And the 2017 Winners Are…

2017 Chef Showdown Logo

As each of the participating chefs, mixologists, distillers, judges, co-hosts and sponsors bask in the afterglow of a wonderful 2017 NC Chef Showdown, presented by Got To Be NC on behalf of the NCRLA, we couldn’t let this week end without to sharing a recap of highlights of the Aug 21, 2017 event and congratulate all of our winners once again!

Lights, camera, eclipse, and action…

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The day of the August 21 started early for the team from the NCRLA  led by event coordinator extraordinaire Mindy Wharton, as they transformed the event space at Market Hall and 214 Martin Street in Raleigh from an empty venue to a warm and festive party scene set to celebrate the work of North Carolina’s participating chefs, restaurants and mixologists.

Stopping only to view the eclipse – how could they not? –  flowers were arranged, gift bags stuffed, tables draped, bars set, beer & wine delivered, all as 16 participating chefs and six mixologists started to arrive to get things ready for the crowd of 300+ attendees. The evening  was a spectacular blend of music, food and drink, a bit of industry networking and tons of fun for all.


The crowd arrived at 6, but the action started at 5 pm as chefs began presenting their individual dishes to our esteemed panel of six culinary judges. The judging process took approximately two and half hours, with a different chef presenting every 10 minutes.

Then through the course of the evening,  the chefs and their assistants served generous sample-sized portions of their dishes to the crowd who were doing a bit of judging all their own in making their selections for the 2017 NC Chef Showdown People’s Choice awards for best of show in both the Sweet and Savory categories.


2017 NCRLA Chef of the Year

Chef  Matthew Krenz | The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel

285A0864After all was said, done and eaten. Chef Matthew Krenz of The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel in Charlotte NC was awarded with the coveted 2017 NCRLA Chef of the Year award. His plate, a reflection of  the way he cooks each day at The Asbury, and a nod to his family’s cattle ranch, Krenz Ranch in Marshville, North Carolina.

IMG_6224The Asbury features a Krenz Ranch blackboard on the menu and offerings vary from day to day, week to week, as Chef Matthew and his team use each and every part of the animal. This night Krenz’s dish featured the Krenz Ranch beef fat. “I can tell you that there is a whole lot more fat on an animal than there is fillet mignon,” he told the judges. ” So I wanted to feature it here to demonstrate how important it is that we use all of the parts of the animal.” To that end, Krenz created his Krenz Ranch Beef Fat Sweet Potato Confit for the Showdown using local Sorghum, North Carolina Sweet Potato Puree, Sweet Potato Chips, Assorted Peppers, Bosky Acre Goat Cheese Crema and Microgreens.


2017 NCRLA Pastry Chef of the Year

Chef Ann Marie Stefaney | Heirloom Restaurant

3I7A8610 2On the sweeter side of things. the top pastry honors went to Pastry Chef Ann Marie Stefaney of Heirloom Restaurant, also in Charlotte as she was named 2017 NCRLA Pastry Chef of the Year. Like Krenz and the team at the Asbury, Stefaney , Heirloom Executive Chef Clark Barlow and his team take pride in making use of everything they source from local farms.

IMG_6222Chef Barlow also forages which gives Stefany a plentiful local pantry from which to draw on for inspiration. Heirloom has the distinction of using ONLY North Carolina products  on the menu and so every item on Stefaney’s dessert plate had local roots. Her plate was a dramatic presentation and a play on the idea of “Coconut Apricot Cake” with fig leaves, chanterelle mushrooms, chocolate dirt, smoked blackberries, chantilly cream and acorn-candied pecans.


2017 NCRLA Mixologist of the Year

 Amanda Britton |  204 North Kitchen and Cocktails

Muddy River Distillery

Because man and woman cannot live by food along, there was also drink. This was the first official year that mixologists were a part of the competition and they stirred up excitement throughout the evening at individual bars each crafting a specific cocktail made for the occasion.

285A0859The mixologists were selected and sponsored by six local North Carolina Distilleries; and throughout the evening our panel of three Mixology judges walked from bar to bar  to judge drinks and mixologists alike to ultimately award the title of NCRLA Mixologist of the Year to Amanda Britton, of 204 North Kitchen & Cocktails in  Charlotte NC.

285A0539Amanda represented Muddy River Distillery in Belmont with her creative mix, named for the spirit in the featured cocktail: Queen Charlotte’s Clarified Milk Punch. A unique blend of  Muddy River’s reserve Queen Charlotte Rum with cognac, absinthe, green tea, whole milk, sugar, lemons, pineapple and spices. Stay tuned for our post next week with the complete recipe for Amanda’s winning cocktail as well as those of the other five mixologists competing in the 2017 Showdown.

IMG_6202 While these culinarians from North Carolina’s Queen City, pictured here with NCRLA president and CEO Lynn Minges and Chairman of the Board, Mike Martino with Sheraton Imperial Hotel and Convention Center, took the triple crown of top awards at the 2017 Showdown, there were still more accolades to come, both from the judges’ tables as well as from the crowd of guests in attendance.

2017 NCRLA NC Chef Showdown GotToBeNC, Most Creative Plate and People’s Choice Award Winners

Twenty percent of each chefs totally score was based on  the use of local North Carolina product, while another 30 percent was based on creativity of concept and presentation. Our top award winners scored high marks in each category, but there were also others who deserved recognition.

IMG_6232The “GotToBeNC Award” for Pastry, made possible by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, and awarded for the best use of local products in a dessert went this year to Pastry Chef Hannah Woociker of Highland Avenue restaurant in Hickory North Carolina for her plate entitled, “Summer Fields” The delicious, and eventually award-winning, melange on Chef Woociker’s plate included a Lime Basil Mousse, Macerated Muscadine Grapes, Lard Dough Crumble, Muscadine Sauce, and a delicate Sunflower Seed Brittle.


IMG_6163The “GotToBeNC Award” – again from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture –  for the 2017 Showdown’s savory side of things was awarded to chef Lil Lacassagne of the Burke Manor Inn & Pavilion in Gibsonville, NC, located just outside of Greensboro.  Chef Lil’s dish  was a tasty North Carolina French Surf and Turf with Smoked Trout Tartare served in a trout skin cone and Duck Confit Parmentier with North Carolina Collards. The  composed plate included  NC Apple Roasted Roses  on a bed of bacon with a NC peach glaze and was garnished with real roses from the inn’s garden, a tip of Chef Lil’s toque to the city of Gibsonville, also known as the City of Roses.


IMG_6229The Most Creative Dish Award honors were also given to one sweet and one savory dish.

Most Creative Dish for Pastry went to pastry Chef Shelby Smith of Top Of the Hill Restaurant in Chapel Hill, NC. Chef Shelby’s dish featured fresh seasonal figs from three local farms. While her Bruleéd Figs took center stage on the plate, her homemade Goat Cheese Ice Cream, & Buttermilk Cornmeal Cake with Apple Gel, Honey “Caviar”, and Meringue shards comprise the delicious cast of  supporting flavor and texture.


IMG_6152And then there was the Most Creative Dish of the savory plates. Presentation always sets the tone and in this case winner Chef Tim Grandinetti of Spring House Restaurant. Kitchen & Bar in Winston-Salem NC decided to go big or go home.Each individual judges plate of Chef Grandinetti’s BBQ Spiced Chicken Confit with BBQ Dip featuring NC’s Cheerwine “Pop” & Compressed Watermelon; Sweet Corn & Garden Pepper-studded Cast-Iron Skillet griddled Hoecake with Duke’s Creamy & Crispy Slaw; and Pickled Peaches was presented under a dome encapsulated with a warm, rich smokiness. Judges lifted their own to take in the aroma before the first bite of the dish.

As the professional judges considered each dish and cocktail, 2017 Showdown guests were invited to judge as well. Each guest had one vote in each category, giving color coded tickets to their favorite savory plate, sweet plate and cocktail. We are proud to announce our 2017 NCRLA NC Chef Showdown People’s Choice winners are….


cocktailsFor 2017 People’s Choice Best Cocktail the award went to Mixologist Jesse Cortez representing Graybeard Distillery’s Bedlam Vodka. Graybeard is in Durham NC and  is a relatively new North Carolina distillery producing a grain to glass spirit from rice! Cortez’s creative cocktail was called “All Dogs Go To Heaven” and combined the smooth taste of Bedlam with a unique grapefruit tonic. it is pictured here in the glass in the foreground of this great cocktail shot shared with us by Raleigh-based blogger Jenny Field, Pastry Chef Online, who covered the event on her social media feeds.


0819172143aFor 2017 People’s Choice Best Savory Dish, honors and congratulations go once again  to Chef Tim Grandinetti of Springhouse Restaurant, Kitchen & Bar in Winston-Salem North Carolina, this years only double award winner! While the plates for each of the evenings 300 guests weren’t served under glass domes, the flavors on the plate spoke for themselves.



Always nice to end things on a sweet note and that is no exception when it comes to the announcement of our 2017 People’s Choice Best Dessert.  This year the award goes to the only male pastry chef in our line up, Chef Julius Kalman, chef and owner of Vidalia Restaurant and Wine Bar in Boone, NC. Chef Julius’ rich chocolate cake took the crowd by storm. His layered Hungarian-Style Chocolate Rum Cake included a Berry cream filling and  chocolate buttercream; arranged in a pool of sorghum caramel and topped with a chocolate chip pecan honey cookie and mixed berry coulis that was infused with North Carolina’s own Jones Von Drehle red wine.



IMG_6244Thanks again to all of our talented chefs, top shelf mixologists & distilleries and our esteemed panels of judges , co-hosts Heidi Billotto and WRAL’s Ken Smith and to all of our 2017 Showdown guests.

We’d also once again like to thank our sponsors and give a big shout out to Pepsi for providing the non alcoholic refreshments at our bars; to  Shelton Vineyard for the wines and the gift packages for our Most Creative winners; to Trophy Brewing and Appalachian Brewing Company for the evening’s selection of beer ; to La Farm Bakery of Cary, NC for the fabulous table of fresh baked bread to accompany all of the sweet and savory plates of the evening; and to Jeff Matthews of Old World Molding Company in Mooresville, NC for creating the 2017 commemorative coasters we gave  to each of this years’ participating chefs, mixologists and judges.


And now some more exciting news just in from the NCRLA…

Initiated in 2016, the NC Chef Showdown has proven itself an invaluable addition to the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Expo, which connects the restaurant and lodging industries for an all-inclusive program of education and an exposition of the latest products, services and technologies from across the state. This year’s expo took place on Monday, Aug. 21 and Tuesday, Aug. 22, featuring an assembly of industry professionals discussing state-of-the-art practices and innovative ideas affecting restaurant and hospitality businesses today.

Next year, in 2018, the NCRLExpo is Charlotte bound, scheduled to take place August 27-28. And that means the 2018 NC Chef Showdown will take place in Charlotte as well on Monday evening Aug 27 – Stay tuned…more details to come!

Meet the Mixologists

cropped-2017-chef-showdown-logo.pngThe 2017 NCRLA NC Chef Showdown sponsored by Got To Be NC,  takes place in Raleigh NC on August 21, 2017 at the 214 Martin Street/Market Place event venue. The fun kicks off at 6 pm when 16 talented chefs from across the state of North Carolina go head to head, plate to plate in a one night competition for NCRLA 2017 Chef of the Year and NCRLA 2017 Pastry Chef of the Year.    Tickets are still available, so save the date and make your plans now


we love craft cocktailsAnd because we  cannot live on food alone… there are craft cocktails created from local North Carolina spirits!

We are really looking forward to raising the bar, shaking and stirring things up a bit as these six top-shelf mixologists from across the state of North Carolina join in the fun as they vie for the honors of being named NCRLA 2017 Mixologist of the Year!

 The “Mixologist of the Year” award will be given to the most creative cocktail crafter during the culinary competition.

“We value all types of culinary skills, which is why NCRLA has added ‘Mixologist of the Year’ to our 2017 award lineup,” said NCRLA President and CEO Lynn Minges. “Mixology is a culinary art, and one that should be celebrated.” 

download-1For the 2017 competition, each distillery hand-picked their mixologist representative.

 A panel of three judges will  determine the winning mixologist based on five target points:  Style, Creativity, Presentation, Originality of the Recipe and Overall Taste.

The crowd will also have an opportunity to weigh in with the  People’s Choice award for best cocktail of the evening!

Who will best represent our six featured North Carolina distilleries, stirring up the crowd with their winning craft cocktail? Could be anyone’s game…Meet the 2017 contenders for NCRLA Mixologist of the Year – then after the competition is over, come back to these pages to see their featured drinks and get the recipes.


GBD-102 Bedlam Logo-v1-[11.30.16]-ms-02Meet Graybeard Distillery makers of Bedlam Vodka in Durham North Carolina. Bedlam Vodka is a unique, award-winning rice-based vodka, distilled from an Irish recipe several generations in the making.

Representing Bedlam in the Showdown, Meet Brand Director and Bartender, Jesse Cortez.


“I was raised in Philadelphia, PA by my mother along with my little brother and sister. She taught us a lot about music, art, and food and I think my love for these is a major influence on the drinks I create. I’ve been working in the industry for 17 years and behind the bar for almost 11 years. Working for Graybeard has afforded me the opportunity to really explore what I am capable of as a bartender and as a person. Bedlam has become the ultimate tool in my kit to do what I love.” – Jesse Cortez  


 Covington Vodka Distillery in Snow Hill, NC is North Carolina’s first and only sweet potato vodka. Produced by 3rd generation sweet potato farmers in small batches to capture the middle 60 percent known as the “heart” of the distillate, the handcrafting of this liquor yields a smooth, clear lovely character, coaxed from the fruits of the land. The spent mash is returned to the soil to enrich the next crop.

Representing Covington in the Showdown, Meet Paul Campbell, Owner of Mister Bartender in Wilmington, NC and bartender at Pizzetta’s Italian Restaurant in Leland, NC  


Paul has an unusually suited professional background that led him to his mixology career. It all began as a native of Guyana, the only English speaking country in South America, surrounded by Dutch, Spanish, Brazilian and Caribbean influences. He migrated and brought that diversity of cultures to New York City, where he was a finance major in the US Air Force then devoted 12 years to Wall Street earning success and a responsible reputation with his employers.

1BBF51A2-46FC-4529-A0A8-7EFF47B118C2[43]Paul relocated with his family to the Cape Fear area and for 7 years has worked for some of the most prestigious organizations growing in skill and knowledge in food and beverage. Hired on as an Assistant Banquet Manager at The Country Club of Landfall and honed bartending skills at Cape Fear National in Brunswick Forest and Bald Head Island Country Club, he is locally one of the most recognizable bartenders, bringing his creative passion and cultural diversity to Pizzetta’s Italian Restaurant in Leland, NC and to his own bartending business, Mister Bartender.



Durham Distillery in Durham, NC is owned and operated by Melissa and Lee Katrincic who combine time-honored, gin-making traditions with techniques borrowed from modern chemistry to create spirits that are both classic and contemporary. Enter Conniption Gins and Damn Fine Liqueurs.

Representing Durham Distillery in the Showdown, Meet Mixologist Greg Schammel of LaRue Elm and now the beverage manager at the new  Rue-Bar in Greensboro

RSCN0593Schammel, who has been with LaRue Elm since it opened March 2015, trained with world-renowned mixologist Myles Cunliffe during his tenure at The Marshall Freehouse in 2014. Cunliffe, a mixology consultant who was named Imbibe’s Educator of the Year in 2017 is widely recognized as a specialist in molecular mixology. Since, Schammel has worked closely with Bell to create a modern cocktail program to complement the food at LaRue Elm, and quickly proved his passion and appetite for the craft, making cocktails a hallmark of the dining experience.   Schammel borrows from Chef Trey Bell in the kitchen, and uses a chamber vacuum sealer and centrifuge for his infusions as well as a food dehydrator for garnishes, dusts and fruit leathers. Schammel is also credited with introducing the first draft cocktail program in the area, and the popular “Roulette” cocktail offering, whereby guests may choose two descriptors – or even a theme/song/season/feeling – and a liquor for a whimsical and one-of-a-kind cocktail.   “Rue-Bar is a natural extension of our work at LaRue Elm,” say Chef Trey Bell. “Having a dedicated bar will give Greg and our team the freedom to explore even more, and contribute to Greensboro’s food and beverage culture in an additional way.”

Muddy River Carolina Rum logo jpeg Muddy River Distillery in Belmont, NC is North Carolina’s first distiller of rum. Launched in 2006 by Robbie and Caroline Delaney, the small batch production line now boasts 6 different rums in the distillery’s portfolio.

Representing Muddy River in the Showdown, Meet Amanda Britton, Head Mixologist at 204 North Kitchen & Cocktails in Charlotte NC

204 North Kitchen & Cocktails is a farm to table concept in Uptown Charlotte that utilizes locally sourced ingredients  in their kitchen. Amanda carries that philosophy behind the bar, as well, with cocktail creations based on local flavors.



Originally from New Jersey, Amanda has been shaking her way through the Queen City for almost 6 years. In that time she has gained a plethora of knowledge when it comes to Charlotte’s craft beer & cocktail scene. She loves to utilize lesser known spirits with familiar flavors to help even the most skeptical drinker go out of their comfort zone!





Df4nyPIf_400x400TOPO Distillery in Chapel Hill, NC,  is certified organic and the only Green+ Certified distillery in the country. They take great measures to ensure their building, equipment and products are environmentally sustainable.

Representing TOPO in the NC Chef Showdown, Meet Andrew Izrael, director of Beverage Creativity for the Bottle Cap Group based out of Charlotte NC,


Head Shot- Bar 3


Andrew initially got his start in restaurants as a chef, which was his dream from a young age. Deep down that will always be his first love, but he says he talked far too much, and had far too happy of a demeanor to be suited for kitchen work. The transition to the bar, where he could talk people through the food that he loves while still fueling his insatiable need for creativity, was perfectly natural. Of course, he dove into any and every cocktail book he could get his hands on. After cutting his teeth with some of North Carolina’s strongest bar programs, Andrew recently took the role of Director of Beverage Creativity for Bottle Cap Group, known for their popular hotspots across north and South Carolina, including Charlotte, Charleston, and Greenville, SC.


download Southern Artisan Spirits, in Kings Mountain, NC was the third legal distiller in the state of North Carolina. Dedicated to the revitalization of the lost art of craft distillation, the distillery’s Cardinal Gin and its new Turning Point Rye Whiskey both start with fresh organic ingredients.

Representing Southern Artisan Spirits in the Showdown Meet Mixologist Bob Peters of The Punch Room at the Ritz-Carlton in Charlotte, NC.

Bob Peters is actually a Charlotte native which makes him as rare and as special as the libations you will find behind his bar. With strong southern roots, Bob has always enjoyed the art of dining and taking care of friends.


Bob is well known for his creative palate as well as for his ability to entertain.  Peters has won numerous awards including the 2015 Global Bartender of the Year for The Ritz-Carlton Corporation.  He has been featured in an international culinary magazine as well as countless local and regional publications. In the spring of 2016, he accompanied some of the most elite chefs from Charlotte, NC to the coveted James Beard House in New York City to present a “Taste of Charlotte” dinner to the Big Apple’s food fanatics. Most recently in January 2017, Bob was a featured mixologist at the highly acclaimed Cayman Cookout food festival hosted by Eric Ripert, Jose Andres, and Anthony Bourdain, as well as the featured talent at the Charleston Wine & Food, and the Atlanta Food & Wine Festivals. 

When you join Bob for a cocktail, be prepared to linger and let go of the reins. In no time, you will be carried away on a journey sure to delight the senses. Check him out at The Punch Room in The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte, NC. You will be captivated by what you find and heʼll have the hootch ready.

static1.squarespaceNow that you’ve met the NCRLA 2017 NC Chef Showdown Line up of mixologists, check out the talented line of chefs and pastry chefs who will be on hand as well. Then, make plans to come and see what they bring to the table and the glass! Tickets for  the 2017 NC Chef Showdown are priced at $125 per person. The event takes place on August 21, 2017 from 6-9 pm in Raleigh at 214 Martin Street /Market Place

Your ticket price includes unlimited tasting sized portions from all 16 of these talented chefs, tasting sized cocktails from six North Carolina distilleries represented by six of the state’s talented mixologists, a chance to vote in the evening’s People’s Choice awards,  a selection of wine or beer, a gift bag to take home and an evening of fun,  music and more! Don’t wait, Get Your Tickets Now!