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Fire in the City is Charlotte’s hot ticket next week

If you want to join in on Fire in the City, the Charlotte stop in the statewide Competition Dining event, you have to figure out which ticket will be the hottest one – and grab it quick.

Since it’s a bracket, with local chefs facing off at Bonterra through Sept. 15, chefs for the final dinners Sept. 16 and Sept. 22 are still unknown. Tickets for seven for the 15 dinners are still available.

But it’s narrowing fast: So far, Luca Annunziata of Passion8 beat Clark Barlowe of Heirloom, Tom Dyrness of Mama Ricotta’s beat Brian Mottola of e2, David Feimster of Fahrenheit beat David Quintana of Southminster, David Moore of Gallery beat Ben Philpott of Block & Grinder, and Brent Martin of the Summit Room beat Jon Spencer of Epic Chophouse, and Brian Williams of Upstream beat Chris Coleman of The Asbury.

Both diners and invited professional judges (including myself at Wednesday night’s dinner) vote for every round, and the chefs have to work with some complicated secret ingredients.

Cooking teacher and writer Heidi Billotto now works for competition with organizer Jimmy Crippen, so she gets to watch every contest. Charlotte’s matchups have been exceptionally close, she says.

Wednesday night was a good example: Coleman appeared to have it sewn up until the final vote was revealed for dessert. He ended up losing to Williams by 1.86 points.

Coleman and Williams had to struggle with a challenging set of secret ingredients: Uncle Scott’s Root Beer, made in Mooresville, Yukon Gold potatoes, and “mirepoix” (meer-pwah), the mixture of diced onions, carrots and celery that is a foundation of classic cooking.

The mirepoix, Coleman admitted later, “was kind of ridiculous.”

The dining competition came to Charlotte for the first time last year, after starting in Blowing Rock (Fire on the Rock, now in Asheville), and going on to Wilmington (Fire on the Dock), and Greensboro (Fire in the Triad) before ending in Raleigh (Fire in the Triangle).

Charlotte’s events sold out quickly last year, and that’s continuing this year. Tickets are still available for Tuesday (Wooden Vine vs. Carpe Diem) and Wednesday (Mimosa Grill vs. Fish Market), as well as Sept. 9 (Fahrenheit vs. Gallery), Sept. 15 (Epic Chophouse vs. Upstream) and the Sept. 16, 22 and 23 semifinals. The finale, Sept. 29, is sold out.

“We figured (Charlotte) would surpass Raleigh in vibrancy, and it did,” Crippen raved Wednesday night.

If you’re going, remember: You may be seated with strangers at the bigger tables, so try to get friends to go with you; and don’t forget your smart phone – you’ll need one to cast your votes. (We were relieved they added a charging station this year, since voting draws down power fast.)

Expect a very mixed crowd, with all ages and dress codes (we saw shorts to slinky dresses) and a wide range of food knowledge, from restaurant insiders to “why is my soup cold?” (Because it was vichyssoise: They had to do something with all those potatoes.)

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