Chefs go 'native' for state cooking competition

Native Kitchen chef represents Swannanoa in kitchen showdown

Fred McCormick

When four teams square off at June 20-23 at the dining series for the Got to Be NC culinary competition, only one will advance to the Battle of the Champions in October.

Eden Roorda wants that to be her team.

Eden Roorda prepares a dish with Matthew Miner, whose team she was on in her first appearance in the Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series in 2013. Roorda will lead her own team into the competition this year on June 21.

For the third straight year Roorda, who is the executive chef at the Native Kitchen & Social Pub in Swannanoa, will put her culinary skills to the test against chefs from all over the state. This year's competition is being held at The Empire Room in Greensboro.

Roorda's cooking career began 20 years ago. She attended culinary school in Pennsylvania before "working under a few really good chefs" in Houston, Texas, she said. She was a chef in Stockholm, Sweden before being named executive chef of the Neighborhood Restaurant and Bar on New York City's Upper West Side.

"I moved from New York to Asheville a few years ago for a change of pace," she said.

After spending two years as the executive chef for the Indigo Hotel in Asheville, Roorda headed east to Swannanoa, where she has added her own touch to the menu.

"I love it here," she said. "The direction I'm going is contemporary southern American. I like to focus on the local farms and highlight what's in season."

The Natives, as her team is known, are Roorda, her sous chef Todd Ritter and Sam Beasley, who is the executive chef at the Bella Torte Bistro & Bakery in Lenoir.

This year will be Roorda's third in the competition, but her first representing the Native Kitchen.

"It's a lot of fun. But it's also a lot of work, so it's challenging" she said. "It's also a great way to get your name out there and let people see what you're capable of."

Roorda's proficiency in the kitchen was put to the test during the 2013 competition, when she was a member of Matthew Miner's team. In her inaugural competitive cooking event, she was tasked with creating a dessert using the local ingredient for that round, triggerfish.

"You don't have to do a dessert, but if you do a dessert you're more likely to win," she said. "So the only thing that came into my head was to do a play on breakfast. So I did triggerfish candied bacon."

The dish earned a score of 79.80, the highest in that round.

"I did a brioche crouton in the shape of a surfboard and I cut a hole in one side," she said. "I put an egg shell I had emptied out in the the hole and filled it with scrambled truffle egg. I did a coffee panna cotta and of course, the triggerfish bacon."

Roorda remembers the dish as a highlight in her career, as well as the moment that she knew she would return to the competitive dining series.

This year, Roorda and her crew will face off against a team from Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro. Though she's been there before, she still expects to be nervous.

"The pressure never really goes away. I mean," she said, "we're confident and at this point I know the rules and what to expect. But I'm a little bit nervous."

What The Natives can expect is a long day that goes by "very fast," according to Roorda.

"You show up around 10 (a.m.) and sometime around noon they unveil the local ingredient to you," she said. "You get a few minutes with your team and scribble out a menu, giving them an idea of what you're going to do. Then you start cooking, and by 3 (p.m) you have to hand in your final menu. Each course has to highlight the ingredient."

The ingredient that the teams focuses on is something that can be found in the state. Three dishes from each team are served to guests, who vote on their favorites. Guests' votes account for half of the total score, while a panel of judges decides the other half.

The Natives' battle will be Tuesday, June 21. If they advance, they will face the winner from the previous day's competition pitting  a team representing the Undercurrent Restaurant in Greensboro and the Hobnob in Brevard.

Tickets are available on Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series.