Friday, October 18, 2013

This city's on fire for chefs

Even Jimmy Crippen, the founder of the original Fire on the Rock chef competition in Blowing Rock, admits he wasn't sure what to expect when the event came to Charlotte for the first time this year.

Fire in the Dock on Wilmington, Fire in the Triad in Greensboro and Fire in the Triangle in Raleigh all got big following in the last few years. But Fire in the City? Charlotte is a tough market, and the event involves 15 multicourse dinners, all on weeknights, all costing more than $50.

Surprise: Charlotte has gone for it. Fire in the City, held at Bonterra for the last five weeks, has sold out. On Tuesday, I was one of the "pro" judges for the semifinal between Jon Fortes of Mimosa Grill and Luca Annunziata of Passion8 Bistro.

Crippen has sold both his B&B, Crippen's, in Blowing Rock and his farm. He now lives in Fort Lauderdale and devotes himself to flying back and forth for each event. He calls it his "grandfather job" -- he gets to have the fun of being in a restaurant without having to deal with details and cleanup.

He's set up a procedure that makes it very fun. The judging is done by cellphone app for each of the six plates, you don't know which chef prepares each plate until the end of the night when scores are tallied. At every dinner, the pros' scores count for 30 percent and the "Joes" -- the diners -- account for 70 percent. (Just to be clear: Even though I was there as a pro judge, The Observer paid for my dinner.)

After the final dinner in Charlotte next week, the finale here will be Oct. 21 to determine who goes to the state finals in Raleigh. The sold-out battle will be between  Phil Barnes of Rooster and . . . well, watch the video to find out.


Anonymous said...

when did foodie heidi billotto become chef heidi billotto? did i miss something?