Tuesday October 15 was the last night of Competition Dining’s Fire in the City semi finals. The dining room at Bonterra Dining and Wine Room was packed for the competition between Chef Luca Annunziata from Passion 8 Bistro and Chef Jon Fortes from Mimosa Grill- even seats at the bar were a sellout!
Each guest there in anticipation of who would win and move into the final fire for this the inaugural year of Competition Dining’s Fire in the City.
Just an evening earlier on Oct 14 Chef Phil Barnes from Roosters won his Battle Pope & Sons Winter Squash and Cheshire Farms Pork against The Peculiar Rabbit’s Chef Brent Martin. The end of this culinary battle would determine Phil’s competition for the October 21 final Fire in the City battle.
This night the secret ingredients were similar to the first evening of semi finals with products again from Pope & Sons and Cheshire Pork. The secret ingredients were NC pumpkin and bacon, or as guest judge Zach Goodyear so aptly phrased it “Pumpkin shined with the taste of Swine“
The Pumpkin ‘n Pig Battle found everyone in good spirits although the competition between Chef Jon Fortes and his team from Mimosa Grill and Chef Luca Annunziata and his team from Passion 8 was quite serious.
To add to the excitement, the day began with cameras in the kitchen as WCNC news reported Michelle Boudin dropped by to do a great evening news story on the amazing technology behind Competition Dining.
The smell of frying bacon puts everyone in a good mood and by mid afternoon the chefs were having a great time, but all with their eye on the win.
And so here you have it – Pig ‘n Pumpkin in six stunning courses…
The evening kicked off with the first course by Chef Luca Annunziata and team Passion 8 Bistro with a Pope & Son Farms savory Pumpkin Panna Cotta atop a bed of arugula dressed with Cheshire Bacon Blackberry Vinaigrette, a crumbled Walnut & Thyme Shortbread, Pickled Red Onion. All of the scores were relatively high this night; but this first plate was a low scoring dish for Annunziata. While the bacon blackberry vinaigrette was of knock-your-socks-off proportions, the panna cotta lacked much of that pumpkin punch and the lack of flavor was reflected in this dish’s final score
Course 2 was from Chef Jon Fortes – a scrumptuous Orange & Brown Sugar Cheshire Bacon Confit piled atop a thick flavorful Pope & Son Pumpkin “Soup”. This dish was for many diners this evening – this food writer and Competition Dining official blogger included - the favorite plate of the nite, and a high scoring start for Team Mimosa.
A beautiful chiffonade of Collards & Apple Slaw topped the plate for a fine and fabulous finish.
Course 3 was from Luca Annunziata – a delicious Cheshire Bacon Moussaline Stuffed Bistro Filet, accompanied by Roasted Beets, Oyster Mushrooms, Picked Herbs, Apples, Spinach and a bold and vibrant Curried Pope & Son Farms Pumpkin Cream Sauce that was perhaps a bit too strong; but delicious and a nice foil for the rich filet.
Course 4 was from Chef Jon Fortes and was comprised of a Charred Onion Marinated Lamb Loin Makers Mark Infused Pope & Sons Pumpkin Cheshire Bacon & Red Apple Soubise. This dish was also delicious but the taste of the Makers Mark too strong for some; to my mind, as good as it was, overwhelmed the lamb a bit.
Both of the “middle courses” scored pretty evenly, and so this night it seemed the competition was between the first two plates and the last two - which were, of course, dessert….
I loved Course 5 from Chef Luca Annunizata – the rich log of Cheshire Bacon Ganache, with Salted Bourbon Caramel and cookie crust was heavenly; the Pecans Pope & Sons Pumpkin Mousse along side the chocolate all atop a smear of Cherry Infused Molasses looked like ice cream upon arrival and when it wasn’t, it through diners off a bit. Although it was quite tasty it might have been better received and a better accompaniment to the chocolate had it been frozen.
Course 6 was a plate with “Three Bites of Dessert” with what is becoming a Competition Dining trademark presentation from Chef Jon Fortes. He is a chef who loves to present trios and this one worked well – the warm Sticky Toffee Pope & Sons Pumpkin Bread for me was the best bite on the plate, although the Salted Caramel Ice Cream with Candied Cheshire Bacon came in a close second – who doesn’t love candied bacon? The Pudding Pumpkin Roll with Autumn Crema was also tasty and rounded out Fortes high scoring presentation.
As the scores were tallied and presented to the excited crowd, Fortes took the lead and dessert put team Mimosa over the top and into the finals against Rooster’s Chef Phil Barnes on Monday October 21. Congratulations to all of the chefs for another fabulous Competition Dining meal!
The winner of the final fire here in Charlotte will go on to the big statewide Final Fire in Raleigh – a competition of winners from 2013′s Fire on the Rock in Blowing Rock, Fire on the Dock in Wilmington, Fire in the Triad in the Greensboro area and Fire in the Triangle in Raleigh. Tickets for Final Fire go on sale at 7 pm on October 30 and will be available to everyone who attended one of the Competition Dining dinners this year.
For more information about Mimosa Grill located in Uptown Charlotte at 327 S Tryon St Charlotte, NC 28202; 704.343.0700,, visit www.harpersgroup.com/mimosa.asp
For more information about Passion 8 Bistro, located at 3415 S Carolina Hwy 51 Fort Mill, SC 29715; 803.802.7455, visit www.passion8bistro.com