Culinary Students from Dunn and Sanford Sizzled the Judges with their Top Sirloin Salad Recipes in the Fair’s Home Chef Challenge

The N.C. State Fair Home Chef Challenge in Dorton Arena has showcased some of this year’s fairgoers’ best recipes in daily food competitions. On Wednesday, sirloin steak was the star ingredient. Contestants had to put their best Top Sirloin Salad recipe to the taste test in this sizzling challenge sponsored by the N.C. State Fair. Recipes in the top three get bragging rights and prize money of up to $1,000.

The Three Winners of the Top Sirloin Steak Challenge

Cary resident Amy Libbus is this year’s Contest Manager. She makes it all happen behind the scenes, “For Wednesday’s competition, I got a little nervous at first because several entries had not arrived and judges had arrived. Two minutes later, I looked up and saw at least a dozen people running into the lobby at full speed with salads.”

Those dashing into Dorton Arena were culinary students from the Central Carolina Community College Culinary School on the Dunn and Sanford campus. Instructor Chef DeVen Atkinson was sprinting in front, who was only an observer that day. “We chose the steak competition because it worked well with our curriculum around beef nutrition and recipes featuring beef as a protein. I told them to use what we’ve taught them,” stated Atkinson.

The students competed against other home chefs in the state. When the judges announced third place, the honor went to home chef Emily Hutchens in Chapel Hill, for her hearty steak and potato salad recipe.  When Libbus announced second place, Chef Atkinson jumped and screamed, “Shelly, you won!  I feel like I am a proud grandparent. I’m so excited.” 

Culinary students and instructors from Central Community College

49-year-old Shelly Alwine of Lillington was the only culinary student to place on Wednesday. Garner home chef, Layla Bonilla, took home the $500 prize for her Vietnamese-inspired Wagyu beef garden salad featuring items most often found in specialty Asian grocery stores. 

1st place winner Layla Bonilla tells the students about her salad recipe

Alwine’s recipe, which won her the $300 prize money, is N.C. State Fair inspired. “I wanted people to taste the State Fair when they took a bite,” explained Alwine. “I used an easy dry rub for the sirloin and incorporated fall ingredients like green apples, acorn squash, pumpkin seeds, and a caramel dressing.” 

Alwine will graduate from Culinary school in May and hopes to one day be an instructor just like her mentor Chef Atkinson. We think she will undoubtedly be an asset to the hospitality industry. 

“I’m so thrilled, ” stated Alwine. “I can’t believe I placed.”

Alwine named her salad “Fall” for this steak salad. Judges only placed the top three entries but stated it was an extremely close competition this year. 

Shelly Alwine’s “Fall” for this Steak Salad

You make Alwine’s top sirloin salad at home for your next fall dinner. The recipe is also great for a side salad without the steak, but together, it’s divine. Alwine also stated she marinated her beef for over 24 hours. 

“Fall” for this Steak Salad

Submitted by Shelly Alwine of Lillington 


10 ounces of boneless Ribeye steak (Marinate in steak rub for at least 24 hours and let sit on the counter for 20 minutes before grilling)

1 tablespoon of canola oil

Steak Rub

1 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of fresh ground pepper

1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon of garlic powder


2 cups fresh spinach, chopped

1 cup roasted and cubed acorn squash

½ cup cooked corn kernels, charred

½ cup granny smith apples, thinly diced

2 tablespoons roasted pumpkin seeds

¼ cup crumbled queso fresco cheese

Caramel vinaigrette

6 tablespoons plus 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar

4 tablespoon of brown sugar

1 lemon

1 clove garlic, minced

8 tablespoons olive oil

4 tablespoon canola oil

Salt to taste


Preheat oven to 425 F. To prepare squash, use a sharp knife to cut it in half lengthwise (from root to tip), then remove the seeds with a spoon—Slice squash halves into even wedges. 

Arrange squash on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Sprinkle with oil, salt, and pepper and toss to coat. Spread in an even layer. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes or until tender and golden brown.

Char corn. Heat a non-skillet over medium heat, add corn, and brown on all sides, stirring occasionally. 

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add six tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and all of the brown sugar. Let this reduce until the mixture turns a dark caramel color and you begin to see foamy bubbles. Add garlic and let cook for an additional minute to heat the garlic. 

Remove caramel from heat and put in blender with one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, juice of ½ lemon, and a pinch of salt. Blend lightly, then slowly add the oil. Blend until the dressing is emulsified—season with more salt to taste if needed. 

Sear steak on the stove for two minutes on each side, let it rest, then cut on grain for medium-rare. For the competition, Alwine seared each piece for 30 seconds to achieve medium. 

Assemble the salad, add all ingredients on a large plate or bowl with steak, and drizzle with dressing and cheese.

About Leigh Powell Hines

Leigh Powell Hines is a midlife blogger in Raleigh, NC, and the founder of and OutaboutNC on social media. When working in TV news, Leigh covered every county fair on the local news and loved how it brought the local community together and educated our youth in a fun way. Her favorite fair food is a pretzel and local NC beer in the NC Public House.

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