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2023 Chef

Best Chef, Pastry Chef, Mixologist and Distiller in North Carolina Crowned at Sold Out 2023 NCRLA Chef Showdown

RALEIGH, N.C. (August 15, 2023) – The North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association (NCRLA), the driving force behind North Carolina’s $30 billion restaurant, foodservice, and lodging industries, announced the champions of the seventh annual NCRLA Chef Showdown on Monday, August 14 at the Pavilion at the Angus Barn in Raleigh, North Carolina.

More than 500 attendees at the sold-out grand finale were treated to tasting-sized portions of the best savory dishes, desserts, cocktails, and mocktails from competitors who made it through the months-long competition. Guests also got to vote for their favorite dishes and drinks served during the grand finale to determine the People’s Choice Award winners, powered by the North Carolina Sweetpotato Commission.

Adé Carrena, chef at Dounou Cuisine in Raleigh, won the coveted NCRLA Chef of the Year award, Emily Parker of Native Fine Diner in Greenville earned NCRLA Pastry Chef of the Year, and Stephanie Elliott of Merle’s—representing Call Family Distillers in Wilkesboro—took home the NCRLA Mixologist and Distillery of the Year award.

In addition, North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Steve Troxler was presented with NCRLA’s Hospitality Partner of the Year Award for his leadership and the departments’ commitment to helping showcase locally owned farms and fresh ingredients over the years of this competition.

New to the competition this year—the Undeniably Dairy Awards—were given to the chef, pastry chef, and bartender who best showcased the use of North Carolina cow’s milk dairy products in the savory plates, desserts, and the cocktails and mocktails.

Also a part of the Grand Finale this year, guests were treated to a very special wine tasting as 19 different NC award-winning wines were paired with each tasting plate. Each of the wines featured at this year’s Chef Showdown event is a Gold, Double Gold, or Silver metal award winner of the 2023 NC Wine Council Awards.

“NCRLA’s seventh Chef Showdown continues to showcase the incredible talent of our chefs, pastry chefs, bartenders, and distilleries from across the state,” said Lynn Minges, president and CEO of NCRLA. “The energy, creativity, and passion of all of the competitors featuring our state’s freshest ingredients paired with North Carolina wines was both delicious and inspiring.”

The competition began back in March with a record-breaking 94 competitors vying for the top awards. The 14 chefs and pastry chefs at the Grand Finale advanced through five rounds of preliminary culinary competition, followed by two semi-final rounds, held at venues across the state. While the six semi-finalist mixology teams, first participated in one of two mixology rounds, both held in Winston-Salem. In all, 25 individual semi-finalists were a part of the Aug. 14 Grand Finale. 

“This partnership is great because North Carolina farm fresh ingredients are the star of the show,” said Troxler. “As this partnership has evolved, we have worked together to help diversify, innovate, and strengthen North Carolina’s food and agriculture businesses and farms across the state.”

During the preliminary and regional rounds, North Carolina chefs presented savory dishes and pastries in front of a panel of previous winners and their peers during the competition. They were judged based on the presentation and taste of the dish, as well as the best use and number of local North Carolina ingredients on each plate. 

Bartenders crafted two cocktails and a mocktail for a panel of their professional peers to consider. They too were judged on taste, creative presentation, and the number of locally sourced ingredients used. 

Preliminary and regional rounds of culinary competition were hosted at community college culinary schools across the state. The preliminary rounds of competition took place in Wilkesboro, Asheville, Morehead City, Charlotte, and Raleigh. The two regional rounds were held in Charlotte and Raleigh.

2023 Winners:

  • NCRLA Chef of the Year: Adé Carrena of Dounou Cuisine in Raleigh
  • NCRLA Pastry Chef of the Year: Emily Parker of Native Fine Diner in Greenville
  • NCRLA Mixologist and Distillery of the Year: Stephanie Elliott of Merle’s representing Call Family Distillers in Wilkesboro

2023 First Runner’s Up

  • First Runner Up for NCRLA Chef of the Year: Chef Luke Owens of Native Fine Diner in Greenville 
  • First Runner Up for NCRLA Pastry Chef of the Year: Pastry Chef Savanna Brodar of The Country Club of North Carolina in Pinehurst
  • First Runner Up for NCRLA Mixologist and Distillery of the Year: Mixologist Ian Murray of Foundation in Raleigh representing Cook’s Mill Whiskey in Mebane

2023 People’s Choice Awards powered by the North Carolina Sweetpotato Commission

  • People’s Choice Chef: Bobby McFarland of Wye Hill Hospitality in Raleigh
  • People’s Choice Pastry Chef: Jill Wasilewski of Ivory Road Café & Kitchen in Arden
  • People’s Choice Specialty Cocktail: Sekani Akunyun of Lavender & Libations Experience representing Seven Jars Distillery in Charlotte

2023 Undeniably Dairy Awards, presented by The Dairy Alliance

  • Best Use of Cow’s Milk Dairy in a Cocktail or Mocktail: Megan King of Antidote, representing Chemist Spirits
  • Best Use of Cow’s Milk Dairy in a Savory Dish: Chef Sera Cuni of Café Root Cellar 
  • Best Use of Cow’s Milk Dairy in a Dessert: Pastry Chef Ann Marie Stefaney of Restaurant Constance 

A special thanks to presenting sponsor Got to Be NC Agriculture and chef sponsor US Foods.


The North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association (NCRLA) serves to advance and protect the interests of more than 20,000 businesses that employ 11 percent of the state’s workforce and generate more than $30 billion in sales annually. Learn more about NCRLA.

Media Contact

Chris Mackey
Chief Strategy and Communications Officer
North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association