Last Thursday, I attended the third out of fifteen battles for Fire in the City, the head to head chef’s competition that has made a raucous descent into our fair city. Fire in the City is an all out elimination style battle between Charlotte chef’s featuring a secret local ingredient and six courses for hungry spectators (Joe’s) to taste and judge in order to select a winner to move on to the next round. I was selected to be one of several “Pro’s” for the evening, “experts” chosen to vote on the battle with scores that weighed slightly more than the “Joe’s.”
This particular evening, Chef Nicolas Daniels of The Wooden Vine competed against Chef Paul Ketterhagen of Carpe Diem in Battle Sweet Potato, the secret ingredient sourced from Scotts Farms, a third generation family farm.
This was a night of firsts for me. I had never been to Bonterra before nor have I ever been a judge of anything and this was most definitely my first time attending a Competition Dining event.
I’ll tell you what impressed me the most. The event itself- so professional and well organized. Fire in the City is the sixth event for host and mastermind, Jimmy Crippen.
He assures me that the event has evolved into a more sophisticated entity since its meager beginnings. His hosting capabilities, however, were innate. Crippen has serious game show host swagger. In fact, he has my vote for the next host of the Price is Right.
There were multimedia presentations, well-thought out sponsor love and one of the most impressive and crucial components of the evening- the mobile app voting system. Developed by Derek Sanderson and supported by HITS Tech, this system required us to download an app, scan a QR code and vote on our mobile devices which were then tallied electronically and posted at the end of the night. Brilliant! Crippen says the next update will feature social capabilities and will be available for the Final Fire, the competition combining the winners of all the previous competitions.
As for the food, I thoroughly enjoyed critiquing with my fellow tablemates and judges, Heidi Billotto and Terrance Bates, anchor for WCCB Charlotte. My favorite dish came at the very end. It was Chef Nicolas Daniels’ dessert course: a “Country Cobbler” of Sweet Potato Sponge Cake with Pecan-Cinnamon Streusel, Muscadine-Summer Berry Compote and Triple C Smoked Amber Ice Cream. For me, it was the dish that had the best balance of flavors all evening and the perfect sweet end to an enjoyable evening. Best of all, Charlotte is supporting its community of chef’s, which counts as a win for everyone.
Tickets are still available for a host of upcoming battles.Visit the Competition Dining website for the most up-to-date information. For the course by course recap of Battle Sweet Potato and to see who emerged victorious, visit Heidi Billotto’s blog.