Have you ever found yourself elbow-deep in a half-carved pumpkin, wishing for the knife skills of a chef? Well, I don't have a magic wand that will instantly bestow years' worth of talent on your slimy little hands, but I do know where you can watch some of Charlotte's top culinary professionals battle it out this Sunday for the title of best pumpkin carver in the land.
For the second year, the Piedmont Culinary Guild (PCG) brings us Carved, a massive jack-o'-lantern contest featuring over 25 local chefs playing with knives at the 7th Street Market. Last year's competition was the first public event sponsored by the PCG, a chef- and farmer-focused nonprofit supporting collaboration among all members of our local food system. Not originally conceived as an annual tradition, the Halloween-themed contest was transformed into an instant classic by the chefs' enthusiastic response.
As the public mingles and enjoys seasonal treats and kid-friendly activities, each competitor will have two hours to apply his or her knife skills and creativity to at least one hapless pumpkin. Attendees vote for their favorites, and the winning chef goes home with a custom-made leather knife roll, as well as a year's worth of bragging rights.
The rules are simple: Each chef is provided one pumpkin, which must be carved and constitute a major part of the finished display. Beyond that, it seems the sky's the limit. "You can bring additional pumpkins," says Eric Williamson of Coldwater Creek Farms, who is organizing the event. "You can do props; you can make a carving of the Easter Bunny. I don't want to limit these guys' creativity."
The gourd gutting starts at 4 p.m., and most of the Market vendors will be open for business during the event. In addition, the PCG will offer free demonstrations (and samples) of cider pressing, beekeeping and processing popcorn from the cob to the popper. Adults also receive a commemorative Carved cup good for two free pours of Lenny Boy's sweet potato beer, brewed specially for this event.
Beer notwithstanding, Carved goes down in a family-friendly atmosphere. Children who bring their own jack-o'-lanterns receive free admittance, as well as entry into a kids' carving contest. Magician Scott Link will provide amazing illusions and colorful balloon animals, artist Sarah Pollock will create personalized caricatures for your amusement, and one-man band Geoff White will strut his show throughout the market.
The $10 entrance fee ($15 at the door) comes with one ticket to vote for your favorite carved masterpiece, but more tickets will be available for purchase. In other words, ballot-box stuffing is permitted and encouraged. And, in the way of door prizes, the tickets in each chef's voting bucket will be used to raffle off his or her pumpkin at the end of the evening. Proceeds from the event will benefit both the PCG and Slow Food Charlotte's Farmer Fund, which assists local farmers with equipment, supplies and instructional opportunities.
After sizing up their competition in last year's event, the chefs should be raising the bar even higher this year. And since 2013's winner David Wagner has since moved out of state, the field is wide open for the 2014 Carved champion.