Since we could reach the countertop, cooking has been my and my twin sister's, Samantha, favorite activity. When all our friends wanted to be the next Hannah Montana, we were more smitten with the idea of becoming the next Ina Garten.

In high school, we started a club to teach other students about different cultures through their food. When the idea resonated on our campus, we expanded the club’s scope, using it as a platform for meaningful volunteer work for those with disabilities in our hometown’s restaurant community. Food quickly became a common ground for promoting dialogues and awareness for social issues.

In college, Samantha and I are pursuing different academic tracts. We once spent every moment of every day together, but now with different schedules, we’ve had to adjust to make time for each other. And, if you haven't already guessed, that time usually revolves around food.

On the weekends, we go out to a new restaurant to explore Charlottesville. One of our favorite dinners together was the recent Duel Chef Showdown on March 27th at the Tin Whistle Irish Pub. Dinner Duel's entail two chefs, one night, and a featured ingredient. These duels happen throughout the year and are a definite hidden gem in Charlottesville.

At March's Dinner Duel, Commonwealth's Chef Reggie Calhoun and Chef Frank Paris III of Miso Sweet Ramen & Donut Shop, both on the Downtown Mall, went head-to-head to concoct a four-course tasting menu highlighting bacon.

Adventure, bacon and sister time were my reasons for attending the dinner duel in March, but I have 6 more reasons why you should attend the Charlottesville Dinner Duel on May 8th:

1. Discover Charlottesville’s culinary talent

Coco Spagna

Talent is not a word I throw around lightly. But, you can count on the best talent C-ville has to offer when you attend a Dinner Duel. I was consistently impressed by the diversity of technique and flavor combinations a the first duel I attended. Creating a cohesive menu is quite a feat, and C-ville's local culinary artists surely impress with their skills and creativity.

Just to name a few of the talented chefs that have dueled it out... Chef Reggie Calhoun, my hero, and Chef Melissa Close Hart, a four-time James Beard semifinalist. Amazing, right?

On May 8th, Melissa Close Hart, chef at the new restaurant Junction, will battle it out again against her husband and neighboring chef, Chef Matthew Hart, of The Local

2. Get out of the UVA bubble

I don’t know about you, but I am an avid list maker. It’s how I stay organized. My two most frequented lists are for homework and restaurants I am dying to try. Get off Grounds by adding some of Charlottesville's must-tries to your list.

My suggestion? Add the restaurants of the chefs from past Dinner Duels to your list. You won't be disappointed. 

3. Support a local cause

The Female Chef Duel in October donated all profits to C-ville’s Georgia's Healing House, a local halfway house for women in recovery. May's Dinner Duel supports the March of Dimes, a charity aimed to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.

Think great food and a great cause. Could you ask for much more? I think not.

4. Learn more about local farms

Fresh, local ingredients highlight the season and richness of the Charlottesville area. The October dinner was Virginia themed, with a dinner full of locally sourced ingredients. The May dinner will feature the beloved Three Notch'd Brewing Company beer as the key ingredient.

5. Find inspiration for experimenting with your favorite ingredients

Unsure what to do with bacon for a special occasion? Need to know how to make Szechuan and Creole pineapple? Can't find the perfect pair between mango and shrimp? Yes, I'll admit it, these questions keep me up at night too. With a little help from C-ville's celebrity chefs, find solutions from the pros, no frantic googling necessary.

6. Fulfill your dream of judging Iron Chef

I am a Food Network junkie, and judging this dinner made me feel like I was on TV. Throughout the dinner, I was waiting for the Chairman of Iron Chef America to break out a martial arts move. But, as I found with my volunteer work in high school, food started deeper conversations between my sister and me and between the other judges at our table.

We talked about our favorite recipes growing up, our favorite meals to date, and our favorite food traditions. It made us laugh, made us think of great memories, and made us feel full of joy—and bacon.

Wondering the logistics of this event? $60 per person, option  for wine pairings curated by Country Vintner for an additional $10. There are two seatings: one at 6pm and one at 8pm, and  free parking from the Market Street Garage.

The next duel? May 8. 

Bring a date, bring your bestie, bring your roomie, bring your brother, bring your sister. It’s a must. Reserve your spot now by calling 434-202-8387. See you there.