Battle Joyce Farms Naked Chicken Chef Rob Masone, Heist Brewery, Charlotte vs Chef Luca Annunziata, Passion 8 Bistro, Fort Mill, SC. Passion 8 Bistro Takes the Ride into Victory Lane

Chef Rob Masone form Heitz Brewery
Chef Rob Masone from Heist Brewery
Chef Luca Annuziata from Passion 8 Bistro
Chef Luca Annuziata from Passion 8 Bistro

“If you don’t take risks, then maybe there is no reward.”

So said Passion 8 Bistro’s Executive Sous chef. Matthew Krenz after the 7th Competition Dining Battle Monday night Sept 23. It was Battle Joyce Farms Naked Bird Chicken; and that “take risks” attitude is what wowed diners with not one, but two desserts – one from each team of edgy chefs.

Like the four courses that preceded the finale for this evening’s meal, each dessert was made with chicken – who’d of ever thunk it?   More about the end of the meal later, right now lets go back to the beginning.

The teams from Passion 8 Bistro, on the left, and Heitz Brewery on the right with Competition Dining host and creator, Jimmy Crippen; as they learn the secret ingredient for the evening.
The teams from Passion 8 Bistro, on the left, and Heist Brewery on the right with Competition Dining host and creator, Jimmy Crippen; as they learn the secret ingredient for the evening. From left, Chef Matthew Krenz, Chef Evan Micek, Chef Luca Annunziata, Jimmy Crippen, Chef Rob Masone, Chef Dominique Chavez and Chef Bobby Varwick

The competitors for this evening  of Competition Dining’s Fire in the City were Chef Rob Masone from Heist Brewery and Chef Luca Annunziata from Passion 8 Bistro. Both chefs seemed pleased to have chicken as the featured ingredient, but both had obviously planned on the secret ingredient being something else. “We were thinking it would be some weird ingredient, so we were happy about the chicken,” said  Annunziata.

Masone concurred, saying they, too, thought the secret ingredient would be harder to work with;  but the  culinary truth is that sometimes the simplest of ingredients require  the most culinary skill.

Both teams served the secret ingredient well – six plates to make the meal from appetizers to desserts.

but_naked_chickenJoyce Foods “Naked Chicken” is another excellent Got to be NC product, distributed by Competition Dining title sponsor Pate Dawson – Southern Foods.   Based in Winston-Salem. NC with farms across the Piedmont, Joyce Foods heritage breed chickens are raised on small North Carolina farms with  plenty of room for chickens to roam. The company’s trademarked Poulet Rouge breed is a slow growing, naturally raised heritage breed, raised on an all vegetarian diet with no hormones, no growth stimulants, or antibiotics and away from any pesticides; thus the moniker Naked Chicken.

But as tasty as these heritage breed birds are, the fact is that these Competition Dining chefs had only select parts of the chicken with which to work, which made this “easy” ingredient a bit more of a challenge.

Each chef was given about 30 lbs of  what is known in the industry as an airline breast – that is a boneless breast with the drummette wing bone attached; about 30 lbs. of boneless, skinless chicken thighs and about 20 lbs. of chicken skin. No extra bones, no organ meat, no extra fat – developing intriguing deep flavors without additional parts was going to be tough. But these talented chefs came through in ways you and I would have never imagined.

Course One - Battle Chicken by Chef Rob Masone
Course One – Battle Chicken by Chef Rob Masone
Chef Bobby Varwick makes the tasty pink waffles for the first course
Chef Bobby Varwick makes the tasty pink waffles for the first course

Course 1 was from the Heist Brewery team  “Naked Chicken and Waffles” featured beet waffles, topped with Chocolate & Coffee Chicken Cracklings  and a Sun Drop-Elderberry Syrup.

This dish created a lot of chatter around  the collective dining table as it was presented on the plate on a piece of stone. While the roughly honed stone made for a great visual, it may have been a move that would come back to bite Masone as there were questions about putting something on the plate that wasn’t edible.   For me , the frustration with this dish was that the tasty syrup was on the stone and on the plate under the stone – and so hard to get to and hard to taste. My fellow diners must have agreed, as the result was an unexpected low score for the first plate out from Heitz Brewery.

Course 2 - Battle Chicken from Chef Luca Annunziata
Course 2 – Battle Chicken from Chef Luca Annunziata

Course 2 was a home run out of the box, Passion 8’s  Deconstructed Wood Fired Chicken Salad with Herbs, Pickled Beets, Rutabaga Spiced Walnuts, and a Dried Cherry Vinaigrette; garnished with Shaved Johnston County Country Ham was a crowd pleaser for sure. The chicken was moist and tender with a nice balance of flavor on the plate; and the perfectly cut veggies showed an incredible array of knife skills coming from the kitchen.

Course Three - BattleChicken from Chef Rob Masone
Course Three – Battle Chicken from Chef Rob Masone

Chef Masone and his team from Heist Brewery came back strong with Course 3, an International Sushi that everyone seemed to love.

The addition of chopsticks made it even more fun.  Inside the sushi: Thai Charred Naked Chicken served with Pickled Cabbage & Pancetta,  and a hot and spicy beautifully arranged oval of Raspberry Wasabi on the plate for dipping. Delicious  and left me wanting more.

 

Course 4 - Battle Chicken from Chef Luca Annunziata
Course 4 – Battle Chicken from Chef Luca Annunziata

Perhaps the favorite dish of the evening, and as rumor has it of the competition thus far, was Course 4  of this battle. Passion 8’s Naked Chicken Thigh Mousseline Stuffed with Andouille Sausage; served with a Potato Confit and Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette with Roasted Shiitake-Asparagus Slaw and finished with Shaved Ashe County Romano  was certainly the highest scoring dish of this inaugural Fire in the City’s preliminary rounds and likely the dish that solidified  this win for Chef Annunziata and his team.

Heidi Billotto, left, and Jessica Annunziata, right
Heidi Billotto, left, and Jessica Annunziata, right

As the official blogger of this series of culinary competitions, I eat and blog; but I do not vote, as I have been in the kitchen during the day and have seen what the chefs are up to and know the ingredients with which each team is working.  I do however make a practice of surveying the crowd, questioning fans of each restaurant, as well as mothers, girlfriends and wives of the chefs to see if they have a feel for each course. Shortly after having enjoyed the perfectly prepared chicken mousseline, I chatted with my friend Jessica Annunziata, Chef Luca’s wife, to see if she had a feel for what the guys from Passion 8 were turning out. “I could go either way on some courses,” she admitted. “But this one I know – who else but Luca would do a Mousseline?”

Jessica was right and a well done mousseline at that.

And then came the desserts.

Now, I am not sure that anyone at Joyce Foods or any other NC heritage breed poultry producer ever anticipated raising chickens to serve for dessert; but these chefs felt that a sweet end to the competition was anticipated by the crowd and they aimed to please.

For this food writer and blogger, a chicken dessert is a hard thing to swallow ( pun intended), but Chefs Masone and Annunziata did their best to make  it a palatable finish.

Course Five - Battle Chicken from Chef Rob Masone
Course Five – Battle Chicken from Chef Rob Masone
Chef Masone plates 120 portions of his Battle chicken dessert
Chef Masone plates 120 portions of his Battle Chicken dessert

The first dessert of the evening came from Chef Masone and the team at Heist Brewery – Course 5 was a Half Moon Naked Chicken, with AB Vannoy Country Ham Fire Roasted Apples, Forest Mushrooms Sweet Potato Mascarpone Icing, all topped with Candied Ginger Torched Marshmallow . While the concept was an interesting one I personally thought it to be poorly executed – the marshmallow topping was cloyingly sweet, and  grainy with sugar. For me it was much like eating Thanksgiving dinner all in one bite – poultry, ham, apples, and sweet potatoes with those tiny little marshmallows on top – too much of a good thing.  I would have preferred this ending plate as a starter, perhaps with a pour of Heitz’s lastest Autumn brew, sans the sweet finish on top.

 

Course six - Battle chicken by Chef Luca Annunziata
Course six – Battle Chicken by Chef Luca Annunziata

The second dessert was the evening’s final plate and came in the guise of Course 6 by the Passion 8 team and Chef Annunziata. Chicharones on top of and a line of, Pomegranate Molasses under a Smoked Pistachio Mousse, accented with Cocoa Dusted Parsnip, and garnished with Picked Thyme.

Personally I liked this dessert much better; but then, I am a sucker for fried crispy chicken skin. Playfully called chicharones here, its what my brother and I grew up calling  gribenes and this part of the plate brought me right back to my childhood. Have to say though, that the majority of the sold out crowd packed into the Bonterra dining room for Battle Joyce Foods Naked Chicken did not agree; as this dish, like the dessert from Heist, garnered lower scores than either chef would have liked.

Jimmy Crippen with Chef Luca Annunziata and the team from Passion 8 for an after-the-battle interview.
Jimmy Crippen with Chef Luca Annunziata and the team from Passion 8 for an after-the-battle interview.
Jimmy Crippen interviews Chef Rob Masone on his thoughts after Battle Joyce Foods Naked Chicken was done.
Jimmy Crippen interviews Chef Rob Masone on his thoughts after Battle Joyce Foods Naked Chicken was done.

In the end, scores tallied, it was the team from Passion 8 Bistro that celebrated with  the proverbial chicken dance down Victory Lane.

Both teams worked hard and worked together and certainly had fun in the process. Their efforts were  appreciated by the crowd who had a fabulous time from beginning to end. Kudos to the chefs from both teams for a battle well played.

Chef Luca Annunziata and the team from Passion 8 will go on to the Quarter finals to battle Chef Vincent Giancarlo and the team from Cantina 1511 on October 8.

For more information on Passion 8 Bistro located at 3415 S Carolina Hwy 51 in Fort Mill, SC  29715; 803.802.7455, visit www.passion8bistro.com

For more information on Heist Brewery located at 2909 N Davidson St #200 in  Charlotte, NC  28205; 704.375.8260, visit www.heistbrewery.com

For more information on Joyce Foods Naked Chicken visit www.joycefoods.com

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