Ref the chefs: Asheville culinary competitions give diners a chance to size up culinary talent

The Asheville Fire on the Rock contenders (from left): Matthew Miner of The Asheville Public, Scott Wallace of Rankin Vault Cocktail Lounge, Jason Roy of Lexington Avenue Brewery, Mauricio Abreu of Chef Mo’s, Jason Brian of Jack of the Wood, John Strauss of Hobnob, Adam Hayes of Red Stag Grill and Peter Pollay of Posana Café “Got to be N.C.” Competition Dining Series

There are definite parallels between chefs and athletes: both jobs require stamina, coordination and sweat.

It’s no wonder cheffing has become a competitive sport. In the coming months, two culinary competitions will get revved up, and in both, the audience helps decide the winner.

The Fire on the Rock series pits eight Asheville chefs against each other for placement in the regional and state competitions. Each chef cooks three courses centered around a secret ingredient. It’s the contest’s first year in Asheville, but it’s been happening in Blowing Rock for almost a decade.

Winners are determined by a panel of judges and an audience vote. In addition to paper ballots, Fire on the Rock offers diners a way to vote electronically, via their smart phones. “[The voting] makes it a real community event,” says A.K. Brinson, spokesperson for the series. “It makes it an interactive evening.”

Here's the lineup for the preliminary rounds: Posana Café vs. Rankin Vault Cocktail Lounge; Red Stag Grill vs. Hobnob (from Brevard); The Asheville Public vs. Jack of the Wood; and Lexington Avenue Brewery vs. Chef Mo's Restaurant and Bar.

Dinners take place throughout the second half of January at Lioncrest on the Biltmore Estate. It’s a bracket-style competition, so the winner of the final round will have competed three times in order to move on to the regional contest, in which the Asheville winner will take on Blowing Rock’s contender. The victor in that competition will go to the state dinner series in Raleigh, known as Final Fire, to compete with culinary talent from all over the state.

Tickets to this month's Fire on the Rock dinners begin at $59, not including, tax, tip and beverages. For more information, visit competitiondining.com. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Our State Magazine sponsor the “Got to Be N.C.” Competition Dining Series, which includes Fire on the Rock and Final Fire.

If you miss Fire on the Rock be sure to catch WNC Magazine’s Chefs Challenge which begins on Tuesday, Feb. 12, at Chestnut on Biltmore Avenue. The early rounds of the contest run through April, and the finals take place during the Asheville Food and Wine Festival in August.

The audience plays a deciding role in the contest, and in general, rules are similar to those of Fire on the Rock. The bracket of competitors has not been released yet. Check wncmagazine.com for tickets ($49) and more information.

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