Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Battle Royale in Blowing Rock News.com

FLASH ALERT: Battles Royale Brewing for 2013 Fire on the Rock

Craig Miller (Jackalope's View), left, and James Welch (Green Park Inn) go spatula to spatula in the 2013 season's first battle of Fire on the Rock

By David Rogers. March 13, 2013. BLOWING ROCK , NC -- Something old, something new -- that could well be the theme of the 2013 edition of Blowing Rock's Fire on the Rock, slated for April 8-30 at the Meadowbrook Inn, in Blowing Rock.

L-R: James Welch, Sam Beasley, Will Young, Craig Barlowe, Jimmy Crippen, Julius Kalman, John Dean, Sam Ratchford, Craig Miller

Three Fire on the Rock veterans return to the Blowing Rock-born competition dining event grills this year, including past champions James Welch (Green Park Inn, Blowing Rock) and Sam Beasley (1861 Farmhouse, Valle Crucis), as well as "battle"-veteran and former semifinalist Sam Ratchford (Vidalia, Boone). Newcomers to "Fire" include Craig Miller (Jackalope's View, Beech Mountain), Will Young (Toe River Lodge, Plumtree), John Dean (Twig's, Blowing Rock), Clark Barlowe (Heirloom, Blowing Rock), and Julius Kalman (Canyons, Blowing Rock). Barlowe is not without a measure of celebrity, too, having appeared on The Food Network's reality series, "Chopped."

The full schedule of preliminary battles:

APRIL 8 -- Craig Miller of Jackalope's View vs. James Welch of Green Park Inn
APRIL 9 -- Sam Ratchford of Vidalia vs. Will Young of Toe River Lodge
APRIL 10 -- John Dean of Twig's vs. Clark Barlowe of Heirloom
APRIL 11 -- Sam Beasley of 1861 Farmhouse vs. Julius Kalman of Canyons
Semifinals, segment finals and overall finals:

APRIL 16 -- Semifinal #1: Winner of April 8 vs. Winner of April 9
APRIL 17 -- Semifinal #2: Winner of April 10 vs. Winner of April 11
APRIL 24 -- Segment Final: Winner of April 16 vs. Winner of April 17
APRIL 30 -- Winner of April 24 vs. Red Stag Grill of Ashville

In addition to a big cash prize and the coveted champion chef's jacket, the culinary artistes are vying for this set of handmade cutlery

In his introductory remarks to news media, the competing chefs and members of their respective restaurant teams, Crippen was enthusiastic in his appreciation for a growing list of sponsors, including Pate Dawson/Southern Foods, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, Pepsi, Our State magazine, Certified Angus Beef, Swisher, T W Garner Food Company, Heritage Farms, Texas Pete, Whole Harvest, H.I.T.S. , and the North Carolina State Fire Mashall.

Touring the kitchen with Mr. Crippen

While giving the chefs a tour of the Meadowbrook Inn kitchen, event creator and emcee Jimmy Crippen explained to the culinary artistes, "In this event, you are judged by both the 'Joes', the public, as well as by the more complex palates of the 'Pros', who are food industry professionals and food critics. So you have to appeal to both."

"You be the judge" is a tagline introduced by Crippen for Fire on the Rock a few years ago, and many attribute his event "wrinkle" of inviting diners to sample the chefs' dishes, rate them according to six criteria (presentation, aroma, flavor, accompaniments, creativity, and execution) and having their total scores be the major factor in whether the individual chefs win or lose a "battle" as a major reason his competition dining brainchild has taken off.

Tim Parrish of NC Dept. of Agriculture

After six early years only in Blowing Rock, Crippen and his primary sponsors re-launched the concept statewide as the "You Got to be NC" Competition Dining Series. The expanded format included Wilmington's Fire on the Dock (won by Andy Hopper of Chefs 105 restaurant of Morehead City), Raleigh's Fire in the Triangle (won by Ryan Payne of Weathervane, Chapel Hill), Greensboro's Fire in the Triad (won by George Neal of 1618 Seafood Grille, Greensboro), in addition to Blowing Rock's Fire on the Rock (won by Michael Foreman of Bistro Roca, Blowing Rock). In the finals, Payne's team from Weathervane knocked off Fire on the Rock veteran Foreman and his Bistro Roca team in what was later described as a "fittingly entertaining and wonderful finale."

For 2013, the concept is being expanded, with some modifications. Fire on the Rock has been split into two sections, one in Asheville and one in Blowing Rock, each with eight competing chefs. The Asheville segment winner has already been decided: Adam Hayes of Asheville's Red Stag Grill, and he will face the Blowing Rock winner in a final Fire on the Rock battle on April 30th to determine who advances to the November state finals.

There are 16 chefs competing in each of the other regional competitions, including a new market: Charlotte (Fire in the City). The full lineup of events:

Fire on the Rock-Asheville, January 14-30 (winner: Adam Hayes, Red Stag Grill, staged at Lionsgate at the Biltmore Estate)
Fire on the Dock-Wilmington, February 18th to April 3rd, staged at Bluewater Waterfront Grill, Wrightsville Beach
Fire on the Rock-Blowing Rock, April, staged at Meadowbrook Inn
Fire on the Rock-Finals, April 30th, staged at Meadowbrook Inn
Fire in the Triad-Greensboro, May 14-June 26
Fire in the Triangle-Raleigh, July 8-August 19, staged at 1705 Prime
Fire in the City-Charlotte, September 3-October 21
Final Fire-Raleigh, November
In an exclusive interview, Food Service Marketing Specialist Tim Parrish of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture told Blowing Rock News, "We have been involved with Fire on the Rock since 2005. The original mission of Fire on the Rock was really in reponse to Jimmy's (Crippen) need to increase his restaurant's traffic on slower nights (in the winter and early spring). Then we took it a step further in creating the Fire on the Rock state event. And then we took it even further, where we began to focus on local foods at these competition dining events. Overall, we are focused on the local (North Carolina) farmer, the local chef and the diner. It's that connection and where the food (ingredients) come from and the wonderful array of products we have here in North Carolina.

"My predecessor at the Dept. of Agriculture, Matt Tunnel," explained Mr. Parrish, "worked closely with Jimmy in putting this whole concept together. Originally it led up to finals during the Blowing Rock Wine & Food Festival. At the Department of Agriculture, we are always looking for events in various regions around the state that allow us to showcase North Carolina products. So this just made sense.

Most 'Fire' patrons are now submitting ballots electronically, using QR codes and apps on tablets and smartphones

"People have recognized the 'Good Knows' and 'Got to be NC' (taglines)," Parrish added. "But Competition Dining has extended those brands to a different, much higher level. It created the awareness that we needed. It creates opportunities for us to meet chefs throughout the state. It allowed us to (promulgate) our promotional efforts throughout the state almost overnight because we can't get to each individual restaurant very easily, so this event helps us reach a large group of chefs very quickly."

'Fire' veteran Sam Ratchford listens to instructions for any changes in rules

In response to a question by Sam Beasley of 1861 Farmhouse, Crippen told the chefs that they will be preparing three courses for each battle, for up to a maximum of 120 diners.

"Be prepared for sellouts," Crippen advised the chefs. "All around the state last year we sold out nearly every event. So be ready to cook for 120."

Emily Thomas of Greensboro-based public relations, advertising and marketing firm RLF Communications briefed the chefs and their teams on how to integrate Competition Dining marketing materials into their own respective restaurants' advertising and marketing strategies and encouraged them to help make each battle a success. Chimed in Crippen, "We all know that playing to a full house is more fun than playing to an empty house!"

Reservations are required for all Fire on the Rock battles, including preliminaries, semifinals and finals. Tickets for each of the Fire on the Rock - Blowing Rock events are now on sale by visiting clicking HERE to the reservations website. Preliminaries and semifinal battles (April 8, 9, 10, 11, 16, 17) are $59 each, not including beverages, and $69 for the segment final (Apr. 24) and the overall final (Apr. 30).

Mr. Crippen introduced Blowing Rock News to the chefs as the "Official 'Fire on the Rock' Blogger" for 2013. Anyone interested in following the events, the scoring, the culinary fare, the fun, and the winners may do so simply by visiting Blowing Rock News.

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