Chefs from Ceviche’s will represent Wilmington in the Got To Be NC championships this Saturday

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Chef Edson Juarez (right) and Executive Chef Sam Cahoon back in the kitchen of Ceviche's. They're traveling to Raleigh this weekend to battle it out in the Got To Be NC Competition Dining Battle of the Champions.
Chef Edson Juarez (right) and Executive Chef Sam Cahoon back in the kitchen of Ceviche’s. They’re traveling to Raleigh this weekend with Chef Aldo Garcia, to compete against other chefs in the Competition Dining 2016 Battle of the Champions.

WILMINGTON — The “Got To Be NC Competition Dining Series Battle of The Champions” begins in Raleigh tonight, and three chefs from Wrightsville Beach restaurant Ceviche’s are vying for the chance to be named state champions, pitted against other teams from across North Carolina.

Ceviche’s Executive Chef Sam Cahoon and his sous chefs, Edson Juarez and Eric Smith, took the top spot in the Wilmington chapter of the chef dining competition at Blue Water Grill in September. Now, Cahoon, Juarez and chef Aldo Garcia, who is taking Smith’s spot in the Battle of the Champions, will face off on Saturday against Winston-Salem champions “Team Vidalia Boom,” from Boone.

Competition Dining supporters and foodies from around the state won’t want to miss the ultimate final showdown. Officials of with chef competition announced this week that the competition, now in its fifth year, will be the last of the Competition Dining series.

Competition dining champions in Wilmington. (From left) Joe Sanderson, Director of Marketing for the N.C. Department of Agriculture, Executive Chef Sam Cahoon and Sous Chefs Edson Juarez and Eric Smith.
Competition dining champions in Wilmington. (from left) Joe Sanderson, director of marketing for the N.C. Department of Agriculture, Executive Chef Sam Cahoon, sous chefs Edson Juarez and Eric Smith and Jimmy Crippen, Competition Dining founder and event host.

In an interview following the Wilmington win, Cahoon said he was excited “Team Ceviche’s” was moving forward to compete in the Battle of the Champions rounds.

“It really gets serious now,” Cahoon said about the upcoming championship. “Now, it’s the best of the best from each region.”

Cahoon said they’ll be competing with tenured chefs. The team has been hitting the books, refining their techniques and learning as much as possible. It’s all in preparation to take their spot in the kitchen of the Dorothy and Roy Park Alumni Center, 2450 Alumni Drive in Raleigh, for the state championships this weekend.

“We’re expecting a good competition. They are top-notch guys,” Cahoon said about the Winston-Salem champions they face on Saturday. “You’re really going to see the mountains versus the beach.”

The traveling challenge pits two restaurants against each other in a single-elimination format.

Paying guests get in on the action by savoring a six-course menu in a blind tasting alongside a panel of culinary and celebrity judges. The chef “champions” from each of the preliminary competitions held in Winston-Salem, Raleigh, Greensboro, Charlotte and Wilmington, compete in the same format during the final Battle of the Champions.

Cahoon said the Ceviche’s team plans on going into the final championship rounds, focusing on what its members do best. But, one of the biggest challenges of the competition is competing in someone else’s kitchen, with an unfamiliar layout and equipment, he said. 

“Once you get in there, you only have what you know. You’re not allowed to bring a cell phone, your not allowed to bring books or anything like that,” Cahoon said. “It’s all based on what you know. And you really have to know it to be able to pull it off. Especially, in somebody else’s kitchen.”

The featured ingredients in the completion are announced just one hour before chefs begin the cooking challenge. All featured ingredients in the competition are regional farm-fresh goods that come from a North Carolina farmer or artisan producer. The use of local ingredients is fundamental to the Got to Be NC Compensation Dining series.

For Cahoon, being local to Wilmington and cooking local is what makes him proud to compete in Competition Dining. Cahoon, who was born and raised in Wilmington, and studied at Cape Fear Community College’s culinary school, is representing Wilmington truly as one of the city’s very own home-grown chefs.

“It’s great to actually get this opportunity. There aren’t a whole lot of competitions like this. We get to represent our city against the whole state now. It’s the Port City against your city,” Cahoon said.

Executive Chef Cahoon says he tries to source Ceviche's with locally-sourced foods as much as possible.
Executive Chef Cahoon says he tries to source Ceviche’s with locally-sourced foods as much as possible.

But the 2016 Battle of the Champions will be the ultimate series finale. After five years of successfully celebrating North Carolina’s agriculture and culinary talent through more than 300 interactive dinner events, 1,830 locally sourced dishes and more than 30,000 fed people across the state, the founder and event host Jimmy Crippen is retiring the competition in order to pursue other ventures.

This year’s final four-battle event will take place Nov. 11-18, with finale on Sunday, Nov. 20. That’s the day the 2016 statewide champion — and now the Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series’ final victor — will be crowned.

Follow “Team Ceviche’s” during the competition by visiting the Got To Be NC Competition Dining Series website. Those who would like to support “Team Ceviche’s” and get in on the action can purchase tickets here.

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