The annual Competition Dining Series, the area’s premiere chef challenge, is about to return to the Triad, but there will be some significant changes this time around.
In its fourth year as a statewide affair, the Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series will move its Triad showdown from Greensboro to Winston-Salem. In previous years there have been five regional competitions throughout the state, but this year the pool narrowed to three in North Carolina and added Greenville, SC. Because of that, each region is now open to chefs from anywhere in the state, leading to a shakeup in the composition of the local match-ups.
Of the 16 restaurants participating in Winston-Salem, six are located in the host city while four hail from Greensboro. Several others are nearby — Jamestown, Kernersville, Lexington — and Giannos enters the ring this year to represent High Point.
Jimmy Crippen, the host of Competition Dining, said he shifted to Winston-Salem in part because the Empire Room — the Greensboro host for the past three years — is unavailable due to plans for a Wyndham Hotel that will occupy the downtown site. Crippen formed a relationship with the Benton Convention Center in downtown Winston-Salem, next door to Small Batch Beer Co., as the host going forward.
“The kitchen is bigger than some of our homes, and then some,” Crippen said, referring to the convention center, at a press conference there today.
Crippen also announced the 2015 participating restaurants and bracket for this year’s challenge. Restaurants from anywhere in the state were invited to apply, and Crippen said a few outliers joined in because part of their market is here. Hearth from Boonville, Belle at the Jones House in Cary and The Phoenix in Brevard join the local pool this year, and a Charlotte restaurant that intially applied pulled out towards the end, Crippen said.
The most notable absence from the competition is Tim Thompson, the former head chef at Marisol, who won the whole Triad showdown in 2014. He’s busy working to help open a new restaurant, Essen, in downtown Greensboro. Thompson spoke at the press conference to express his support and encouragement to the chefs involved, almost all of whom were present.
“It’s the best way to go out to dinner,” Thompson said of the competition.
Three of the four finalists last year, including Graze in second place, are located in Winston-Salem. That, plus the higher number of participating restaurants and Crippen’s technical reason, help Winston-Salem look like a more favorable choice than Greensboro as well.
Spring House, one of last year’s final four, is also not returning for 2015 — chef Tim Grandinetti did just open Quanto Basta in downtown Winston-Salem, though.
Artisan chef Kevin Reddick is back in this year — the restaurant has closed since last year’s battle but he’s competing as the Screaming Radish.
Chefs from Noble’s, Meridian and River Birch (as well as Graze and the Screaming Radish) will also compete for Winston-Salem this year. Undercurrent, the Iron Hen, Greensboro Country Club and Gia will represent the Gate City. Perky’s Bistro (Jamestown), J. Peppers (Kernersville) and Chef Dion Sprenkle (Lexington) also come from nearby.
The Competition Dining Series begins May 26 as Noble’s takes on Belle at the Jones House. Undercurrent will be the first Greensboro restaurant to compete, going up against the Screaming Radish on June 1. Giannos and Meridian duke it out on June 3. Read the complete match-ups and schedule here.
The winner of each of the four regions — the Triad, the Triangle, Charlotte and Greenville — will meet again for an ultimate battle on Halloween weekend this fall.
Crippen emphasized that the outcomes can be unexpected — not only have wives and mothers been unable to identify their spouses or sons’ dishes, but a hospital chef just won the competition in Raleigh. With blind judging from diners as well as guest judges, the whole thing can be pretty unpredictable.
We’ll have more coverage of the event going forward; TCB Associate Editor Eric Ginsburg will be a guest media judge, and Editor-in-Chief Brian Clarey most likely will be, too.
[Photos: Food from today’s press conference, prepared by the Benton Convention Center’s staff.]