At last year’s Charleston Wine + Food Fest, Eli Kirshtein came to town with his pal/mentor Richard Blais (Top Chef, Flip Burger) and worked in the kitchen at McCrady’s, helping prep Sean Brock, Wylie Dufresne, and Johnny Iuzzini’s Dine Around dinner. He seemed to enjoy himself at festival events and afterparties, even though he didn’t receive any official billing.

What a difference a year makes. After an impressive showing on the most recent Top Chef season, Eli returns to town a star. He’ll be appearing with fellow cheftestant (and rightful Top Chef) Kevin Gillespie of Woodfire Grill in Atlanta. The two friends will be the main event at Saturday’s cooking competition under the big tent on Marion Square with Blais performing emcee duties. Talk about your battle of chefs. This one ought to be good, particularly if these guys — “rednecks with higher than average IQ” — rekindle the type of heady discussions that were captured on Top Chef.

This event is included in Saturday’s Culinary Village Grand Tasting Tents ticket. No matter what your time slot is for the grand tasting tent, you’ll have all-day access to the cooking competition tent.

Other competitors lined up for that day are Ken Vedrinski (Trattoria Lucca) vs. Michael Kramer (Voice in Houston, TX), Sue Zemanick (Gautreau’s in New Orleans) vs. John Ondo (Lana), and Matt Bolus (Red Sky) and Kevin Johnson (REV Group) vs. Marc Collins (Circa 1886) and Nathan Thurston (The Ocean Room). The emcee for the earlier rounds will be Jeffrey Saad, The Next Food Network Star Runner-Up.

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