Wowza! Tuesday Sept 10 marked a wild ride in the Competition Dining kitchen at Bonterra Dining and Wine Room on Cleveland Ave. This night the six obligatory courses – three from each chef – revolved around the use of a very Southern North Carolina ingredient – white and yellow stone ground grits from Old Mill Of Guilford Stone Ground Grits.
So okay , you say, thats easy peasy, right – cheese grits, shrimp and grits, grits and grillades – three dishes, done!
Not for these two very talented. very energetic chefs and their culinary teams all eager to strut their stuff. For Competition-dinner goers this night, grits were transformed into pasta, sushi, and more!
First lets meet the players and then we’ll check out their take on cooking with local grits.
Battle grits matched the cooking styles and technique of Executive Chef David Bettendorf and his team from River’s Edge, the restaurant and catering services at the US National White Water Center with Executive Chef Brian Mottola and his team from e2 Emerils Eatery.
I came into the kitchen late in the day, but both chefs seemed pleased with what they had planned for the evening and thrilled that grits were the secret ingredient.
Chef Brian Mottola was moving fast but said he was happy with the way the day had gone. “Once I got my first course done and settled, things were good, ” He told me when I peeped my head in the kitchen about a hour before service to check in on things.
I really had no idea what he meant, but later on into the evening he explained to the crowd that he decided to make pasta with the grits. Good plan, however, stone ground grits are too course for pasta, he had to grind them down in a small grinder until he had enough to make pasta for 100! A project which, as it turned out, took him three hours of his six hour prep time. A gutsy move but one that worked and on top of it all he served the pasta with poached eggs – hard to do on such a large quantity of plates that all have to go out at the same time.
“We had tentative plans to use grits anyway,” shared Chef Bettendorf, “so this worked out perfectly!”
While I loved the first course of pasta, the second dish of the evening – Bettendorf’s first plate- was my absolute favorite – I don’t know if this was in David Bettendorf’s tentative plan, but I am glad his Southern Sushi concept with made it to the plate! It was a solid dish with an excellent balance of acidity and cream – who would have thunk it? – eating grits with chopsticks!
As you can see, both of these chefs came in with a “no guts, no glory” attitude. They each brought their A games as is evident in the miniscule point spread between the two at the end of the battle.
As it turned out the pasta – my other favorite plate of the evening was Mottola’s lowest scoring dish – While he had me at the soft poached eggs, I think the runny eggs may have not been the crowd pleaser he had assumed; but in the end his other plates scored just high enough to take the win.
“It was a good battle and to tell you the truth, if it had not been for Chef David’s help my first course might not have all made it on the plate,” Mottola said, when Competition Dining creator Jimmy Crippen asked him about working side by side in the kitchen with the team from River’s Edge.
Bettendorf expressed the same feelings saying that these competitions are a great way to test your limits, share your strengths and get to know other top chefs in the area.
Now that I’ve hit on my favorite plates – here is the rundown on the other four courses of the evening…
For Course 3 , service was back in the hands of Chef Mottola. A delicious Truffle Beurre Fondue Poached Lobster served nestled beside a Mascarpone Yellow Corn Grits Cake Radish, with Asparagus and a bit of Heirloom Tomato Salad
Course 4 from Chef David Bettendorf was comprised of a nicely cut filet of Roasted NC Flounder, with a Sweet Potato & Goat Cheese Yellow Grits Cake, a Citrus Demi-Glace, tiny little Cipollini Onion Rings, and a sweet and spicy Heirloom Tomato Chutney
Course 5 from Chef Brian Mottola, was a tightly wrapped Boudin Grits Stuffed Quail, with a tasty Muscadine Glaze Puree, and crunchy Parsnip Chip
Course 6 was our only dessert of the evening – Chef David Bettendorf presented a small Yellow Grits and Mascarpone Sicilian Cake with side of Smoked Cherries and a Grape Nehi Glace with Honey Mascarpone, and Almond Brittle. The smoked cherries took me by surprise at first but in the end, mixed with the Grape Nehi Glace and the honey Mascarpone, they were the perfect end to the meal.
Next Chef Brian Mottola and the e2 team will battle the winner of tonight’s battle between Sam Stachon of The King’s Kitchen vs Chef Jon Fortes from Mimosa Grill in the quarter finals on October 7.
For more information on E2 Emerils Eatery, 135 Levine Avenue of the Arts #100 Charlotte, NC 28202
(704) 414-4787, visit www.e2emerils.com
For more information on River’s Edge 5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy, Charlotte, NC 28214, visit www.usnwc.org