Update: Brian Pratt, a mixologist for Flying Machine Taproom and Kitchen representing Blue Shark Vodka, won the N.C. Restaurant & Lodging Association Chef Showdown's People's Choice awards for Bartender of the Year and Distillery of the Year.
Gerald Hawkins, representing Seabird Restaurant, was runner-up for Best Pastry Chef.
Two Wilmington-area chefs and one bartender are prepping their ingredients – and sharpening their wits – ahead of Monday evening’s N.C. Restaurant & Lodging Association Chef Showdown, presented by Got to Be NC Agriculture.
The area will be represented in all four categories of the statewide competition: N.C. Restaurant & Lodging Association (NCRLA) Chef of the Year, NCRLA Pastry Chef of the Year, NCRLA Bartender of the Year and the NCRLA Distillery of the Year.
Nick Chavez, chef at Salt Fish Restaurant and Tiki Bar in Carolina Beach, is among 15 finalists vying for Chef of the Year.
Gerald Hawkins, who will soon be pastry chef at Seabird Restaurant in Wilmington, is one of five contestants in that category. And Brian Pratt, beverage director at Flying Machine Taproom and Kitchen in Wrightsville Beach, will mix it up with five other bartenders. His concoction includes Wilmington-based Blue Shark Vodka, one of six North Carolina distilleries in the competition.
The three individuals prevailed in the competition’s semifinal round on June 27 for competitors in the state’s Southeast region. For the final round, contestants must prepare and present the same dish or drink as they did for the semifinal round.
“It’s the ‘Got to Be NC’ competition, so the goal is to cram as many North Carolina products onto the plate as you can,” Chavez said Monday.
His menu features lamb seasoned with botanicals End of Days Distillery uses to flavor its gin; he dehydrated them after the gin run. Paired with the lamb is a miso goat cheese sweet potato puree and a watermelon tabouleh salad. For his salad dressing, Chavez stirred up a gastrique (sweet and sour) sauce, combining vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper and prickly pear, harvesting the latter from his neighborhood.
“I pick them wherever I see them,” he said of the cactus fruit. The lamb, Chavez continued, comes from a farm near Greensboro.
“I’m from Greensboro originally, and there are a few [sheep] farms out there,” he said. “I wanted to go with something that’s close to home for me; close to my back yard.”
Prickly pear also makes an appearance in Pratt’s competition cocktail.
The Flying Machine mixologist calls his entry The Flight Plan. It contains Carolina wildflower/honeycomb-washed, bee pollen-infused Blue Shark Vodka; North Carolina watermelon water, Carolina wildflower basil-honey syrup, Wrightsville Beach prickly pear, a key lime-cacti citrus blend, crude pecan/magnolia/habanero bitters from Raleigh and Sea Love Citrus Sea Salt from Wrightsville Beach.
This is the sixth year for this culinary and cocktail competition, the only statewide contest in which the NCRLA crowns the top chef, pastry chef, mixologist and distillery, according to the association’s website.
“Chef Showdown has become the place to showcase the incredible talent of the North Carolina hospitality industry,” NCRLA President and CEO Lynn Minges said in a news release. “Our sixth annual event will feature North Carolina’s most innovative chefs, each working with local NC products; and a group of incredibly creative bartenders, all representing distilleries from across the state.”
The sold-out Chef Showdown takes place from 6-8:30 p.m. Monday at Raleigh’s Angus Barn Pavilion.
This event marks Chavez's swan song at Salt Fish: next week he moves to the newly renovated King Neptune restaurant in Wrightsville Beach as its executive chef.