The place was packed. The third evening of Competition Dining in Charlotte took place at Bonterra Dining and Wine Room located at 1829 Cleveland Avenue @ East Worthington Ave. and played to a sold out crowd. The competitors this evening? Chef Nicolas Daniels from The Wooden Vine Bar & Bistro in Uptown Charlotte and Chef Paul Ketterhagen from Carpe Diem Restaurant and Caterers in the Elizabeth neighborhood.
Enthusiastic fans of both teams filled the tables and there was a flurry of excitement in the crowd from the start. Fans of each chef said they would know which plates came from each culinary team; but, as is often the case in these blind tastings, people who think they know have been wrong. Wives have been wrong, parents have been wrong and fans have been wrong. It was fun to watch it all unfold.
The secret ingredient this night - Scott Farms Sweet Potatoes. Like each secret ingredient in every Competition Dining dinner, these are NC sweet potatoes distributed by Pate Dawson-Southern Foods, the title sponsor of the Competition Dining Series and the largest independently owned distribution company in the state. Pate Dawson – Southern Foods specializes in local product and supports the “Goodness Grows in North Carolina” program, the official marketing program for the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service.
Scott Farms is a 3rd generation family farm. They have been farming near Lucama in southwestern Wilson County in North Carolina since before the Civil War. Originally a small family farm growing tobacco; Scott Farms now boasts over 5000 acres with 1,900 acres of sweet potatoes, 1,100 acres of tobacco, 2,000 acres of soybeans, and a small amount of wheat. The farm grows six different varities of sweet potatoes and has sweet potato curing and processing buildings on site. They distribute North Carolina sweet potatoes across the state, the country, in the UK and throughout Europe!
The chefs seemed excited about the prospect of what they would create with this secret ingredient. The truth is a starch gives chefs a lot of leeway and offers the potential for a lot of creative license – indeed, the food this evening was quite innovative.
The precursor to the first course was the wonderful aroma of rich sweet potatoes that wafted into the dining room from the kitchen as chefs began to plate – a delightful way to start…
Sweet Potato Soup from Chef Ketterhagen was the first course. Topped with a Cinnamon Brown Sugar Crème Fraiche and a sprinkling of Toasted Graham Crackers. I took the dish as a sophisticated play on sweet potato casserole – only better!
Ketterhagen’s overall score for this dish was 16.5
Next a Sweet Potato Dumpling from Chef Daniels stuffed with Roasted Candied Sweet Potato and a House-made ricotta. The dumpling was served alongside a Papaya Salad and Pickled NC Shrimp all placed atop a vibrant Blood Orange Gel. I loved all the parts, but for me, it was a lot going on for one plate. The gel wasn’t set, so the texture wasn’t what I think the chef had intended. It was actually quite liquid, like a thin under coating of sauce; and my table quipped that it would also have been great in a shot glass with a bit of vodka!
Daniels’ overall score for this dish was 18.1
Courses three and four were hearty entrée plates and each equally delicious
From Chef Ketterhagen, the house very much enjoyed a sliced Porcini Roasted Lamb Loin with Sweet Potato (from Scratch) Cavatelli, Smoked Oyster Mushrooms, Pistachios and Sweet Potato Broth
Ketterhagen’s overall score for this plate was 22.4
Braised Cheshire Pork Belly and Seared Maple Leaf Farms Duck were the proteins on Chef Daniel’s entrée plate; but for me and my table at least, it was the Sweet Potato & Sage Spaetzle, with Smoked Collards and Pot Liquor Sauce that caught our collective eye and kept us savoring each and every forkful. As one of the diners at my table said, “The spaetzle and greens just light up the plate!” Agreed. The duck, also excellent, was of melt in your mouth proportions. Daniels’ lower score here was reflected, I believe, in the fact that the pork belly was fried not braised, and for most of us, sadly overdone.
Daniels overall score for this plate – an 18.4
And then there were desserts - one might think sweet potato pie, perhaps; but no, these chefs were much more avant-garde than that….chefs in the competition are certainly not required to make dessert, but speaking for the crowd – we were all glad they did!
The first of two dessert plates came from Chef Ketterhagen and is team – a rich, creamy Sweet Potato & Ginger Custard, with crispy Sweet Potato Gaufrettes on top and a delightful Bourbon Anglaise, with a Muscadine Gastrique under it all. While the flavors were top-notch, it appeared that the custard didn’t really have enough time to set. I suspect the cooler had been open and closed so many times through the day that it may not have been as cool as these guys would have liked - my guess is, it’s the same reason the blood orange gel in Daniels first plate never set. It was that lack of texture in this dessert that may have taken team Carpe Diem down.
Ketterhagen’s overall score for his last plate was 16.5
Our last course of the evening, a “Country Cobbler” of Sweet Potato Sponge Cake, Pecan Cinnamon Struesel, Muscadine-Summer Berry Cobbler and Triple C Smoked Amber Ice Cream goes to show you the ups and downs in competition-style cooking.
During the “after-the-dinner” interviews, Daniels explained to the crowd that just hours before service began, the original batch of streusel topping had burnt. It was trashed and the team had to start all over again.
Hard to say if it was the streusel, the delicious sweet potato sponge cake, the tart berry cobbler and the smoked Amber ice cream or the well-balanced combination of all of these flavors, but in the end this was the dish that gave Daniels and his team from Wooden Vine the edge and the victory.
Daniels overall score for this dish was 21.9
As this evening’s competition was so close, I thought you’d like to see the scoring breakdown of each dish.. The professional judges ( The Pros) combined score accounts for 30 % of the final total while the rest of us ( the Regular Joes) account for 70%.
|Contestant||Voter Avg. Score||Pros Avg. Score||Final Weighted Avg. Score|
Now Daniels and his team from Wooden Vine Bar & Bistro will go on to the semi-final rounds to compete in the October 1 competition against the winner of Monday night’s Fire in the City.
With this first week of Competition Dining under our belt, know that ticket sales for the remaining dinners are going fast. the finale on October 21 is already sold out, as is the dinner between Chef Bruce Moffett of Barrington’s vs Chef Vincent Giancarlo from Cantina 1511 on Sept 24. Don’t miss out – make your reservations for next week and the weeks to come by visiting the Fire in the City page on this blog and following the reservation links.
For more information about Wooden Vine Bar & Bistro, 231 N Tryon St.; 704.376.8463 – visit www.thewoodenvine.com
For more information about Carpe Diem Restaurant and Caterers, 1535 Elizabeth Ave., 704.377.7976 – visit www.carpediemrestaurant.com