Competition Dining is headed to Greenville in August, and you don’t know it yet, but it’s gonna be the hottest ticket in town. I had the pleasure of attending the finals of Competition Dining NC in Winston-Salem this week and was blown away by the excitement, the interactivity and the passion, not just the chefs, but the audience who was there to lift up and celebrate the areas most talented chefs. It was inspiring.
Chef competitions are nothing new. There’s Chopped and Top Chef… we’ve been there and done that right? Not so fast. Founder and Host, Jimmy Crippen took a successful career in the restaurant industry and flipped it into a competition dining series sought after by chefs across the Southeast. Competition Dining puts the audience in the judges seat.
This is how it works.
The number one rule in Competition Dining is to have fun. The tournament is set up as a single elimination bracket. Two chefs compete and then the winning chef competes against another winning chef until only two chefs are left standing. Chefs come to the competition with a team of three – Chef and two team mates. (A flex cook is allowed per team, as long as they don’t compete on another team). Featured ingredients are relieved to the chefs at noon on the day of competition, and to the audience as the competition begins that evening. Each chef must create three dishes incorporating featured ingredients. It can be any type of dish: appetizer, entree or desert. Six courses are served during the course of the competition. The audience has no idea which chef created which dish, so it’s totally blind. Oh, you can guess, but event organizers say even chefs’ own mothers have been wrong!
Chefs can’t cook signature dishes or use items that tip the audience off as to which dish is theirs, and they can’t cook from their own restaurant menus. Honesty and integrity are a huge part of this competition. No cell phones in the kitchen. No recipes or written documentation may be used other than basic cooking ratios. Teams cook from ingredients supplied by Pate Dawson/Southern Foods with proteins and high cost items allocated by a Chef Ref. The Chef Ref roams the kitchen making sure all rules are followed. Teams arrive at 10:30 am to the designated location. Prep takes place from 11:30am until 6:00pm. The chef teams may bring their own small equipment, but it has to be available for the competing chef to use, as well. The Chef Ref can restrict equipment for any reason. Guests arrive at 6pm and dinner service starts around 7pm. The order of courses served is determined by Chef Ref.
Judging for these competitions is unique. Each guest uses the Competition Dining App on their phone to vote on each dish in the categories of presentation, aroma, flavor of overall dish, flavor of featured ingredients, execution, creativity, use of featured ingredient and accompaniments on a scale of 1-5. There are Pros (fellow chefs and local celebrities), and Joes (that’s your local foodies, family and friends of the chefs). It’s a tough gig! Especially when you realize that the guidelines for judging are on the back of your place card. Do these dishes stack up the best restaurant you’ve been to? It’s hard! You want to give 5’s and you may be doling out a 2 or a 3. Sometimes you’re blown away and throw out a 5. Don’t worry if you have recently dropped your phone in the toilet. There are loner devices so everyone has a vote. (There are charger stations too, in case you run out of juice.)
After all dishes are served, and voting is closed, the chefs come out. One by one, the creator of each dish is revealed and the voting results are made known. Winners advance in the bracket to the finals and compete for a grand prize of $2000 and the coveted red chef jacket. The final bracket grand prize is $4000. Series scores are weighted 70% diners and 30% pro guest judges during the preliminaries and during the grand finals, scores are weighted 50/50.
Tickets are now sale for the Greenville Competition Dining events and they are going fast. It’s guaranteed to be an exciting evening that will challenge your palate and leave you exhilarated. Greenville’s competing chefs are Jennifer Barone from Stellar Restaurant and Wine Bar in Greenville, Charlie Brown from Local Cue, Blake Hartwick from Bonterra Dining & Wine Room in Charlotte, NC, Ryan Kline from Buffalo Nickel in Asheville, NC, Samuel Murry from 21 East Bar and Grille in Greenville, Damion Norton from Professional Catering in Greenville, SC, Eden Roorda of One Fifty-One Boutique Bar and Kitchen in Asheville, NC, Francis Turck from The Cliffs – Keowee Vineyards in Salem, SC, Edward Wallace of Adventures in Taste in Easley, SC, Todd Warden of The Cliffs – Valley in Greenville, SC, Nohe Weir-Villatoro of King James Public House in Asheville, NC, Bo Wilder from Henry’s Smokehouse in Greenville, SC, Anne Young from The Starving Artist Café in Easley, SC, and Teryi Youngblood of Passerelle Bistro in Greenville, SC.
For the bracket schedule and tickets to see your favorite chef compete, go to CompetitionDining.com.
Please check out my rad video from the Winston-Salem Competition Dining Finals.