Fire on the Rock

Article Published: Jan. 21, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Fire on the Rock

Chef teams from area restaurants prepare dishes using the secret ingredient, strawberries, during last year's Fire on the Rock competition at Crippen's Country Inn and Restaurant.

Photo by Jeff Eason

With Valentine's Day looming on the horizon, you may be thinking of a way to impress your spouse or date in the coming weeks. You could settle for a night at fancy restaurant, and that might be enough to impress your date.

Or, you could go for the gusto by inviting them to participate in the Fire on the Rock Chef's Challenge. By spending an evening at a Fire on the Rock event, you get a unique fine dining experience, a front row seat at an entertaining cooking competition, and a chance to be a judge in an exciting and prestigious contest.

The Fire in the Rock Chef's Challenge will match the area's finest chefs and their teams as they go head-to-head at Crippen's Country Inn and Restaurant on Sunset Drive in Blowing Rock. Each evening, two teams will compete by seeing how well they prepare entrees, appetizers and desserts based on a secret ingredient not revealed to them until mere hours before dinner service.
"For the preliminary rounds, we will hold a random drawing to determine the secret ingredient based on a food list," said Fire on the Rock organizer and host Jimmy Crippen. "The chefs will find out that day."

Crippen added that the North Carolina Department of Agriculture will choose the secret ingredients during Fire on the Rock's Final Four competition, to be held during the Blue Ridge Wine and Food Festival in Blowing Rock in April.

For the preliminary rounds of the Fire on the Rock Chef's Challenge events at Crippen's, the list of possible secret ingredients includes artichokes, cherries, shitake mushrooms, blood oranges, shrimp, mozzarella cheese, sweet potatoes, spaghetti squash, vine-ripened tomatoes and dozens of other fresh items.

Currently, the roster for the 2010 Fire on the Rock preliminary rounds of chef challenges includes 20 chefs from Blowing Rock, Boone, Banner Elk, Elkin, Grassy Creek and Linville.

The roster includes Andrew Long from Storie Street Grille, Carl Paolucci from Paolucci's Bar and Grille, Matt Franklin from Jackalope's View, Michael Barbato from the Manor House at Chetola, Danny Brock from Canyons of the Blue Ridge, Sam Ratchford from Vidalia, Skipper Clyburn from Glidewell's on Main, Nick Lewis from Char, Ronald Dhing from Makoto's Japanese Steak House, Jason Jarrell from Rowland's at Westglow, Mitchell Foreman from Bistro Roca, Jeff Gibbs from Twenty One & Main, Sam Beasely from the Gamekeeper, Chuck Nelson from the Table at Crestwood, Nicole Palazzo from Sorrento's Bistro, Joe Turner from Hearthstone Tavern & Grille, Hunter Rowling from Casa Rustica, Dominic Geraghty from Hound Ears Club, Patrick Bageby from Louisiana Purchase, and Tom Jankovich from Grandfather Mountain Country Club.

The Fire on the Rock competition will feature preliminary rounds every Tuesday and Wednesday evening in February, quarterfinal rounds every Tuesday and Wednesday evening in March, and the final four chefs competing at the Blue Ridge Wine and Food Festival in Blowing Rock in April.
"Guests will receive a crash course on how to be a food critic," Crippen said.

The two chefs and their teams of three assistants will present three dishes each in a blind format, meaning that the diners will not know whose dish was prepared by which chef. Each of the six dishes will be judged on appearance, aroma, taste and other factors and scored accordingly.

At the end of each preliminary round, diners will turn in their scoring cards to determine a winning chef. That chef will receive a $500 cash prize and move onto the quarterfinal rounds in March.
"That's the highlight of each night's event," Crippen said, "the moment we bring out the teams and reveal the winning chef."

After the winning chef is announced, all of the diners are invited to move to Crippen's bar area for a "meet and greet" with the chef teams.

Following each night's competition, unused prepared food from the event will be donated to the Hunger and Health Coalition. During the final competition at the Blue Ridge Wine and Food Festival, unused unprepared food items left over from the competition will be donated to the Hunger and Health Coalition.

The finals will also feature a number of celebrity judges, including John Batchelor, food writer for the Greensboro News and Record, Donna Florio, food editor of Southern Living magazine, and others.

Crippen added that food lovers can keep up with the competition through regular updates on the Web site, There is also a line of hats, shirts and cooking gear bearing the Fire on the Rock logo available through the site.

The cost for one person to participate in the preliminary round of Fire on the Rock at Crippen's Country Inn and Restaurant is $39, excluding beverages and gratuity. Reservations are strongly suggested. For more information, or to make reservations, visit or call Crippen's Country Inn at (828) 295-3487.

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