Shows like Iron Chef America and Hell’s Kitchen have made culinary cooking competitions all the rage the past few years and, since 2005, the High Country has had its very own Iron Chef-style competition which pits local chefs against other chefs from the area’s exceptional restaurants and dining rooms. Year after year, these events, along with the big competition for the Red Chef’s Jacket which takes place at the Blue Ridge Wine and Food Festival in Blowing Rock in the springtime, have gotten more and more popular, and it’s really no surprise: the food is amazing and the culinary creations are unique and include a mystery ingredient at every experience!

The Fire on the Rock Chef Challenge events that take place at Crippen’s this year in Blowing Rock actually began more than five years ago in 2005 when Crippens Blowing Rock NC’s chef, Jimmy Crippen, who also helped create Blowing Rock’s Winterfest, thought it would be great to showcase a chefs’ competition in the High Country. The first year of the event, only 6 chefs from area restaurants participated; this year, there will be 20 chefs from restaurants in Ashe, Avery, Watauga, and Wilkes counties.

Preliminary competitions began on February 9th with Glidewell’s battling Paolucci’s Italian Bar & Grill. All preliminary competitions, including the quarterfinals, are slated to take place at Crippen’s Country Inn & Blowing Rock Restaurant located in charming Downtown Blowing Rock NC. The battles are scheduled for each Tuesday and Wednesday during the months of February and March. The public is always invited to attend and reservations are recommended if you want to participate in judging. The cost is an affordable $39 plus tax, tip, and beverage. These events are almost always sold out, so reserve your time today, contact Crippen’s in Blowing Rock.

Before each competition, on the day of, the battling teams meet to go over the rules and to find out what their mystery ingredient will be for the night. The mystery ingredient is decided upon by choosing a randomly selected bingo ball. There is a common pantry from which participants can use foods, but with over 30 secret ingredients thrown together for each culinary creation, no one ever knows exactly what will be selected on the night of the competition. Like the show Iron Chef, the secret ingredient must be used in all the dishes and the chefs are not allowed to prepare dishes from their "home" restaurants’ menus. This year, Crippens Blowing Rock NC’s chef and staff are hosting the events. They are not a part of the battles, but instead intend to serve as the "Chef Ref" for the competition.

Foodies and those that are looking for a delightful dining experience can enjoy a six course meal on the nights of these competitions. Dishes must be ready at 6:00 p.m. and guests are asked to arrive at 6:30 p.m. when they will receive a quick crash course on being an appropriate food critic. The winning team of each event will receive $500 and leftovers are donated to The Hunger and Health Coalition. Winners move through the brackets until there are four final teams and then, finally, two who will then compete LIVE on stage in the Hayes Performing Arts Center in Blowing Rock NC as part of the Blue Ridge Wine and Food Festival which takes place in April.

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Here’s the schedule:

Glidewell’s VS Paolucci’s Italian Bar & Grill
Tuesday Feb. 9th
Wine Feature: Gauge Wines, CA

Louisiana Purchase Food & Spirits VS The Gamekeeper
Wednesday Feb. 10th
Wine Feature: Gauge Wines, CA

Canyons VS Char Modern American Restaurant
Tuesday Feb. 16th
Wine Feature: Hedges Cellars, WA

Grandfather Golf & Country Club VS. The Manor House at Chetola Resort
Wednesday Feb. 17th
Wine Feature: Hedges Cellars, WA

Makoto Seafood & Steakhouse VS Winner of Feb. 9th Heat
Tuesday Feb. 23rd
Wine Feature: Montinore Estate, OR

Storie Street Grille VS Casa Rustica
Wednesday Feb. 24th
Wine Feature: Montinore Estate, OR

Hearthstone Tavern & Grille VS Vidalia
Tuesday Mar. 2nd
Wine Feature: Colombelle, France

The Table at Crestwood VS Winner of Feb. 10th Heat
Wednesday Mar. 3rd
Wine Feature: Colombelle, France

Jackalope’s View at Archer’s Inn VS Winner of Feb. 16th Heat
Tuesday Mar. 9th
Wine Feature: X Winery, CA

Sorrento’s Bistro VS Hound Ears Lodge & Club
Wednesday Mar. 10th
Wine Feature: X Winery, CA

Twenty One & Main VS Rowland’s at Westglow Resort & Spa
Tuesday Mar. 16th
Wine Feature: Tortoise Creek, CA

Bistro Roca Restaurant & Antler’s Bar VS Winner of Feb. 17th Heat
Wednesday Mar. 17th
Wine Feature: Tortoise Creek, CA

Quarterfinal Heat
Tuesday Mar. 23rd
Wine Feature: Tiamo Winery, Italy

Quarterfinal Heat
Wednesday Mar. 24th
Wine Feature: Tiamo Winery, Italy

Quarterfinal Heat
Tuesday Mar. 30th
Wine Feature: Hope Estate, Australia

Quarterfinal Heat
Wednesday Mar. 31st
Wine Feature: Hope Estate, Australia

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