Upbeat pop music set the mood at Raleigh’s Angus Barn Bay 7, on Monday night, as people meandered, mingled, and tasted their way through the annual North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association Chef Showdown.
Using local North Carolina ingredients in as many ways as possible, twenty chefs and six mixologists from all over the state competed to be named the NCRLA chef, pastry chef, and mixologist of the year, among other titles.
Pastry Chef of the Year went to Jamie Turner of Earl’s Grocery and Soul Food Sessions in Charlotte. She served up a county fair inspired dessert of an apple and pear brown butter bun, sweet corn ice cream, white chocolate popcorn crumble, and pickled apples. According to Turner, her goal in crafting pastries is to put an unexpected twist on comfort food that people have not seen before.
When asked how it feels to compete she said, “It means everything, I’ve been doing cakes since I was ten years old, so this is twenty-eight years in the making. I’m ready.”
Johnny Burritt, representing Chemist Spirits in Asheville, took home the title of Mixologist of the Year. (Chemist Spirits also won the title of Distillery of the Year.)
Mixologist Judge—and co-founder and head taster at Muddy River Distillery—Caroline Delaney said they were looking for a balanced drink with creative ingredients, visual appeal, and presentation. When making her final decision, she said Burritt’s confident presentation made him stand out.
Cory Haigler, chef at The Westin at Charlotte, fired up Cheerwine-braised short rib fillet, chili & parsnip creamed corn and pickled radish—leaving guests wanting more, and landing him the People’s Choice Savory award.
Meanwhile, a corn pudding dish (corn and bacon fat streusel, white chocolate, bourbon caramel, and salted butter ice cream, respectively) won Tie Whittaker of Buttermilk Boutique the People’s Choice Pastry award. Her culinary vision, she says, is “to take those southern flavors that you are used to, and elevate them into something beautiful, something that you’ve never had before.”
The People’s Choice Specialty Cocktail & Distillery award went to Jimmy Huyhn, who competed for Copper Barrel Distillery in Wilkesboro.
Finally, Smoked beef cheeks with a brain aioli, pickles and tabouli secured Steven Goff, executive chef and co-owner of AUX Bar in Asheville, the title of 2019 Chef of the Year. He describes his style as “modern southern” and Aux’s atmosphere as a cross between a dive bar and a bistro. To bring that welcoming feel to the competition, he scattered antique animal skulls and other antique finds across the table.
When asked what it means to be able to compete he said, “I just like being able to support the hospitality community in general.”
The event was presented by Got to be NC Agriculture, an initiative of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Service. The winners from the showdown will become part of a Culinary Ambassador Team created by the NC Department of Agriculture Markets Division. That team, according to NCDA food marketing specialist Chad Blackwelder, will be well-equipped to “preach the gospel about North Carolina products.”
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