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Fire on the Rock

Article Published: Jan. 13, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 19, 2011
Fire on the Rock

Gamekeeper chef Sam Beasley and company compete in last year's Fire on the Rock Chef Challenge in Blowing Rock. Beasley returns Jan. 26 for the 2011 competition kick-off at Crippen's Country Inn.

Photo by Jeff Eason

"Iron Chef" comes to Blowing Rock.

Well, sort of.

In its sixth year, the Fire on the Rock Chef's challenge is a battle of wits and culinary finesse. This year's showdown starts with a demonstration of proven talent, as last year's winner, Sam Beasley (The Gamekeeper) makes three courses to get taste buds rolling Jan. 26 at Crippen's Country Inn.

He'll face off against Asheville's champion, Rick Boyer of Biltmore Estates, but it won't be a competition.

"It's going to be an exhibition dinner," organizer Jimmy Crippen, owner of Crippen's, said. "We're still going to revolve it around a secret ingredient."

Competition or no competition, Boyer plans to bring his A-game. It's something the Boston-bred chef brings to the table consistently at his restaurant.

"We have guests come in from all over, so it's really important that we're diverse and that we're open to cooking whatever our guests want," Crippen said.

It's that versatility that helped him out in last year's inaugural WNC Chef's Challenge, an idea straight from the Blowing Rock table, he said.

"We decided that if you win one of the competitions (Asheville or Fire on the Rock) that you'll do a dinner for the general public with both winners," Crippen said.

January 26 marks the first such kick-off and, if it's anything like Crippen's other projects, it's the first of many.

"I like doing events," he said. "I started the Blowing Rock Winterfest around 13 years ago. In small towns, you can make things happen."

But he didn't stop there. The avid Food Network fan wanted to bring his favorite show, "Iron Chef," to the High Country stadium. The first three years was just a stage show, with six to eight chefs competing.

"Then I had so many restaurants wanting to participate," he said. "I realized, 'Wow, this is more than just a stage show. This is customer interactive type stuff. If we can get the customers to dine on the food and be the judges, how much fun would that be?"

So, the contest got bigger.

"Let's take 'Iron Chef' off the televisions and put it right in the dining room," Crippen said.

Getting chefs? That was the easy part. "Chefs have egos," he laughed.

On the actual show, chefs are presented with a list of possible mystery ingredients and a $500 pantry budget. Crippen allows them a $100 bag of tricks, but doesn't give chefs any clues during the preliminary rounds, and the mystery ingredients are always a hit.

"We've done so many," he said, everything from milk to squid, and the fun part is watching the chefs use their creativity to delight the taste buds.

Want to see what it's all about? Come to the kick-off, Jan. 26, at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $45 each, plus beverage and tax, and are expected to sell out. Call Crippen's Country Inn at (828) 295-3487 to make reservations.

Can't make it? Try a preliminary round. At just $39 per person (plus tax, tip and beverage), the challenges happen every Tuesday and Wedesnday in February and March at 6:30 p.m. at Crippen's Country Inn, located at 239 Sunset Drive in Blowing Rock.

For more information, visit

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Got restaurant news? E-mail editor Frank Ruggiero at ( , snail mail Mountain Times Publications, Attn: Frank Ruggiero, 474 Industrial Park Drive, Boone, N.C. 28607, or call (828) 264-NEWS and ask for Frank.

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