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Cooking-up Funds: Second annual Iron Skillet chef cookoff benefits local food bank

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Chef Keith Rhodes of Catch restaurant took home the title of Iron Skillet at the last chef cookoff in 2012. He is returning on April 6th to the 2nd annual event to defend his title against other chefs, all to benefit the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.

keith rhodes

RHODES TO NOURISHMENT: Chef Keith Rhodes (left) teams with local food bank head Jeff Rose (right) for the Iron Skillet Chef Cookoff fund-raiser. Courtesy Photo

According to Chef Rhodes, a winning dish is prepared with humility and love. This was his angle during the previous competition.

“Winning last year was awesome,” says Chef Rhodes, who also appeared on Bravo’s “Top Chef,” season nine. “My involvement came from a respect for life. Any chain of negative events could result in any of us needing the services of the local food bank.”

For Rhodes “competition” in this regard is such a strong word. He prefers not to think of the Iron Skillet cookoff in that way. Rather he looks forward to uniting with his competitiors—including chefs James Doss from Rx, Nick Votel from 9 Bakery and Lounge, Carlos Rojas from Delphina Dos, and Ryan Andress and John Mike Rhem from UNCW Catering.

“We are assembling for a common cause,” he continues, “which is to strengthen our community and allow chefs use their culinary talents like colors in a rainbow.”

The Wilmington regional council of the food bank came up with the fundraising opportunity to help shed light on the role they play across central and eastern NC. Essentially, they want to ensure no one in need goes hungry.

“The aim is to raise enough funds to provide 25,000 meals,” Jeff Rose, Wilmington branch director, informs. “We can do that with just $5,000 in donations. [With each donation going] to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC, every dollar equals five meals. That’s a powerful donation.”

The food bank supports over 90 different nonprofit partners who are helping to feed our neighbors in need. The Wilmington branch serves Brunswick, Columbus, Pender and New Hanover counties. Currently, there are 67,420 individuals living within these counties in need of food assistance; 20,450 of them are children.

The previous Iron Skillet was well-received among guests; in fact, the inaugural event raised approximately $2,000, which in turn made 10,000 meals. “We’d love to double that or better,” Rose notes. “Again, [with] every dollar raised, we are able to distribute.”

The event kicks off at 5:30 p.m. at UNCW’s Burney Center and continues until 8:30 in the evening. Iron Skillet is a unique take on an “Iron Chef” competition. Each chef will be provided the same basic ingredients, which are chosen to illustrate some of the foods that one would commonly find at the food bank. They then create their own signature dish. This year’s ingredients include rice, sweet potatoes, bananas, and honey.

“The winner receives a plaque that has been designed by one of our partner agencies, Kids Making It,” Rose details. “They will be able to display the award at their restaurant and will hold the title—until next year.”

Chef Keith Rhodes’ winning dish last year came from his tasty burritos. He was inspired by his grandmother, who used to make something similar. “The love just poured out of his creation,” Rose recalls.

Attendees are then given the chance to vote on their favorite recipe after sampling the dishes. They do so by voting with dollars. “Each individual will place vote tickets into their favorite chef’s station,” Rose explains.

The cost is $15 for entry, which allots attendees 15 votes. If they choose to vote more, they can make a larger donation to the food bank. “You will be given a corresponding amount of tickets for your dollars,” Rose assures.

There also will be regular updates throughout the evening to show which chef is getting the most votes. A bonus round will take place at the end of the event. Participating chefs  have been collecting donations at their restaurants, which then will be added to their ticket total to help crown the winner.

Also featured throughout the evening will be live entertainment from Wilmington jazz master Lee Venters and guitarist Scott Quinn. They will perform their unique blend of world jazz.

“Venters, a mainstay of the Wilmington music scene, and Quinn are both members of Without Until and have quite the musical pedigree,” Rose remarks. “The Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC [is] grateful to both Lee and Scott for donating their time and talents for such a good cause; their music will provide a great addition to an evening already rich in fine food and libations.”

Anyone who cannot attend the event can visit the food bank’s website——to make a donation. Donations by checks can also be sent to 1314 Marstellar Street, Wilmington, NC 28401.



Iron Skillet Chef Cookoff

Benefitting the Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC
April 6th, 5:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
UNCW Burney Center
601 S. College Rd.
Tickets: $15 • 910-251-1465

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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