North Carolina is in the middle of the Competition Dining Series – a single-elimination series of competitions among 40 of the top chefs from around the state.
However, one chef was an unexpected addition to this year’s competition.
The Cypress of Charlotte retirement community’s Brady Lutzdoesn’t specialize in one area.
“Working at The Cypress is different than being in a restaurant or catering,” Lutz said. “I have a captive audience, so I always have to be doing something different. We change the menus frequently and run all sorts of special events to keep everything fresh.”
The Cypress, in the SouthPark area, is an upscale retirement living community that offers daily activities, weekly guest performers, extensive manicured grounds and a cruise ship dining experience.
Lutz grew up in Greensboro where he worked in family restaurants.
Last year, he was invited to be a judge at one round of the Competition Dining Series.
“I felt that if Brady was good enough to be a judge last year, then he was good enough to be a competitor this year,” said Michelle Doggett, special events coordinator at The Cypress.
The application process took into account the activity of social media pages and the use of local ingredients in The Cypress menu. Lutz was selected as a contestant for Round 7, held on April 6 at Bonterra Dining & Wine Room on Cleveland Avenue. His competitor was Chef John Morey from Bank of America Stadium.
The challenge was to serve three courses, with every dish judged by the audience and a panel of judges. The combined audience and judges’ scores made up the final score for each dish.
The Cypress community packed the house. According to Lutz, whenever they said his name, he could hear whooping, clapping and whistling.
“Once our members heard that Brady was going to be in the competition, they wanted to go. We sold out our bus that holds 35 people,” said Doggett.
In the end, Morey beat Lutz. But Lutz’ dessert stole the show.
His chocolate-glazed profiteroles with ricotta-vanilla bean ice cream, caramelized plantains and sour cherry foam topping earned the highest score of any dish that night.
“This was a learning experience,” said Lutz. “Now that I know the process, I can’t wait until next year.”
Despite being eliminated, Lutz was showered with praise and support by The Cypress members.
“By the end, he was covered in kiss marks,” Doggett said. “Everyone was just so happy for him.”
Walking through The Cypress dining room with Lutz on April 14, members flagged him down, smiling and eager to talk to their favorite chef. He knows most of them by name.
For Lutz, the competition loss was minor. His fans number in the hundreds and eat at his restaurant at least once a day. That’s a prize few chefs can boast.
Lauren Bailey is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Lauren? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.