The kickoff party for the Downtown Farmers Market (starting this Saturday at Pioneer Park) was held last night at Squatters Pub Brewery downtown, and the place was packed with food makers, purveyors, and enthusiastic eaters.

Dapper Ed Carr, of Nicholas & Co., was there too, full of energy and excitement about the 4th Annual Ultimate Chef Competition, which happens this afternoon as a highlight of Nicholas' Food Show at South Towne Expo Center.

I've been a judge at this contest since the get-go, and it's evolved into a serious throwdown. Officially, the prize is the chance to join the roster of ChefDance celebrity chefs during the Sundance Film Festival, cooking dinner for a crowd of luminaries of various brightness.

But the real prize is bragging rights.

The first year, we judges ate for hours - chefs were allowed to prepare multiple courses - but the competition has gotten more streamlined, focused and easier on the judges' digestive systems every year.

This year, the competitors are:

- Chef Jodi Rogers from Deer Valley - Chef Phillip Yates from Grand America - Chefs Ethan Lappe and Adrian Alvarado from Caffe Niche - Chef Elio Scanu from Zucca Trattoria

The secret ingredient will be unveiled at 1:00pm and the winners will be announced at our customer social at 5:30pm.

Tune in for Tweet updates.

Nicholas & Co.'s Food Show has evolved, too. Besides showcasing new products for professional pantries, the event offers kitchen and serving seminars. Today, for example, the owner of Santa Monica Seafood will breaks down a full size Moonfish and a Swordfish marker. On Wednesday, educational seminars include Food & Wine Pairing, Managing by the Numbers, Social Media Bootcamp and How to Sell More Wine Without Being an Expert.

It's all in the interest of elevating the whole regional restaurant scene, just like the Farmers Market, and the vendors, gourmands and foods at last night's event were proof of the pudding

- Leslie Seggar, owner of Tulie Bakery, Matt Caputo, Viet Pham of Forage, Adam Price of Salt Lake Art Center (where the Fallen Fruit show opens this week), Slow Food doyenne Christi Paulson and Salt Lake magazine Dining Award panelist Virginia Rainey and Downtown Alliance's own shrinking violet Jason Mathis were all there enjoying made-in-Utah foods like Beehive cheese, Creminelli salumi, Kiler Grove wines.

Not to mention Squatters beer.Hey, don't try to focus. This was a just- before-leaving shot...