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Editor's Note: This story is unlocked for everyone to read courtesy of the CRVA, our partner in nourishing culinary exploration for residents and visitors of the Queen City.

March 27, 2024

Charlotte competitors set sights on 2024 NCRLA Chef Showdown crowns

Annual competition decides state’s best chefs and mixologists

by TM Petaccia

Oscar Johnson with Jimmy Pearls partner Daryl Cooper at the 2022 NCRLA awards. Photo courtesy

The 2024 NCRLA Chef Showdown is underway. Chefs in North Carolina’s mountain region kicked off the preliminary rounds with a competition on March 25. In Charlotte, fourteen local competitors are preparing to vie for state honors.

This year, 83 savory chefs, pastry chefs, and mixologists from across the state are participating in private preliminary rounds, with the open-to-the-public finale to be held Aug. 26 at Bay 7 in Durham. Since 2016, the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association has hosted the competition. One year was skipped during the COVID lockdown.

“We are proud to see 2024 mark the eighth year for our Chef Showdown series. With this competition, the NCRLA continues to showcase the incredible talent of our chefs, pastry chefs, bartenders, and distilleries from across the state,” says Lynn Minges, NCRLA president and CEO. “It’s always exciting to start a new season of competition.”

Chef Competitions

The preliminary rounds will continue May 8 in Wilkesboro, followed by Asheville, Morehead City, Wilkesboro, Charlotte, and Raleigh. Unlike TV competitions, chefs are not given a secret ingredient or restricted to a set menu. However, they must use produce, proteins, and artisanal foods (e.g., cheeses) grown and curated in North Carolina.

Of the 53 savory chefs competing, ten are from Charlotte:

Jamie Chambers, Angeline’s Restaurant
Jamisen Booker, The Asbury at The Dunhill Hotel
Andres Prüssing, Charlotte Marriott City Center
Erick Crawford, Chop Chop Red Pot
Matthew Deering, Dot Dot Dot
Myles Scaglione, Dot Dot Dot
Elena Lundy, EML Catering
Seth Wilson, The Fox & Falcon by David Burke
Chris Davis, The Heirloom Group
Ryan DaRosa, The Palm 

Two of the ten competing pastry chefs competing are from Charlotte:

Suzette Ramsey, McNinch House
Mary Jayne Wilson, Thoughtful Baking Co.

Five preliminary rounds will narrow the field to eighteen savory chef and eight pastry chef semifinalists. These will square off in the Charlotte or Raleigh regionals, with fifteen savory and five pastry chefs moving on to the grand finale.

“I love that it gives me a creative outlet for a plated dessert,” says Thoughtful Baking Co. chef and owner Mary Jayne Wilson. “This gives me the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and go in a completely different pastry direction. I am excited to get to present something very different from what I do every week for my business.”

Mixologist Competition

Mixologist Jenna Reynolds is one of two Charlotte bartenders competing in the 2024 NCRLA Showdown. TM Petaccia/UP

The mixology competition pairs each participant with a North Carolina distillery. There will be two preliminary rounds in Raleigh and Winston-Salem. Ten chefs will move on to the semifinal rounds in Wilkesboro and Greenville, with six moving on to the finals in Durham.

Of the 20 mixologists competing, only two will represent Charlotte. Jenna Reynolds of The Cellar at Duckworth’s was featured in a recent Behind the Stick Unpretentious Palate profile while she was at The Crunkleton. No stranger to competitions, Reynolds was recently named one of the top five bartenders at the Diageo/United States Bartenders Guild (USBG) World Class competition in Austin, Texas. She is paired with Charlotte’s Seven Jars Winery & Distillery.

From Mariposa, mixologist Terrence Denton will be competing, paired with Oaklore Distilling out of Matthews, N.C.

In addition to the Best Mixologist award, a special award will be given to the creator of the best no-alcohol mocktail.

Other Special Awards

While a panel of judges will decide the main winners in the chef, pastry chef, and mixologist competitions, three additional citation awards are also at stake.

“Undeniably Dairy” awards will be presented to the chef, pastry chef, and bartender who best showcases the use of North Carolina cow’s milk dairy products in their dishes or beverages.

“Born in the Carolinas” awards, sponsored by Pepsi, will be given to the chef, pastry chef, and bartender who best showcases the use of any Pepsi product. Using a Pepsi product is not required in the competition, but those using any would be eligible for the award.

Attendees at the Grand Finale will be voting for “People’s Choice” awards for best savory dish, best dessert, best cocktail, and best mocktail.

Former Charlotte NCRLA winners include Matthew Krenz and Oscar Johnson (savory); Jossie Lukacik (neé Perlmutter), Ann Marie Stefaney, Miranda Brown, and Jaimie Turner (pastry); and Amanda Britton and Colleen Hughes (mixology).

The NCRLA Chef Showdown is sponsored by the NC Department of Agriculture’s GoToBeNC initiative. The top-title winners will serve as members of the 2024-2025 GotToBeNC team of culinary and beverage ambassadors.

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