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Sunday October 2nd

Things got spicy at a cooking and mixologist competition hosted at Top of the Hill

Executive chef of 21C Counting House, Thomas Card, cooks rabbit in a pan during the 2019 NCRLA Chef Showdown on Monday July 22, 2019.
Buy Photos Executive chef of 21C Counting House, Thomas Card, cooks rabbit in a pan during the 2019 NCRLA Chef Showdown on Monday July 22, 2019.

Bending down until he was at eye level with the pan, Thomas Card evaluated the rabbit he was searing. The Counting House Restaurant and 21c Museum Hotel Durham executive chef tilted the pan upward, rolling the meat away from him. 

Once he was satisfied, he turned to the vegetables and thinly sliced Lyon Farms peaches sitting on the tall metal table. In fewer than 30 minutes, he would present his plate to three judges, competing for the title of Chef of the Year. 

Check out the photo gallery from the cooking competition event on Monday here.

The North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association held its final preliminary round of the 2019 Chef Showdown at Top of the Hill on Monday, July 22. 

The competition, presented by Got To Be N.C. Agriculture, rates North Carolina chefs on taste, presentation and use of local ingredients. Nine chefs from Durham, Raleigh and Fayetteville presented at the Chapel Hill preliminary round. 

In its fourth year, the NCRLA Chef Showdown allows chefs to compete in one of two categories: savory chef and pastry chef. Five preliminary rounds that featured a total of 43 chefs were held across the state and judged by industry professionals. 

“We wanted to have a diverse applicant pool from throughout the state,” said Mindy Wharton, NCRLA director of marketing and business development. 

20 chefs from each of the five preliminary rounds were chosen to move onto the regional rounds, which are held in Raleigh, Charlotte and Wilmington. It is at these rounds that chefs cook the dish that will ultimately decide the winner of NCRLA Chef of the Year and NCRLA Pastry Chef of the Year. 

The regional rounds are each judged by the same three judges.

While finals, held in Durham at Angus Barn’s Bay 7 on Sept. 30 and open to the public, won’t include the actual cooking competition, each chef will prepare samples of the dish they cooked at the regional rounds. Attendees then vote to select a people’s choice award recipient for each category. 

The event does feature one live competition. Six North Carolina distilleries are partnered with six mixologists to compete for Distillery & Mixologist of the Year. Chapel Hill-based Top of the Hill Organic Spirits will compete with mixologist Amanda Phillips. 

Each chef and pastry chef is allowed one chef assistant. Card partnered with Counting House and 21C Museum Hotel Durham pastry chef Nicole Lourie, who competed in the pastry chef part of the Chef Showdown. Card and Lourie served as each other’s assistants. 

When deciding what to cook for the competition, Card said he had to be flexible because seasonal ingredients can go in and out of season quickly. Ultimately, he finalized his dish the Saturday before the preliminary round. 

“When I was first thinking about doing this dish, I knew I wanted to do peaches,” Card said. “But it was in the beginning of the summer and all the peaches that were coming in were super under ripe and they were not juicy to their fullest yet.”

Each chef was given a stipend for ingredients, which they sourced on their own. 

“I went right down to the Durham Farmers’ Market and just kind of picked and chose right there what I was going to use,” Card said. 

The local ingredients were a large part of each chef’s presentation. Chapel Hill preliminary round judge Lucia Bobby said it was evident that much thought went into selecting each ingredient. 

“They were really focused on all the local ingredients they were using and had information about all the farms they were coming from, so you really knew exactly what they put on the plate and what inspired them to use those things,” the Winston-Salem Bobby Boy Bake Shop owner said. 

“I’m just looking forward to what they have to offer and what our state has to offer. It’s cool to see the things that are growing in our own backyard and how they put them on the plate.”


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