Food & Drink

Charlotte chefs, get ready to rumble

John Edwards (left), Shawn Bank and Jeff Croft of Bistro 127 in Hickory are ready to throw it down.
John Edwards (left), Shawn Bank and Jeff Croft of Bistro 127 in Hickory are ready to throw it down. Bistro 127

Basketball is long over, football is weeks away and the Olympics is, well, who knows what will happen there? What’s a competition nut to do?

Take it the tables: The 2016 Competition Dining series, the statewide chef tournament, returns to Charlotte in August, bringing team brackets, surprise ingredients, nail-biters and all the food flash that fills up Bonterra every year.

Founder and host Jimmy Crippen, who started with the event Fire on the Rock 11 years ago in the mountains and then took the chef-battle theme across the state, has made several changes this year, including one big one:

Instead of chef against chef or restaurant against restaurant, this year will be chef team against chef team. Groups of chefs have picked each other like kids choosing sides on the playground.

Calling it “the dream team concept,” Crippen says his idea was to mix it up so that good chefs who may cook for unusual places, like retirement centers or country clubs, get a chance to play against the headline restaurants. It also means there are more new names on the list, instead of Charlotte’s usual A-team chefs.

“Some of these restaurants are so small, you can’t keep your restaurant open in order to battle. So in the spirit of networking, we said, ‘put together a team of whoever you want.’”

Also new this year: While there will still be a secret ingredient with North Carolina ties, teams also have to divvy up a larger basket of items and have to use whatever they pick. That may also push chefs out of their comfort zones and away from the kind of food they usually prepare.

In minor changes, Crippen has moved the events earlier, so they finish up closer to 9:30 p.m. (diners who have to work the next morning will be grateful), and instead of downloading a voting app, you’ll vote on a website you can access on your phone. (What won’t change: That crowd around the outlets, while everyone keeps their smartphones juiced up.)

As usual, the votes are divided between “pros” (mostly chefs and food professionals) and “Joes” (paying customers), with a kitchen observer weighing in on things like sanitation, time management and sportsmanship.

All the dinners are at Bonterra, with the first bracket next week (Aug. 8, 9, 11) and the second Aug. 22, 23 and 25. The winners of the two brackets face off Aug. 28.

Winners of all the cities end up in a Battle of Champions in October at the N.C. State Alumni Center in Raleigh. Charlotte and Wilmington are the only contests will ahead.

After five years, Crippen says the competition is doing exactly what he wanted it to do, in attracting attention to North Carolina’s wide range of talen.

“When people talk about the hot culinary states of the country, North Carolina is one of them. And I think it shows when the James Beard nominations come out.”

Want to play? Tickets are $59 (plus tax, service fee and beverages); $69 for the finale. Find them online at

Charlotte’s Competition teams

3 Cooks: Paul Verica of Heritage, Joseph Bonaparte of the International Culinary Institute of Myrtle Beach (and a “favorite son” here in Charlotte), and pastry Ashley Bivens Boyd, who divides her time between Heritage and 300 East.

Radical RangeRiders: Adam Reed of Sante, Terra Ciotta of the Art Institute of Charlotte and the school’s Artisan Restaurant, and Matthew Sganga of Stone Table.

Bistro 127: Shawn Bank, John Edwards and Jeff Croft, all from Bistro 127 in History.

Vicious & Delicious: Ryan Forte and Phillip Platoni of Southminster and Bridgette Oger of Craft Cakes.

Luciano’s: John Soillis, Daniel De Dios and Giovanni Bassi, all from Luciano’s Ristorante Italiano.

Fahrenheit: David Feimster, Lewis Carter and pastry chef Rachel Child of Fahrenheit Charlotte.

Heirloom: Clark Barlowe, Zack Gragg and pastry chef Ann Marie Stefany, all from Heirloom.

Les Trois Petite Cochons: Neil Bratton, Fish Market Bar and Grill, Jon Ernst, Cafe Monte, and Wade Waller, formerly of Standard Brewing of Missouri, who just relocated here.

2016 Winners So Far

Durham: Team Eggheads (Scott Schabot, Keith Calise and Tad Balio of Another Broken Egg Cafe).

Winston-Salem: Team Vidalia Boom (Sam Ratchford, Julius Kalman and Jason Walsh of Vidalia in Boone).

Greensboro: Sedgefield Culinary Crushers (James Patterson III, Isaac Spencer and Tim Alson of Sedgefield Country Club).

Raleigh: Team Mirepoix (Franz Propst, Peak City Grill in Apex, Ryan Summers, Chef’s Palette in Cary, and Tom Halik, Main Street Grille Cafe in Wake Forest.).

Still ahead: Wilmington, Sept. 19, 20 and 22.