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Charlotte chefs square off among North Carolina’s best
Annual Chef Showdown at Heirloom
 
Published Wednesday, June 26, 2019 11:18 am
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

COURTESY NC RESTAURANT AND LODGING ASSOCIATION
Chef Jamie Turner of Earls Grocery and Soul Food Sessions presents to judges at the Chef Showdown.

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Chefs Jamie Turner and Whitney Thomas are competing in their first culinary competition.


Turner and Thomas participated in the preliminary round of the fourth annual North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association Chef Showdown Monday at Heirloom. Turner of Earl’s Grocery and Soul Food Sessions is competing in the pastry category, while Thomas of 5Church is competing in the savory category.

Chef Andrew Wright, chef de cuisine at The Inn at Little Washington in Virginia, Chef Mark Allison, executive chef of culinary innovation, Cabarrus County Health Department in Kannapolis and Chef Teddy Diggs, owner and chef at Coronato Pizza in Carrboro, judged presentation and taste, as well as use of North Carolina ingredients. Additional preliminary rounds are being held in Morehead City, Asheville, Greensboro and Chapel Hill.  


Regional rounds will take place in August in Raleigh, Wilmington and Charlotte, with the latter taking place on Aug. 19 at Central Piedmont Community College. The final will include 20 chefs on Sept. 30 at Angus Barn’s Bay 7 in Durham for the title of NCRLA Chef and NCRLA Pastry Chef of the Year, a $250 cash prize and North Carolina Department of Agriculture ambassadorship. The final is open to the public. Attendees will be able to sample dishes from the participating chefs, as well as North Carolina beer, wine and spirits.


“It’s good to see smaller farms back on the rise again,” state Department of Agriculture’s Chad Blackwelder said. “It definitely helps fill in a lot of gaps for chefs who longed for those ingredients, and now they have access to them. It’s good to see those relationships building. Hopefully it will turn the public on to new ingredients, and some different flavors.”


Said Turner: “I would like to showcase Charlotte, not just in the flavors that are on the plate, but also as an awesome food scene that has a lot of diversity, and we’re continuing to grow that diversity every single day. I hope that I can inspire other aspiring pastry chefs, who might not have had someone to look up to who looks like them. Being an African American woman, I’m trying to show that we’re in this industry, and we can compete and we can do this together. A big part of my mission is mentorship and scholarship helping with that. That’s a big part of what we do at Soul Food Sessions.”


Turner and Thomas are among 43 chefs competing, 10 from Mecklenburg County (two pastry and eight savory).


Turner, a New Jersey native and Johnson & Wales main campus alumna, has been in Charlotte for 12 years. Her journey started with an Easy-Bake Oven at age 10, the same year she would make her own wedding cake. Twenty-eight years later, her love for culinary creativity extends to the realm of scholarship and showing young black girls what the world has to offer them.


“It makes it about something bigger than me,” Tuner said. “It makes it about the community at-large. The more we get equal representation for what’s really going on behind the scenes, the more we can attract talented, creative individuals into this industry. That is just going to blow up Charlotte’s food scene even more. Before Whitney was executive chef at 5Church, I got to work with her. She’s super talented, super passionate about what she does. I applaud her. I’m cheering her on too. It makes it about something more. This plate is not just for me and my ego. It is about so much more for the industry as a whole. With more inclusion and diversity, we’ll be able to attract more creatives into the industry.”  


Travis Myers of Willow’s Bistro in Winston-Salem, last year’s chef of the year, encouraged Thomas to try the competition.


“He is the one who really made me apply for it,” said Thomas, who initially found out about the competition while scrolling through Instagram. “After talking to him, I went in and sent in my application.”


Thomas considers her style seasonally based when searching for the best ingredients, which she believes came through in the first round of competition.

“I look around me before I look outside to get products,” Thomas said. “It was fun letting people see how I try to use local products.”

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