Asheville’s culinary scene is about to catch fire. Chef Anthony Cerrato of Strada Italiano will go head to head on March 10 against Chef Samuel Ratchford of Boone’s Vidalia Restaurant and Wine Bar to kick off this year’s round of Western North Carolina Fire on the Rock Competition Dining Series battles.
Seven individual chef showdowns will take place March 10-31, all at Lioncrest on Biltmore. The field of competitors includes chefs from Asheville’s Ambrozia, Isis, King James Public House and LaB, along with chefs from Flat Rock’s Seasons at Highland Lake and Boone’s Gamekeeper Restaurant.
At each competition, ticketed diners will judge multi-course offerings prepared by the dueling teams in a blind, single-elimination format. The twist is that each of the three courses must feature a secret North Carolina ingredient that won’t be announced until noon on the day of the battle, a requirement that should test each kitchen warrior’s creativity and flexibility.
Cerrato seems unfazed by this wild-card factor. “For me it’s always been about improvisation,” he says. “That’s been a recurring thing in my career. All the ingredients will be from local or North Carolina farmers … I’m excited to see what will happen with that. I’m just planning on having fun with the whole thing.”
The winning chef and team from each regional series — including competitions in Raleigh, Greensboro, Wilmington and Charlotte — will advance to compete for the statewide Final Fire Battle of the Champions event in Raleigh in November. Each regional winner will receive a grand prize of $2,000 and the honor of wearing the “Red Chef Jacket.”
Cerrato and the other Asheville chefs have a tough act to follow: Last year’s WNC champion, Chef Adam Hayes of the Red Stag Grill, went on to claim the state Final Fire championship.
Reservations for any of the Fire on the Rock dinner competitions can be made at www.competitiondining.com/events/2014-fire-on-the-rock. Tickets are $59 plus N.C. sales tax and a service charge, which comes to $74.78 per person. This does not include drinks or gratuity.