“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 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.
Joyce 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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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