Preview: Queen City Food Fight

By Nikki Panos

August 22, 2015

Five Piedmont Culinary Guild chefs are taping on proverbial gloves August 30 in preparation for the first Queen City Food Fight after a challenge was brought forth by the chefs of North Carolina Chapter of the American Culinary Federation to a legitimate competition.

On the grounds of CPCC’s culinary facility, the two organizations are going head to head in a battle spanning three intense rounds of arguably the most decadent food in the region. Competition runs in chef blood, and the food fight is sure to showcase just that. According to Kris Reed, director of operations for the Guild, PCG is also aiming “to bring people that attend our events closer to our region’s farms and to the cuisine that is being crafted here.”

North Carolina is home to some amazing agriculture and the biodiversity in the Piedmont deserves its place at the table. By showcasing seasonal fare, the Guild is granting people a “taste of the region” and graciously educating attendees about foods they may otherwise be unaware is rooted in these foothills while supporting the farmers who grow here. Beyond the food fight itself, local mixologist, Kevin Gavagan of The Haunt, will be bringing Copper Barrel Distillery moonshine out to display this local spirit’s unexpectedly amazing flavor profile in some truly stunning cocktails.  

Kris Reid Executive Director of the Piedmont Culinary Guild

Beyond that, the Queen City food fight is a night of celebrating community. An event of this scale requires a great deal of coordination and dedication. The Piedmont Culinary Guild is extremely thankful for the time the celebrity judges will be donating to the event, CPCC for hosting, as well as the NC Chapter of ACF for approaching the Guild to put on the competition in the first place. “It truly does take a village…and that is what any event we do is really all about. Community,” Kris Reed commented.

A village indeed. Ten talented chefs have been selected by their peers as representatives and will be putting forth both their time and their talent on the evening of the thirtieth. Each comes with their own journey into the food culture, and whether in the Guild or the Federation’s corner, guests can expect excellent cuisine. Let’s meet the chefs.

From the Piedmont Culinary Guild:

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Chef Ashley Boyd photo via

Ashley Boyd — Ashley is the pastry chef and owner of 300 East; the relaxed and outré restaurant located inside a spacious historic house nuzzled in the Dilworth neighborhood. She brings with her an affinity for utilizing local ingredients in her creations. Her sweet potato cheesecake is the epitome of local as North Carolina is the largest producer of the tuber and has been since 1971.

Chef Paul Verica. Photo by Carter Short

Paul Verica — With over 20 years in the game, Paul is a veteran chef. According to him on the bio page of his restaurant, he began his life of food as a dishwasher and moved his way around and up in the food world until his formal education at The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College. There, he exposed himself to many styles of cooking before traveling to France where he was introduced to the farm to table philosophy and found the style he eventually pursued in his current restaurant. Paul is the executive chef and owner of the flawlessly located downtown Waxhaw restaurant Heritage, where he is dedicated to supporting local producers while serving thoughtful New American Cuisine.

Chef Marc Jacksina photo via

Marc Jacksina — Mark comes in with an impressive resume. A native New Yorker, Mark has made Charlotte his home for the past 11 years and has kept himself busy, having opened some of Charlotte’s best restaurants including Halycyon, Lulu, and Nan & Byrons. His latest venture is as executive chef of Earl’s Grocery, where he serves impressive upscale street foods like tacos, bahn mi’s, and savory burritos. I suggest everyone try the duck confit breakfast hash with beets. Marc’s playful attitude toward food has been acclaimed all over Charlotte and his talent will certainly impress during the food fight.

Chef Blake Hartwick

Blake Hartwick — Blake is currently the executive chef at Bon Terra, where he focuses on the flavors which define Charlotte’s comprehensive southern flare. According to his bio on the Bon Terra site, his roots in Charlotte date all the way back to 1993 where he has graced the kitchens of Bistro 100, Sonoma, and Carpe Diem. Blake has also worked overseas in prestigious kitchens in recent years. Knowledge of his talent has reached even the James Beard House when he and a team presented a Taste of Charlotte menu.   

Chef Jon Fortes

Jon Fortes — This man has Charlotte’s love. He has been voted more than once as Charlotte’s top chef and has worked as executive chef of Mimosa Grill as well as Harper’s Restaurant Group’s corporate chef before moseying his way down to Fort Mill roughly two years ago. In the neighboring town, he and his partner Amy Kumpf run The Flipside Cafe. The duo serves up southern eclectic dishes daily to an eager crowd. Proving to be a success in Fort Mill, they recently expanded by opening a second location in Rock Hill.

And fighting for the NC chapter of the American Culinary Federation:

Chef Jason Ziobrowski

Jason Ziobrowski — Chef “Jay Z” currently works as Corporate Chef for InHarvest where he works with chef customers and operators all over the eastern US to explore all the latest food trends. Certified by the American Culinary Federation as an executive chef (CEC), Chef Jason spearheaded the ACF North Carolina Chapter’s contribution to the USDA’s Chefs Move to Schools with “5 a Day the Color Way in Charlotte, NC.” The program, which relies on chef volunteerism and donated foods from vendors, has become a model for other ACF chapters to get involved with schools in their communities, teaching kids to appreciate whole, fresh foods and their origins and make healthful choices. chefsiuta

Chef Kris Siuta

Kris Siuta — Chef Kris currently resides as executive chef of Charlotte’s local thrill park, Carowinds where he is set on moving theme park food culture to the next level with a Southern fling attached; a big task but one in which Kris is more than capable of realizing. Before teaming up with Carowinds, Chef Kris earned his stripes from the Culinary Institute of America in New York where he also had the opportunity to work in some of the most famous restaurants of the Big Apples. After getting his fill in New York, he moved south to West Virginia, working at the Greenbrier Resort before opening his own bakery and cafe. Southern food may be a newer realm for Kris, but he has definitely embraced the south and all its offerings.

Philip Lloyd — Chef Philip enters the food fight as a Culinary Arts Instructor at the International Culinary School in Charlotte where he has been educating passionate young chefs for the past four years. He is an enthusiastic chef who not only instructs, but also owns his own business as a personal chef and has been doing so the past four years as well.

Melissa Toth — Melissa works as an independent chef. She has been working solo since January and before she branched out on her own, Melissa had worked as a kitchen assistant at First Presbyterian Church. She has received her associate degree from Central Piedmont Community College in the Culinary Arts and with a fresh eye, her culinary skills are sure to help support her team during the food fight.

Emma Barnes — Pastry chef Emma Barns will be bringing her confectionary knowledge to the fight for her team. She currently works as an instructor at CPCC and her contribution will certainly delight the diners and judges alike.  

The Guild and the Federation have high hopes for this event; the chance to showcase Charlotte’s growing food scene and bring awareness to the greatness of the local agriculture while also imbibing on local moonshine is sure to please all. Let’s all be sure to enjoy the food fight and get your tickets soon. As Kris Reed puts it, “Life is short. Live well and buy local!”

More info on Queen City Food Fight.



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