The king of Port City Pop-Ups is at it again, and this time it’s called Battle at the Beach.
Jeffrey Porter has been tickling Wilmingtonian taste buds for quite a while. He’s back after a two-year hiatus, during which he found himself in the kitchen at Isis Music Hall in West Asheville, NC. Now Porter oversees the Wrightsville Beach restaurant 22 North, which doubles as an eatery and event venue.
His next venture is a November 17 pop-up that will feature CBD-infused dishes. The CBD is coming from Dark Hollow Farms in Asheville, and owner Carrie Nicholson will be there to talk to patrons about her process and products. While most of Porter’s pop-ups take place at 22 North, he will host the CBD event at Burnt Mill Creek.
Then on November 19, he will ready 22 North for the second round of his culinary competition, Battle at the Beach. I talked to Porter about what’s in store for the bracketed-style tournament, which has ILM chefs chopping at the block to participate.
encore (e): So, what made you want to start Battle at the Beach?
Jeffrey Porter (JP): I was involved in Competition Dining when it was in North Carolina. When they hung up their chefs’ coats a few years ago, it really got my wheels turning. Then I couldn’t stop thinking about it. So as soon as I settled in [at 22 North] I thought to myself, I’m gonna host a chef’s competition here! That way I can help pay the bills and publicize both myself and our great event space.
e: Do you have any help?
JP: I do most things myself. I give myself 30 days to throw the pop-ups together, so I did the same thing for Battle at the Beach. I said to myself if I didn’t sell the tickets, I’d can it and start back at the drawing board. The only promotion I did was social media, so I was thrilled it sold out.
e: I bet! How did you go about finding chefs who wanted to compete?
JP: I put it out on Facebook. I just asked if anyone would be willing to participate in a competition. I had 87 chefs apply.
e: Holy cow! How did you narrow it down?
JP: I had to sift through everyone and weed out the chefs I didn’t think would work. There were a lot of factors, and it was important for me to use discretion. I’ve done 21 pop-ups and I’ve sold out all of them. I wanted to make sure to do it right so that I keep myself if in good standing with the culinary community.
e: That makes sense. Can you explain how the competition works?
JP: It’s a bracketed competition. I start with four chefs who compete, and it gets narrowed down to one. I had a hard time deciding if I wanted it to be bigger, but I didn’t want to outgrow myself before I started, so that’s why there are only four.
The first battle was on October 15 and featured Josh Petty from Cast Iron Kitchen and Bobby Watkins from Ceviche’s; Petty won. The next battle is between Shawn Fenix from Boca Bay and William Roberts from Holiday Inn Sunspree.
Chefs find out at noon the day [of the competition] what the mystery ingredients are. I give them one ingredient per course—appetizer, entree and dessert. Last time the ingredients were saffron, black drum and prickly pear.
[Laughing] I really scared the guys because I piled up like 40 bags of marshmallows in the kitchen because I was making a s’mores cheesecake for the restaurant that week. Both chefs were just staring at it, panicking, before I told them what their ingredients were. They definitely had “oh, shit” looks on their faces. It was great.
Once they learn the ingredients, they have an hour to get me their menus, and then they start prepping.
Last time there was an unintentional wrench in their gears because the ovens went out. It was really cool to see who thrived and who panicked. I definitely doled out a little pressure when I saw the panic spread, but I was also there to help the guys. Luckily, we have a tight-knit community out here so I was able to get them resources quickly.
e: This sounds like a lot of fun! How is the winner chosen?
JP: I have a panel of local celebrity judges [like local Chef Keith Rhodes and culinary stalwarts Courtney and Greg Matheson,] which makes 50% of the score, then the patrons (I call them “foodies”) make up 50%. I also judge the chefs on how well they do in the kitchen, regarding efficiency, use of mystery ingredients, etc.
e: Did you have any local sponsors?
JP: At first I thought I was going to pair up with a food distributor like Cheney Brothers or Sysco, but after poking around it didn’t look like that was going to work out. So I just started asking local businesses if they could sponsor and that ended up being perfect. It was really cool, actually. Vito’s provided the chefs with lunch that day. N Sea Oyster Company gave us the oysters for one of the two speed courses I did during service. We linked up with Sea Love Sea Salt. I think I’ll keep doing it this way in the future.
e: How many tickets do you sell? How much are they? Is alcohol included?
JP: We sell about 70 tickets and they’re $60 per person or $120 for a couple. Alcohol is not included, but we do have a full bar and people are more than welcome to order drinks. We host a social at the beginning of the event, and last time we had a beer tasting sponsored by Wrightsville Beach Brewery, as well as a wine tasting.
After Battle at the Beach wraps, Porter wants to host Battle of the Port in 2020. He also has plans to take the competition statewide. To learn more about participating, attending or sponsoring, contact Porter a 910-661-5681.