team effort to make it all work – all under the guidance of two of the most stand up guys I have ever had the pleasure of meeting – Pate Dawson-Southern Foods’ & Competition Dining’s  Chef Refs: Chef Lawrence Willard and Chef Billy Seale. These dinners simply wouldn’t work without them.

A toast to the beverage good for what "ales" you

A toast to the beverage good for what “ales” you

This night My biggest worry was that this dinner might not work for me – You see, for this food  and blog writer, this particular ingredient was a bit of a challenge. Before this night I was not a beer drinker. I love the way all beer smells, and I’ve tasted and tasted and tried and tried to like it,  but when it comes to drinking, it is never been my beverage of choice.

Heidi and the beer guys - from left - With Daniel Hartis, Cam Heiliger, Heidi Billotto and Matt McKenzie

Heidi and the beer guys – from left – With Beer Blogger, Daniel Hartis, OMB’s own Cam Heiliger, Heidi Billotto and Beer columnist, Matt McKenzie

That said I’m a team player and I knew that  OMB’s Cooper has a lot of culinary nuances so I jumped in with both feet anxious to learn of the possibilities. As my luck would have it  the  Competition Dining powers that be sat me at a table with all the “beer guys” so I could learn first hand from the experts. It was delightful company  and delicious fare, leaving me at  dinner’s end, not older “Bud-wiser”  on the nuances of local beer.

In case you are wondering what makes this particular ingredient so special, OMB Copper is an authentic Düsseldorf style “Altbier.” Alt (pronounced ‘Aahlt’) literally means “old” in German, as in “old school.” In other words, it’s beer the old fashioned way with just four ingredients – water, yeast, hops and time.

The result in Copper, OMB’s flagship brew is a “lagered ale” that beer lovers describe as amazingly satisfying. For me it was not so hoppy – which was a good thing and I must say, it paired better with the food this night than did wine or any other beverage.

So beer or not, as is the case in each Competition Dining meal, the test is to make the most of the flavor of the secret ingredient and it was the collective opinion of all in attendance this night that  e2’s Brian Mottola and Mimosa Grill’s Jon Fortes served this secret ingredient well.

Here’s what was on tap:

Course One from Chef Brian Mottola

Course One from Chef Brian Mottola

Course 1 from Chef Mottola and the e2 team, was I thought, amazing; problem was while it tasted good with the beer,  it didn’t taste much like the beer. On the center of the plate a crispy Bacon Torchon with a side of OMB Copper Amber Ale Braised Broccolini and deliciously sweet – almost too sweet – Caramel Apples

Course two from team Mimosa ad Chef Jon Fortes

Course two from team Mimosa ad Chef Jon Fortes

Beer novice that I am, I honestly didn’t realize that Course 1 was lacking any beer flavor until I tasted Course 2 from Chef Fortes. The Beer Cheese,  the Beer Battered Broccolini, and the Beer Peppers, in particular all hinted of OMB’s Copper and tossed together with sweet Little River Lump Crab and a light OMB Copper Amber Ale Vinaigrette it worked and scored team Mimosa some high points.

Course Three from Chef Brian Mottola

Course Three from Chef Brian Mottola

Course 3 came from Chef Mottola who had me at the quail. It was a delicious plate and the maple “sting” was killer. good
Manchester Farms Crispy Quail with Parsnip Puree
Maple “Sting” OMB Copper Glaze and a  Sage-Citrus Gremolata

Course Four from Chef Jon Fortes

Course Four from Chef Jon Fortes

Course 4 was described by guest Pro judge OMB’s Cam Heiliger as “brilliant”  and the other Pro judges at my table agreed. The pairing of barley in a risotto made with beer was perfect and garnered this dish high scores. It was OMB Copper Glazed “Naked Bird” Chicken Roulade stuffed with
Cheshire Pork atop a bed of  Beer & Barley Risotto with a
Crispy Chicken and  Celery & Apple Slaw finish on top. Delish!

Course Five by Chef Brian Mottola

Course Five by Chef Brian Mottola

Beer for dessert? With a bit of out of the box thinking from these talented chefs but, of course… 

Course 5 was from team e2 and chef Mottola – a OMB Copper Amber Ale Ice Cream, with a crispy edged Brown Butter Sponge Cake
Under is all was a square of OMB Copper Chocolate Fudge,  finished with what I thought was a clever Porcini mushroom Streusel

Course six from team Mimosa Grill

Course six from team Mimosa Grill

Then came Course 6  and what might have been a close match was about to change. Mimosa Grill’s Chef DJ Ivey’s conception of an OMB Dessert Trio simply knocked people’s socks off – the trio consisted of  a delicious Orange Scented OMB Copper Crackle Bar; a tasty OMB Copper Ice Cream Sandwich with Beer Ganache ( oh my!) and a demi tasse sized OMB Copper Ice Cream Float, yes that’s beer with ice cream on top – a new way to eat your beer and drink it too! Ales well that ends well !

Competition Dining host Jimmy Crippens interviews Chef Jon Fortes at the dinner's end

Competition Dining host Jimmy Crippens interviews Chef Jon Fortes at the dinner’s end

Fortes and team Mimosa stoutly defeated the competition this night and will go on to the semi finals to compete against team Passion 8 Bistro and chef Luca Annunziata on Tuesday Oct 15, 2013.

Chef Jon Fortes from Mimosa grill and Chef Brian Mottola from e2 look forward battling it out again at  Competition Dining 2014

Chef Jon Fortes from Mimosa grill and Chef Brian Mottola from e2 look forward battling it out again at Competition Dining 2014

Congrats to all the chefs – it was an incredible dinner and I know we will see all of you back in the competition at next year’s Fire in the City!

Meanwhile, for more information on Mimosa Grill located at 327 S Tryon St, Charlotte, NC 28202; 704.343.0700, visit

For more information on e2 Emerils Eatery located at 135 Levine Avenue of the Arts #100, Charlotte, NC 28202; 704.414.4787, visit

For more information on Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, visit