Food & Drink

Charlotte Chefs and Bartenders Compete in NC Chef Showdown

Preliminary rounds begin in May for annual statewide culinary and mixology competition

Gloved hands chop food with a knife
2022 NCRLA Chef Showdown. (Courtesy of NCRLA)

If you’re a regular on the Charlotte restaurant scene, you no doubt have a favorite chef, perhaps a favorite mixologist as well, but have you ever wondered how they stack up in competition against their counterparts across the city? Or even the state?

The North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association (NCRLA) Chef Showdown is an annual statewide culinary and mixology competition that gives local chefs the chance to prove themselves in battle, Chopped style. Now in its seventh season, the 2023 Showdown features 76 chefs and 18 bartenders — the largest group that’s ever applied — with more than 20 hailing from the greater Charlotte area.

The action starts with five preliminary rounds held in May and June in different regions of the state. The Charlotte preliminary takes place on June 26 at Central Piedmont Community College’s culinary school.

Just 15 savory chefs and five pastry chefs will move on to compete in two regional rounds held in Charlotte and Raleigh. The Showdown wraps with a Grand Finale event scheduled for Aug. 14 at The Angus Barn in Raleigh, at which finalists will cook for the public, leaving the final decision in the hands of democracy. Tickets for the final will go on sale mid-July.

The six highest scoring mixology teams — consisting of an individual bartender who teams up with a North Carolina distillery — out of that field’s regional events will move on to the final, held separately in Winston-Salem.

From Charlotte, Eli Privette of The Crunkleton will work with Statesville’s Southern Distilling Company; David Schmidt of Canopy Cocktails will partner with The Hackney Distillery in Washington; and Sekani Akunyun of Lavender & Libations Experience will work with Charlotte’s Seven Jars Winery and Distillery.

A chef plates finished dishes
Chef Phillip Platoni competes in the regional rounds of the 2022 NCRLA Chef Showdown. rounds. (Courtesy of NCRLA)

Participating chefs and bartenders will showcase North Carolina products and ingredients, with judges’ honors awarded for Chef of the Year, Pastry Chef of the Year, Bartender of the Year, and Distillery of the Year, as well as People’s Choice Awards for Best Chef, Best Dessert, Best Cocktail and Best Mocktail.

Judges will also hand out three “Undeniably Dairy Awards,” new this year, to participants who best showcase the use of North Carolina dairy products in their creations.

In the lead-up to the showdown, we took a look at Charlotte chefs to watch over the next couple of months. Follow along at @NCRLAChefShowdown on Facebook and Instagram.

Ann Marie Stefaney, Your Farms Your Table

Before joining Your Farms Your Table Restaurant Group, which includes Restaurant Constance in west Charlotte, Ann Marie Stefaney helped develop the pastry program at Heirloom in Belmont. She was recognized as 2017 NCRLA Pastry Chef of the Year, competed on two Food Network competitions and worked as general manager of dining at Southminster retirement community.

Brandon Staton, Leah & Louise

Brandon Staton knows a thing or two about Southern cooking. He’s got Southern-leaning restaurants like Haymaker and The Asbury at The Dunhill Hotel on his resume, and is co-head chef at renowned Camp North End eatery Leah & Louise.

Catie Van Slyke, Krispy Kreme

Catie Van Slyke has come a long way since starting as a cake decorator at Suárez Bakery. The pastry chef has worked at Kimpton Tryon Park Hotel — home to Angeline’s and Merchant & Trade — La Belle Helene and The Ritz-Carlton. On May 1, she took on a new role as Culinary Innovation Developer at Krispy Kreme.

Charles Gardiner, Napa on Providence

Charles Gardiner has a passion for pairing food with wine, which comes into play in his roles as director of wine duties and executive chef at Napa on Providence — a bistro in south Charlotte’s Eastover neighborhood offering Napa Valley-inspired cuisine and an all-California wine list.

Chris Davis, Red Salt and Port City Club

Chris Davis splits his time between Red Salt by award-winning celebrity chef David Burke, located inside Le Méridien Charlotte in Uptown, and Port City Club in Cornelius, which Burke recently took over. Both restaurants serve upscale modern American cuisine.

Cory Haigler, Marriott International

Cory Haigler wowed crowds at the 2019 NCRLA Chef Showdown with his Cheerwine-braised short rib filet, chili and parsnip creamed corn and pickled radish. This year, he will showcase cuisine from Charlotte Marriott SouthPark’s new concept, Park Landing Kitchen + Bar.

What the Fries
Flaming hot fries by What the Fries (Photo courtesy of WTF)

Jamie Barnes, What The Fries

Jamie Barnes is the co-founder of What The Fries, a popular food truck turned brick-and-mortar that’s known for its gourmet loaded fries. The restaurant closed on March 1 due to inflation and the truck was recently totaled in an accident, leaving WTF at a standstill until enough money can be raised for a new building or truck.

Luis Chavarria, Angeline’s

With Luis Chavarria in the kitchen, Angeline’s in Uptown Charlotte boasts a modern, Italian-influenced menu in the form of house-made pastas, wood-fired pizzas and simple yet flavorful small plates.

Luke Adams, Fine & Fettle

At Fine & Fettle, located in Canopy by Hilton Charlotte SouthPark, Luke Adams creates intriguing desserts, like the Cheerwine ice cream and gastrique he made for his vegan bread pudding, or his salted caramel ice cream sandwich that’s both vegan and gluten-free.

Maribel Mendoza, Cazabe Grille Personal Chef Services

In addition to running her catering, meal prep and personal chef business for over a decade, Maribel Mendoza has also worked in the kitchens at Kimpton Tryon Park Hotel, Charlotte Marriott Center City, The Ritz-Carlton and The Ballantyne Hotel.

Marketa Lucas, Exotic Taste Catering

Marketa Lucas’ cooking style is Southern with an Afro-Spanish twist that’s savory, sweet and a little spicy. She started Exotic Taste Catering when she was in high school, but has since worked as a chef at Fish Market in Fort Mill, Búho Bar and Angeline’s.

McNinch House
McNinch House (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Matthew Shepard, McNinch House Restaurant

After a few years at YAFO Kitchen, Matthew Shepard recently returned to the iconic McNinch House Restaurant in Charlotte’s Fourth Ward to reprise his role as executive chef. The longtime fine dining restaurant is known for its chef-driven tasting menus.

Olajuwon Mason, Fine & Fettle

At Fine & Fettle, executive chef Olajuwon Mason’s preference is to allow the natural flavors of food to express themselves. The farm-to-table restaurant focuses on seasonality, and working with neighboring farmers to seek out the finest in regional and local produce is the essence of Mason’s cuisine.

Reyaña Radcliff, Your Braisen Chef

Reyaña Radcliff has worked in the kitchens at Providence and Myers Park country clubs, and The Ballantyne Hotel, but now runs Your Braisen Chef, her catering and vegan meal prep company. Her passion is to create memorable, healthy food from scratch and to teach others.

Savanna Brodar, The Ballantyne Hotel

In addition to the Gallery Restaurant, The Ballantyne offers a selection of sweets and savories at afternoon tea — undoubtedly crafted by executive pastry chef Savanna Brodar. She was previously a pastry chef at The Ritz-Carlton, the Grand Bohemian Hotel and the Kimpton Tryon Park Hotel in Uptown.

A look inside PARA
A look inside PARA in South End. (Photo by Peter Taylor)

Suzette Ramsey, PARA

South End restaurant PARA is known for its globally influenced small plates, but the dessert menu by pastry chef Suzette Ramsey shines just as bright. It features a vegan matcha cheesecake and “Halo Halo” — mango, pandan leches, shaved ice, ube ice cream, ube straw and pistachio praline crumble — that’s also vegan.

Trevor Edey, Embassy Suites by Hilton

Trevor Edey introduces people to flavors from around the world through Tasty Tre’s, his private chef and catering service, and his role as executive chef at Embassy Suites. His past includes stints at The Speedway Club at Charlotte Motor Speedway, several restaurants at Charlotte Douglas International Airport and Uptown Yolk.

Tyler Phillips, Chef Tyler

Tyler Phillips began as a “hobby” chef at age 8 when he won a 4H tomato growing contest in rural Ohio. He’s been growing his own ingredients ever since, using his garden of edible flowers, herbs and veggies to craft healthy and creative cuisine for his clients.

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