The potential for both epic failure and epic success makes WNC Chef's Challenge quite an exciting way to eat dinner.
Of course, it's Asheville, so the chefs always perform admirably — and create tasty meals.
Here's how it works: a pair of Asheville chefs whips up a six-course meal based on a secret, local ingredient that isn't revealed to them until the day of the contest. Diners, along with a panel of judges, vote on the winner, who moves on to the next round. The overall champion, who isn't determined until August, receives a $5,000 prize and cool bragging rights.
Bob Bowles, organizer and emcee, says that the evenings aren't just about taste; the food becomes a vehicle for camaraderie. “One of the hardest problems that I have is actually being heard over the conversations that everyone is carrying on about the food and about who they've met,” he says, describing the excitement.
This year, 16 chefs will compete at Chestnut restaurant downtown. The preliminary round and the quarterfinals happen every Tuesday from Feb. 12 through April 30. Later in the summer, the final rounds take place, leading up to the Asheville Wine and Food Festival on Aug. 23-24.
Tickets cost $49 per person, not including gratuity or beverages. A portion of the proceeds benefits Eliada, a nonprofit that provides counseling and child-care services.
The competing chefs come from fine dining eateries and casual joints alike. For a full list of competitors and other information, visit ashevillewineandfood.com. For tickets, see wncchefschallenge.eventbrite.com.
Chef Adam Hayes wins Fire on the Rock Asheville
After three rounds in the Fire on the Rock cooking competition, Adam Hayes of Red Stag Grill will advance to the regional cook-off against a Blowing Rock chef in April.
Hayes cooked against John Strauss of Hobnob (in Brevard), Peter Pollay of Posana Café and Jason Roy of Lexington Avenue Brewery. Each challenge required him to cook three courses using a quirky secret ingredient, including pork, chocolate and Mountain Dew, and beef and Texas Pete Hot Sauce. Hayes ousted competitors by creating desserts from the meaty ingredients while his competitors made entrees.
His last dish of the competition included Texas Pete chocolate mousse, pistachio-beef brittle, orange-scented cake and beef skirt jam. One diner remarked that while she might not order such an unconventional dessert, she had enjoyed every bite.
The regional contest takes place on April 24. The winner of that round advances to the statewide Final Fire competition in Raleigh. For more information, visit competitiondining.com.