The SUPER BOWL of Food & Wine Comes to Angus Barn - The NCRLA Chef Showdown 2023
Imagine the Oscars, Emmys and Tonys plus Food Network Tournament of Champions all rolled into one and tied with a bow made from North Carolina food and wine...the result is the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Chef Showdown and I was fortunate to attend the event recently.
The event was hosted at the luxurious Pavilion at Angus Barn and it was my first time in this immense structure that was transformed into a food mecca with 19 chefs, 5 pastry chefs and 6 teams of mixologists creating cocktails and mocktails. It was truly a spectacle for the senses with the sights, sounds and smells of hundreds of patrons all sampling cuisine and libations. In order to qualify for this event each chef (or mixologist) had to survive a grueling series of competitions dating back to early May.
The entire evening was a total sensory overload for the senses. Exotic flavors and ingredients combined with the epitome of skill and culinary precision all paired with the crème de la crème of North Carolina wines.
Did I neglect to mention that not only were North Carolina wines represented but only the very best as determined by the recent NC Wine Competition that I was privileged to judge. It was exhilarating at each stop to be greeted personally by someone i knew from the NC Wine family. From Dawn at Hinnant to Larry at Brandon Hills to Jon from Sanctuary it was like a homecoming for NC Wine.
A huge shoutout to the following area restaurants that were represented during the coveted final phase of the competition. The next time I am considering dining out these establishments are bound to be at the top of my list:
Chef Ade Carrena | Dounou Cuisine, Raleigh
Chef Bobby McFarland | Wye Hill Hospitality, Raleigh
Chef Kyle Teears | Craften Neighborhood Food & Drink, Knightdale
Chef Sera Cuni | The Root Cellar Cafe, Pittsboro & Chapel Hill
Chef Trenton Shank | Plum Southern Kitchen & Bar, Durham
Cocktails as well as mocktails were presented by the following:
Megan King of Antidote Bar representing Chemist Spirits
Eli Privette of The Crunkleton representing Southern Distilling Company
Logan Amick of Revival 1869 representing Weldon Mills Distillery
Ian Murray of Foundation representing Cook’s Mill Whiskey
Sekani Akunyun of Lavender & Libations Experience representing Seven Jars Distillery
Stephanie Elliott of Merle’s representing Call Family Distillers
For a select few, months of hard work and planning resulted in them reaching the pinnacle of the awards ; special congratulations to the ultimate biggest winners of the event which were:
NCRLA ChefShowdown Chef of the Year
Chef Ade Carrena, Dounou Cuisine, Raleigh
First Runner Up: Chef Luke Owens, Native Fine Diner, Greenville
NCRLA ChefShowdown Pastry Chef of the Year
Pastry Chef Emily Parker, Native Fine Diner, Greenville
First Runner Up: Savanna Brodar, The Country Club of North Carolina, Pinehurst
NCRLA ChefShowdown Mixologist and Distillery of the Year
Stephanie Elliott of Merle’s representing Call Family Distillers, Wilkesboro
First Runner Up: Mixologist Ian Murray of Foundation, Raleigh
representing Cook’s Mill Whiskey in Mebane
2023 NCRLA ChefShowdown People’s Choice Award
People’s Choice Chef: Bobby McFarland of Wye Hill Hospitality in Raleigh
People’s Choice Pastry Chef: Jill Wasilewski of Ivory Road Café & Kitchen in Arden
People’s Choice Specialty Cocktail: Sekani Akunyun of Lavender & Libations Experience representing Seven Jars Distillery in Charlotte
NCRLA ChefShowdown Undeniably Dairy Awards
Best Use of Cow’s Milk Dairy in a Savory Dish
Chef Sera Cuni | The Root Cellar Cafe, Pittsboro & Chapel Hill
Best Use of Cow’s Milk Dairy in a Dessert
Pastry Chef Ann Marie Stefaney of Restaurant Constance
Best Use of Cow’s Milk Dairy in a Cocktail or Mocktail
Megan King of Antidote, representing Chemist Spirits
Each year the the top championship titles of NCRLA Chef of the Year and NCRLA Pastry Chef of the Year receive the coveted title of being named North Carolina Department of Agriculture Culinary Ambassadors. Not only do they join a long impressive list of former winners but they
get to assist the Department of Agriculture in it's mission and vision for agriculture in the state. In addition, the chef and pastry chef who are awarded first runner-up honors and the People’s Choice Award winners in each of those categories also receive the honor of being culinary ambassadors.
And to make the evening even more special, i had the pleasure of meeting again and posing for a photo with Heidi Billotto, a noteworthy food and wine expert, based out of Charlotte, who I had the pleasure of meeting when we both were judges for the recent NC Wine competition. Little did I know, she has been instrumental in the development of this event since it's inaugural in 2015.
Speaking of Charlotte, congratulations to the many participants from the "Queen City" that were part of this event. My daughter called Charlotte home for many years and although her residence is now Manhattan she still calls Charlotte home. Thanks to her I have a special affinity for Charlotte cuisine and as you can see, the home of the Carolina Panthers was well represented:
Pastry Chef Ann Marie Stefaney | Restaurant Constance, Charlotte
Chef Catie Van SlykPastrye | Krispy Kreme, Charlotte
Chef Jamie Barnes | What the Fries, Charlotte
Chef Olajuwon Mason | Kimpton Tryon Park Hotel, Charlotte
Pastry Chef Savanna Brodar | Charlotte
I would also like to say kudos to whoever was part of the decision to pair this year's featured competition dishes with NC Wine. Whoever they are they will go down in history alongside the visionaries who discovered peanut butter and jelly, bacon and eggs and burgers with fries. Pairing their featured finale offerings with the best that the state has to offer in wine showcases a billion dollar industry that has grown to represent over 200 wineries, nearly 400 vineyards and a handful of enthusiastic wine bloggers and influencers i am honored to be a part of. When it comes to the delicacies of food and wine pairings what better to pair NC food with than NC wine..."what grows together goes together".
It is hard to believe that this was my very first time attending this event. I can assure you that next year I will make an effort to venture out to some of the preliminary rounds of competition, many of which were an easy drive from the Raleigh Durham Chapel Hill area.
When you say the word restaurant to me it conjures up my memories of the old days when I was the headwaiter of not one but two fine dining establishments and where i would eventually meet my wife of soon to be 35 years. My passion for wine, especially North Carolina wine, is well documented. The combination of culinary excellence coupled with outstanding NC wine has created an experience i will make sure is on my calendar annually especially if NC Wine is part of the experience!
Cheers and see you next year at the 2024 NCRLA Chef Showdown!