Gamekeeper chef wins Fire on the Rock

Article Published: Apr. 22, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Gamekeeper chef wins Fire on the Rock

Gamekeeper chef Sam Beasley prepares one a vegetarian dishes during the finals of the Chef Challenge at the Hayes Center.

Photo by Jeff Eason

It took 10 weeks, approximately 120 courses served and hundreds of hours of competition, but finally a champion was crowned.

On Sunday, chef Sam Beasley and his chef team from the Gamekeeper bested chef Jason Jarrell and his team from Rowland's at Westglow Resort and Spa in the finals of the 2010 Fire on the Rock Chef's Challenge at the Hayes Performing Arts Center in Blowing Rock.

The Fire on the Rock Chef's Challenge was one of the signature events at last weekend's Blue Ridge Wine and Food Festival in Blowing Rock.

The event, which started five years ago with six competing chefs, started the 2010 competition with 20 chefs from six western North Carolina counties. Preliminary rounds were held at Crippen's Country Inn and Restaurant in Blowing Rock.

Last weekend, the final four chef teams squared off at the Hayes Center for a two-day battle royal featuring five esteemed cuisine judges from around the Southeast.

In addition to the teams from the Gamekeeper and Rowland's, the final four featured chef Nicole Palazzo and her team from Sorrento's Bistro in Banner Elk and Andrew Long and his chef team from Storie St. Grille in Blowing Rock.

Around 250 spectators and supporters witnessed the action during the final competition on Sunday. As usual, a secret ingredient was revealed to the chef teams right before the competition was to begin on the "kitchen arena" set up on the stage of the Hayes Center.

In an unusual twist, however, host Jimmy Crippen didn't reveal a mandatory ingredient for all the creations, but instead an ingredient that was not permitted in any dish: meat.

With the vegetarian theme revealed to the competing teams, the clock began counting down from 60 minutes, and the action onstage began in earnest.

Each chef team created and plated three vegetarian dishes during the allotted time. The dishes were then served to five celebrity judges: John Batchelor, restaurant reviewer for the Greensboro News & Record; Moreton Neal, food editor for Raleigh Metro Magazine; Donna Florio, senior writer for Southern Living Magazine; Marchia Langhenry, editor for the Atlanta Journal Constitution's Home & Garden; and Jane Garvey, contributor for

Beasley's team created a gazpacho that the judges hailed as "chunky, authentic and spicy," a Thai-style vegetable dish with wood-ear mushrooms, and a tempeh dish served with a ramp pesto, of which one judge said, "I've never ordered a tempeh dish at a restaurant in my entire life, but I could eat this dish all day long."

Added judge John Batchelor, "This ramp pesto is special, as is the grilled tomato sauce with the goat cheese. Separately, they don't do much, together they are phenomenal."

Jarrell's team's dishes included a "comfort food" trio of tomato soup, grilled tomato and cheese biscuit and fresh garden salad that earned raves from the judges and an impressive sweet potato, apple and pear tart with an ice-wine vinegar from frozen grapes.

The team from Rowland's only misstep seemed to be a puff pastry vegetable potpie dish with a ber blanc sauce of wine, butter and shallots.

Several of the judges noted that the sauce would have been a better match for hot vegetables and complained that the potatoes in the dish were not fully cooked.

That misstep appeared to have cost the Rowland's team dearly, as Beasley and team Gamekeeper won the final contest by a mere 10 points.

When the winning team was announced, Beasley and his chef team celebrated on stage, while the audience contingent representing the Gamekeeper and friends jumped to its feet and went wild. With a hoist from the crowd, Beasley's 5-year-old daughter Olivia joined her dad on stage.

In a ceremony reminiscent of the Green Jacket celebration at the Masters Golf Tournament, emcee Jimmy Crippen presented Beasley with the coveted crimson chef's jacket.

The remaining food left from the Fire on the Rock competition was donated to the Hunger and Health Coalition. Leslie Shavell and other representatives of the organization loaded the fresh produce and other food items into a van for distribution to hungry families in the High Country.

Sales from souvenir chef jackets, oven mitts, T-shirts, aprons and other items benefited the local chapter of the North Carolina Burned Children's Fund, organized locally by Blowing Rock Fire & Rescue worker Angie Miller.

The 2010 Fire on the Rock Chef's Challenge was sponsored by Tom Santay Productions, Viking Range Corporation, Crippen's Country Inn and Restaurant, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, Blowing Rock Fire & Rescue, Mitsubishi Electric, Queen City Music Video & Appliances, and the Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority.

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