What's on Tap

What's on Tap

Top of the Hill chef takes top prize at shrimp and grits cookoff

Posted February 25, 2012

It was a delicious afternoon in Chapel Hill Saturday as seven local chefs cooked up their twists on a Southern classic, vying for the title of Shrimp-N-Grits Champion.

Trey Cleveland from Top of the Hill in Chapel Hill took the judges' top prize, but TABLE, a local charity benefiting children who are at-risk for hunger, and Vimala Rajendran, executive chef and owner of Vimala's Curry Blossom Cafe, also walked away winners.

Rajendran was named the Fan Favorite with her unusual take on shrimp and grits. Her shrimp were spicy and full of Indian curry flavors. When we asked attendees which chef's dish was their favorite, Rajendran was the overwhelming response.

shrimp and grits Shrimp-N-Grits Throwdown

But the judges disagreed with fans in a separate blind tasting. They picked Cleveland, Chef Jimmy Reale of the Carolina Crossroads Restaurant and Jeremy Blankenship of Tyler's Restaurant and Tap Room as the top three.

We think Adam Cobb, chef of Carrboro's Glasshalfull, also deserves a nod for a bright and flavorful dish that incorporated Spanish flavors and a little bit of heat.

Cleveland served up delicate shrimp on top of a crispy fried grit cake in a creamy mushroom sauce.

"We did it differently because our grits are fried," he said. "That gives it great texture and gives contrast to the whole dish."

Even before he was named the winner, Cleveland said the competition was all about having a good time.

"I think it's great. There's a lot of people here and everyone's having fun," he said.

The first-ever Shrimp-N-Grits Throwdown at the Carolina Inn raised money and food donations for TABLE, while feeding 200-plus locals who were hungry for creativity and good old Southern cooking.

TABLE spokeswoman Joyce Fink said getting the word out about her organization was an important goal of the event, and she was pleased to see so many people attend.

"Because we're volunteer-driven, it's important for people to know about us and that there are children in our community that need food," she said. "Hunger is a community issue. It's just wonderful to have so much support."

Master of Ceremonies Aaron Nelson, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, said he thought the throwdown was a great success.

"Anytime you can bring together 200 people to try great restaurants, great chefs, great shrimp and grits, and raise money for charity, it's a great thing," he said. 


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  • Scubagirl Feb 26, 2012

    they all sound yummy. Never had fried grits but imagine they are pretty good. Might have to go on a shrimp & grits tasting trip

  • LuvLivingInCary Feb 26, 2012

    can't believe someone would fry grits. not even paula dean would stop that low.

  • lunarmodule Feb 26, 2012

    Hayes Barton Cafe offers shrimp & grits as an occasional special. It's the best I've ever had!

  • nathanius Feb 25, 2012

    The George in Wilmington & Bennett Pointe Grill in Durham has some really tasty shrimp and grits too.

  • barbado Feb 25, 2012

    Vimala told us about this tonight at her restaurant. I told her, "You won the popular vote. But someone else won the electoral college." Our democracy can be improved.

  • RainierBeer Feb 25, 2012

    Really? Thanks,but I'll stick with tried and true Crook's Corner's Bill Neal recipe.

  • longleaf07 Feb 25, 2012

    The best shrimp and grits ever are at this little restaurant in Carolina Beach... Havana's