Last night’s Battle A. B. Vannoy Country Hams was a close one. It came down to the scoring of the last dish before it was clear that Chef Brent Martin from The Peculiar Rabbit would take this win.
Cooking for team Peculiar Rabbit along with Chef Martin, were Chefs Geoff Bragg and Andrew Melton; cooking for team Upstream Seafood was Chef Tom Dyrness with Chefs Sean Anderson and Brian Williams.
I was there for the noon welcome to the chefs and the presentation of the secret ingredient.
Prior to that, chefs had already some time to look around the kitchen at Bonterra Dining and Wine Room, a neutral ground and beautiful “battlefield” for each of these Fire in the City Competition Dining dinners. The chefs were given time to explore the mobile pantry, provided by the Competition’s title sponsor Pate Dawson – Southern Foods and stocked full of fresh and shelf stable items with which to cook. They also were encouraged to take inventory of ingredients and equipment and get a feel for the set up.
I asked chefs for any first impressions of the day – they were all excited, ready to begin and eagerly anticipating the presentation of the secret ingredient. ” It will either be pure joy or shear terror,” said Chef Williams from team Upstream Seafood.
As Competition Dining creator, Jimmy Crippen announced that the secret ingredient this day was Country Ham, all six chefs on both of the teams looked pleased. Chef Brent Martin from Peculiar Rabbit told me he was happy, but that the idea of including country ham in each dish, had thrown his dessert idea out the window – “But, we’ll regroup,” he told me. And regroup they did – more about that in a bit.
A Ham so good, it’ll….
It is no wonder that the chefs were pleased with the secret ingredient. Cured and distributed from A.B. Vannoy in West Jefferson, NC, these hams are slow-cured to insure a quality product. Each ham is hand rubbed with what owners Byron and Nancy Jordon deem to be just the right blend of salt and brown sugar then are hung on racks to complete a 9-month curing process. Unlike other country hams there are no chemicals, preservatives, nitrates, or nitrites involved in the process at all. Just salt, brown sugar, fresh mountain air and time.
Gotta love it! And Rick Stapleton, VP and General Manager – Greensboro for Pate Dawson – Southern Foods does! What does Rick think of this particular Secret Ingredient?
I tweeted this quote out last night during dinner, but in case you missed it, Rick says, ” This country ham is so good, it’ll make your tongue slap your brains out!”
Maybe, Rick; but as good as each individual NC grown product turned secret ingredient is – it is what the competing chefs do with the product that matters in these culinary battles.
This group of six chefs worked hard to bring out the nuances of the ham and make it work with a combination of good-tasting ingredients.
If your singular country ham experience has been on a biscuit for breakfast – you are in for a wild ride as you read the descriptives below. Each bite of each dish was full of flavor and while some dishes highlighted the ham more than others, each dish enjoyed high scores.
While chef teams prepped and cooked individually during the fast moving 6 hours prior to the dinner, they all helped each other plate and serve 120 hungry diners who enjoyed each innovative course.
While it is a competition, its also a time for chefs to work together and get to know each other. Of course, everyone wants the win, but it’s nice to know that these chefs do have fun in the process.
And the crowd had fun too – while everyone in attendance get to vote, there are a group of three professional judges invited each evening and their vote is slightly weighted. Among the “Pro” judges this night were Owner and Executive Chef of Zebra Restaurant, Chef Jim Alexander; Linda Seligman of Charlotte Epicurean Magazine and Craig Utt of Axis Marketing. All were impressed with the venue, the concept and the culinary results.
WCNC-TV’s Dayvee Sutton was also on hand with photographer Matt taping all the action for a spot to run later this week or next on WCNC’s midday program, Charlotte Today.
Plates Please Collective Palates
The evening started with a light and delicious plate from Team Upstream seafood and chef Tom Dyrness – the broth was quite flavorful and while it was a simple presentation, the ham wrapped shrimp sealed the flavor deal for me.
Course 1 Low Country Ham Boil, Corn-Andouille-Shrimp & Country Ham Broth
Course 2 – Interestingly this was also a shrimp and corn creation but this time by Chef Brent Martin and the Peculiar Rabbit team, The dish was comprised of Hoppyum BBQ Shrimp atop Country Ham Corn Pudding with Chili Oil and fun Curled Chives. This dish garnered high marks from the judges and the crowd both in taste and presentation and with that melt-in-your-mouth Country Ham Corn Pudding its no wonder – more please!
Course 3 was from Chef Tom Dyrness and was the other high scoring plate of the evening and another of this food writer’s faves- a clever Palmetto Quail and Country Ham Roulade sat front and center on the plate atop of round of braised leek. The roulade was finished with a NC White BBQ Sauce alongside a puree of Apple & Rutabaga – intricate, innovative and delicious, too!
Course 4 from Chef Brent Martin – A Lusty Monk Cheshire Pork Belly, Country Ham-Fig-Walnut Crust, Golden Tomato Relish, Beet Broth, Chive Oil, Rutabaga Puree. Honestly, too much on this plate for me and the tang of the mustard overpowered the taste of the country ham. While the dish scored well, it was Martin’s lowest scoring plate of the evening.
…And then there were desserts! Yes desserts, each made with the A.B. Vannoy Country Ham. Nancy and Bryon Jordon were blown away with these two incarnations of their hand rubbed and slow cured pork and so was everyone else!
Course 5 – From Tom Dyrness of Upstream Seafood – Salty Chocolate Pavè, Oatmeal Biscuit, Brown Sugar & Country Ham Ice Cream – Yes country ham ice cream…for me it was the mix of sweet and salty that made it all work
In Course 6 from Chef Brent Martin – an Apple Mascarpone Semifreddo, Cider Reduction, Blueberry Coulis, Sparkling Cider Jell-O Shot, Candied Country Ham scored just point higher than Dyrness’ dessert and helped him capture the win. If you are asking, I think it was the oh, so, clever sparkling cider Jell-O shots that nailed it.
At Evening’s end the win went to Chef Brent Martin and the team from Peculiar Rabbit. Congrats, Brent!! They will go on to compete in the quarter finals on October 5 against the team from Wooden Vine.
Ticket Sales and T-Shirts
As the word is spreading, the tickets for each night are selling fast. Tickets are still available for most of the quarter final rounds and a few other nights as well. To make your reservations and secure a place at the table for more good things to come – visit the NC Competition Dining – Fire in the City page on this blog and click the links to reserve your space. Do it now – you don’t want to miss out!
And in support of the competition by sure to order your own official Competition Dining T-Shirt! These made in NC tees come in two colors and a variety of men’s and women’s sizes.
The Got To Be NC Competition Dining Series is teaming up with TS Designs in Burlington, NC to bring you our 100% North Carolina-born-and-raised apparel. Our shirts are made with TS Designs’ “Cotton of the Carolinas.” The cotton is produced “dirt-to-shirt” right here in the state, and the company supports 500 jobs within a 600-mile radius.
Visit cottonofthecarolinas.com to trace the supply chain and meet fellow North Carolinians behind all nine steps of the manufacturing process, from growing to ginning to dying.
We are all a community of chefs, farmers, or diners. Support your neighbors and wear the shirt!
For more information on The Peculiar Rabbit located at 1212 Pecan Ave in the Plaza Midwood neighborhood, 704.333.9197, visit www.ThePeculiarRabbit.com
For more information on Upstream Seafood located at 6902 Phillips Pl Ct., 704.556.7730, visit http://www.harpersgroup.com/upstream.asp
For more information on those delicious slow cured country hams – visit www.abvannoyhams.com