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Graze heads to the battle of champions

by Kristi Maier

| @triadfoodies

Foodies who also happen to enjoy the thrill of competition (and throwing a little opinion around) will convene next week as the Got To Be NC Competition Dining’s Battle of Champions lights its fire in Raleigh. The year-long competition is hotter than ever with winning teams from the Triad, Triangle, Charlotte and for the first time, Greenville, South Carolina, drawing knives to see who’s pitted against whom. After three preliminary battles, two chefs will face off in a Finale crowning one chef “The Best of the Best.”

Competition Dining often has sell-out events. But the Battle of Champions is a completely different animal. The final battle sells out in seconds and the entire series is sold out in just a few minutes. The chances of getting a ticket at this point are long past, however you can be placed on a waitlist. It’s fun to even follow along on social media”¦ you can’t taste it, but you feel the anticipation.

Triad Winner, Chef Richard Miller, knows that feeling of anticipation all too well. Miller was the bridesmaid in 2014 and vowed to return this year, ultimately taking the crown at the local competition in July.

He said the night of the win that he was determined to not come in second place again. This year as he heads to claim the ultimate prize as the Got To Be NC champ, Miller says he’s more excited than nervous. “We’ve accomplished everything we set out to do this year. Our main goal was to win the Triad battle. At this point, additional wins in Raleigh would be icing on the cake.” Miller says he’s been so busy in the restaurant, he really hasn’t had a chance to get nervous, but that he and his team have been practicing and scoping out photos of other teams’ dishes in the competition.

Competition Dining started as Fire in the Rock in the High Country Region of North Carolina. It has since moved across the state to include multiple cities. But more than that, it has introduced chefs and their restaurants to farms and producers and diners reap the reward of tasting the skills of the chef teams as well as the goodness that’s grown by North Carolina producers. That has certainly been the case for Graze. “The win has definitely helped put Graze on the map,” says Twin City Quarter Marketing Coordinator, Susie Cardwell. “We’ve seen an increase in new customers who’ve attended Competition Dining or followed it on social media. Customers have been really excited to see all the local farms, businesses and artisans represented on our menus.” Cardwell says they have a group of 16 headed to Raleigh to cheer on Team Graze. “We’ve been truly amazed with all the wonderful support from our customers as well as other competitors in the series. The local community has embraced our success and is behind us as we continue to the final round. We’re so proud and excited to represent the Triad in the competition.”

“This is going to be an extremely competitive championship series,” said Jimmy Crippen, Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series founder and host. “The level of culinary talent this year has exceeded all expectations.”

Miller agrees, “We’ve had the pleasure of working with a lot of talented chefs along the way and been able to prepare amazing food using local ingredients.”

One of the finalists this year is a hospital system chef. Ryan Conklin, of Rex Healthcare, wants to redefine people’s idea of hospital food. Here’s the lineup of who’s joining Conklin and Miller:

2015 BATTLE OF CHAMPIONS FINAL FIRE BRACKETS

Wednesday, Oct. 28 Ryan Conklin, Rex Healthcare (Raleigh) vs. Joseph Cornett, The Flipside Café (Fort Mill, South Carolina)

Thursday, Oct. 29 Richard Miller, Graze (Winston-Salem) vs. Oct. 28 winner

Friday, Oct. 30 Todd Warden, The Cliffs Valley (Greenville, South Carolina) vs. Brent Martin, The Summit Room (Charlotte)

Saturday, Oct. 31 Oct. 29 winner vs. Oct. 30 winner Just like all the dinners, each chef team will battle it out preparing three courses using a featured ingredient that comes from a regional farmer or artisan producer. Featured ingredients are unveiled to the chefs the morning of the dinner battle and must be used in each course. The guests get to taste six courses and judge each course based on creativity, taste, use of ingredient and other criteria. “Pro” votes are weighted with regular “Joe” votes to determine the winner.

The prize? Well, bragging rights, of course, plus a grand prize of $4,000 cash, two handmade chef knives by Ironman Forge and a trip to the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley, California, compliments of Kikkoman and the Pro Chef Program. !

WANNA go?

The battles begin at 7:00 Wednesday, October 28, at the Renaissance North Hills, Raleigh. For information about tickets or get on the waitlist, visit competitiondining.com. If you can’t be there, follow along on Competition Dining’s Facebook or Twitter.

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