The Fire in the City Finale ends with a dramatic flourish as Chefs Phil Barnes from Roosters and Chef Jon Fortes from Mimosa Grill meet each other in a culinary face-off. Fortes edges out Barnes by just .27ths of a point for the win and the Championship!

All 16 2013 Competition Dining Chefs pose in front of the trademarked mobile pantry with Competition Dining host and founder Jimmy Crippen

All 16 2013 Competition Dining Chefs pose in front of the trademarked mobile pantry with Competition Dining host and founder Jimmy Crippen

Competition Dining – the amazing new culinary sport that is Charlotte’s Fire in the City, kicked off at the beginning of September with 16 Charlotte area chefs in the bracketed competition. The series  has now come to the end of its inaugural season.

Monday October 21, 2013 marked the final night of the competition and so from 16, now there were just two.

Team Roosters, from left, Chef Brian XXX, Exec Chef Phil Barnes and Chef Zack Renner

Team Roosters, from left, Chef Ryan Daughtry , Exec Chef Phil Barnes and Chef Zack Renner

Team Mimosa Grill, from left, Chef DJ Ivey, Exec chef Jon Fortes and Chef Thomas Marlow

Team Mimosa Grill, from left, Chef DJ Ivey, Exec chef Jon Fortes and Chef Thomas Marlow

The 16th and  last night of the Fire in the City series, Battle Cheese and Honey, found Chef Jon Fortes and his talented team from Mimosa Grill up against Chef Phil Barnes and the accomplished team from Roosters. Together the six chefs cooked, plated and served six amazing courses for 132 Competition Dining-goers.

At the dinners end, as is the format for each Competition Dining dinner, chefs each took a victory lap around the room greeting diners and fans and enjoying the accolades each team truly deserved for making it all the way to this final round.

But, never let it be said that North Carolina’s new sport of Competitive Dining is not without its own special drama.

When the time came for scores to be electronically tallied and teams stood ready for scores to be revealed, a technical glitch delayed the announcement of winners.

Finale Pro Judge J&W Culinary Dean Mark Allison locks in his final scores

Finale Pro Judges J&W Culinary Dean Mark Allison and WCCB’s Terrance Bates locks in their final scores

This night the thrill of victory and the disappointment of defeat were not to be known.

The chefs and crowd lingered in the dining room at Bonterra to see if the problem had an easy fix, but alas Derek Sanderson and the experts at HITS Tech couldn’t solve the problem on site. Sanderson told me that there were a total of 5280 votes that had been cast during the evening ( this includes the times that diners when back and forth to reconsider a vote before locking everything in) – he could see that the votes were all in and accounted for – but the system would not allow him to tabulate and it was too much to do by hand.

The delay in gathering votes gave way for some great photo opt time - here I am with all of the finales chefs and my two favorite Chef Refs  - Laurence Willard and Billy Seay

The delay in gathering votes gave way for some great photo opt time – here I am with all of the finale’s chefs and my two favorite Chef Refs – Laurence Willard and Billy Seay – a rock star group to be sure!

The crowd who had attended the dinner held at Bonterra Dining & Wine Room left appreciative of the food and skill shared by Fortes and Chef Phil Barnes of Rooster’s Wood-Fired Kitchen and anticipated the announcement of the winner via Facebook, Twitter and this the official Fire in the City Blog, the next day.

Sanderson and his colleagues worked through the night re-entering each and every vote and had the winning scores at 4 am the morning after.

At 9 am the morning of Tuesday October 22 the chefs and their team gathered at Central Piedmont Community College’s Culinary Building and finally at 10 am that morning, the winning scores were announced.

“Throughout two years of the statewide competition, this is the first time we’ve ever had a technical issue of any kind. It’s my worst nightmare,” said Jimmy Crippen, host and founder of the event. “I want to ensure everyone that the scores submitted by our pro judges and diners are the scores that they submitted. This was a close contest, and these numbers are authentic and correct.”

Crippen continues, “I also want the Charlotte community to know what great chef talent we have here. This has been a terrific host community for us. Charlotte should be very proud, and your champion will represent you well at Final Fire.”

Looking Glass Creamery Chocolate Lab Cheese

Looking Glass Creamery Chocolate Lab Cheese

The last evening of Fire in the City challenged the chefs to use two  featured North Carolina ingredients in each and every dish they prepared. This night the secret ingredients were Looking Glass Creamery’s Chocolate Lab cheese from Fairview, N.C. and St. Dominic’s honey from Mayodan, N.C.

St Dominic's Honey was one of the finale's Good to be NC secret ingredients

St Dominic’s Honey was one of the finale’s Good to be NC secret ingredients

Looking Glass Creamery  is a very small family farm and licensed cheesemaking facility located in Fairview, just outside of Asheville, North Carolina.  The business was started by Jennifer & Andy Perkins in January of 2009 and since the farm has become an artisanal producer of exceptional, handmade cheese. The Chocolate Lab cheese like all the other cheeses at Looking Glass is made by hand in small batches.  It is a pasteurized aged cheese and the farms original washed-rind cheese, with the pungency and intensity that is typical of the style without being overwhelming. An excellent cow’s milk cheese for eating, Chocolate Lab is also wonderful to cook with as competition diners this night were soon to find out.

St Dominic’s Honey is a family owned and operated bee yard located in Piedmont, North Carolina, offering delicious raw, wildflower honey- a perfect pairing for the cheese this night, but a product that might be hard to incorporate in a savory dish.

Chefs did  both of these “Good to be in NC” local products proud and flavors this night soared – here’s the culinary buzz for the evening  plate by plate… every delicious biteful…

Course one from Team Roosters and Chef Phil Barnes

Course one from Team Roosters and Chef Phil Barnes

Course 1 by Chef Phil Barnes was quite honestly one of my favorite courses of the evening. Here the Looking Glass Creamery Chocolate Lab was used in a flavorful Fondue at the base of the dish. Atop that was a square of layered melt-in-your-mouth Pear Pavè,  upon which sat a  thick slice of perfectly cooked Honeyed Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast . The plate was finished with Pistachios and Pomegranates. It was a great way to start the evening and I am now (not so secretly) hoping this dish will soon find its way onto the menu at Roosters!

Course two from team Mimosa and Chef Jon Fortes

Course two from team Mimosa and Chef Jon Fortes

Course 2 from Chef Jon Fortes was a trio plate of starters and a hit with the crowd and this food writer as well. It’s always fun to eat small bites and  this plate was no exception. The first bite was a Looking Glass Creamery Chocolate Lab Pimento Cheese on a cheese biscuit with Whipped Honey, Collard Kraut and Pork Confit – a full-flavored Slider or sorts; second bite a St. Dominic’s Honey Bourbon Sweet Potato “Risotto”;  and third a Chocolate Lab Old Fashioned Southern Squash Casserole with Crispy Bacon. They had me at the kraut alone…this was a high scoring plate for Fortes.

Course three from Mimosa Grill and Jon Fortes

Course three from Mimosa Grill and Jon Fortes

Course 3 also from Jon Fortes  – a seafood course of Fried Wanchese NC Shrimp nestled atop Looking Glass Creamery Chocolate Lab Smoked Tomato & Crab Risotto  and then topped with a St. Dominic’s Honey Poblano Relish and Pure Wild Honey Butter.  Not bad but not as good and the rest of what Fortes and team Mimosa put out this night. For me this was Fortes weakest plate of the night and the scores reflected that the crowd felt the same.

 

Course Four from Team Roosters and chef Phil Barnes

Course Four from Team Roosters and chef Phil Barnes

Course 4 from Chef Phil Barnes came in the guise of a tender St. Dominic’s Honey Glazed Cheshire Pork Belly over tasty Braised Honey Collards and  Looking Glass Creamery Chocolate Lab Sweet Potato Puree. The plate was finished with the crunch of a  Chocolate Lab Tuille

Course Five from team Roosters and chef Phil Barnes

Course Five from team Roosters and chef Phil Barnes

Course 5 was also from Chef Phil Barnes – and was the first of this nights two desserts. The plate was another trio of small bites and a sweet end to the savory courses of the evening.

Here a luscious Honey Lavender Semifreddo, atop a smear of Raspberry Coulis  and beside a rich Looking Glass Creamery Chocolate Lab Chocolate Custard Tart. To finish the plate a simple slices of Chocolate Lab drizzled with  Smoked St. Dominic’s Honey &  a delightful finish of Candied Fennel. This was another of my faves but the heavy taste of the lavender might have been too much for the crowd at large.

 

Course six from team Mimosa Grill and Chef Jon Fortes

Course six from team Mimosa Grill and Chef Jon Fortes

Course 6  was the final course from Chef Jon Fortes – a honey bun of sorts – the chef created a Looking Glass Creamery Chocolate Lab Cornmeal Cake soaked in Autumn Spiced St. Dominic’s Honey and topped with Apples. An Almond Honey Semifreddo sat alongside the cake and finished the plate. Desserts like these make for Sweet Dreams and Happy endings…

Team Mimosa donning the Coveted red chef jackets for the first time

Team Mimosa donning the Coveted Red Chef Jackets for the first time

Chef Jon Fortes gets the BIG check for his Fire in the City win!!

Chef Jon Fortes gets the BIG check for his Fire in the City win!!

It was a battle that could have gone to  either of these talented chefs and in the end, Chef Jon Fortes and teammates had the edge by less than a third of a point. Fortes took home the trophy, a $2000 check and a handmade chef knife made by Charlotte-based Ironman Forge in addition to the coveted red chef’s jacket. The $2000 check was presented by Mac Sullivan, chief executive officer of Pate Dawson-Southern Foods, the lead sponsor of the event and host Jimmy Crippen.

Jimmy Crippen and Fire in the City Winner Jon Fortes

Jimmy Crippen and Fire in the City Winner Jon Fortes

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 on Roosters Wood-Fired Kitchen, located at 6601 Morrison Blvd, Charlotte; 704.366.8688 with a sister restaurant Roosters Uptown at 150 N College St, Charlotte; 704.370.7667, visit www.RoostersKitchen.com

Jimmy Crippen wields the Ironman Forge chefs knife that went to Fire in the City Champ  Chef Jon Fortes

Jimmy Crippen wields the Ironman Forge chefs knife that went to Fire in the City Champ Chef Jon Fortes

Chef Jon Fortes will now compete Nov. 20-23 in Raleigh, N.C. at Final Fire: Battle of the Champions against the Got To Be NC Competition Dining Champions from Asheville, Wilmington, the Triad and the Triangle.

Final Fire tickets go on sale online on Oct. 30 at 7 p.m.

Chef Jon Fortes of Mimiosa Grill and Terrance Bates of WCCB

Chef Jon Fortes of Mimiosa Grill and Terrance Bates of WCCB

The day after the winners were announced Chef Jon Fortes did a local media tour to celebrate his victory –

Here’s the link to his appearance  and interview on WCCB’s Morning News Rising show with reporter and new found Competition Dining fan, Terrance Bates: http://www.wccbcharlotte.com/story/fire-in-the-city-winner-20131023

Chef Jon Fortes with Charlotte Today's Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway

Chef Jon Fortes with Charlotte Today’s Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway

 

 

 

 

 

Jon prepared his Copper Ale Beer cheese soup with beer battered broccoli and a crab salad with a beer vinaigrette all made with "Good to be in NC" products such as OMB Copper beer, Ashe county cheddar cheese and  Texas Pete hot sauce. The finished plates nd products are pictured here with the hand made Ironman Forge knife by Charlotte's own Steve Watkins. The knife was one of the prizes Jon won  competition champion!

Jon prepared his Copper Ale Beer cheese soup with beer battered broccoli and a crab salad with a beer vinaigrette all made with “Good to be in NC” products such as OMB Copper beer, Ashe county cheddar cheese and Texas Pete hot sauce. The finished plate and products are pictured here with the hand made Ironman Forge knife by Charlotte’s own Steve Watkins. The knife was one of the prizes Jon won competition champion!

And the link to his cooking appearance on WCNC’s Charlotte Today with co-host Ramona Holloway: http://www.wcnc.com/charlotte-today/Copper-Ale-Beer-Cheese-Soup-228969211.html

 

Battle “Pig ‘n Pumpkin” marks the last of the semi finals for the 2013 Fire in the City competition. Chef Jon Fortes of Mimosa Grill vs Chef Luca Annunziata of Passion 8 Bistro. Fortes takes the win and a place in the finals!

Friendly semi final competitors, Chef Luca Anunziata and Chef Jon Fortes

Friendly semi final competitors, Chef Luca Anunziata and Chef Jon Fortes

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.

Pope & Sons Pumpkin

Pope & Sons Pumpkin

Cheshire Farms Bacon was one of the evening's secret ingredients

Cheshire Farms Bacon was one of the evening’s secret ingredients

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

Technology expert and creator Derek Sanderson chats with the media - Michelle Boudin from WCNC

Technology expert and creator of the Competition Dining program and app, Derek Sanderson chats with the media – Michelle Boudin from WCNC

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.

Fire in the City semi finalist , Chef Jon Fortes

Fire in the City semi finalist , Chef Jon Fortes

Semi finalist Chef Luca Annunizata

Fire in the City Semi finalist, Chef Luca Annunziata

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…

Course One from Chef Luca Annunziata

Course One from Chef Luca Annunziata

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 two from Chef Jon Fortes

Course two from Chef Jon Fortes

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 three from Chef Luca Annunziata

Course three from Chef Luca Annunziata

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 four from Chef Jon Fortes

Course four from Chef Jon Fortes

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….

Course five from Chef Luca Annunizata

Course five from Chef Luca Annunizata

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 six from Chef Jon Fortes

Course six from Chef Jon Fortes

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.

Team Mimosa with chef Ref Lawrence Willard - from left Exec Chef Jon Fortes, Chef Ref Lawrence, Chef Thomas Marlow, and Chef Joseph Cornett

Team Mimosa with chef Ref Lawrence Willard – from left Exec Chef Jon Fortes, Chef Ref Lawrence, Chef Thomas Marlow, and Chef Joseph Cornett

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!

Team Mimosa with chef ref Billy Seay; fron left Chef Thomas Marlow, Chef Ref Billy, Chef Joseph Cornett and Exec Chef Jon Fortes

Team Mimosa with chef ref Billy Seay; fron left Chef Thomas Marlow, Chef Ref Billy, Chef Joseph Cornett and Exec Chef Jon Fortes

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.

Competition Dining Creator Jimmy Crippen does a video interview with team Mimosa Grill just after the win

Competition Dining Creator Jimmy Crippen does a video interview with a happy but exhausted  team Mimosa Grill just after the win

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 Mimosa Grill on Urbanspoon

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 Passion8 Bistro on Urbanspoon

Squash ‘N Swine: Its the semi finals round one between Chef Phil Barnes of Roosters and Chef Brent Martin of The Peculiar Rabbit. The closest match up yet, Barnes slides into the finals by a .29 of a point spread!

It was Battle Pope & Son Farms ‘Winter Squash & Cheshire Pork Butts and Loins

Strategy session for team Roosters

Strategy session for team Roosters

Strategy session for Team Peculiar Rabbit

Strategy session for Team Peculiar Rabbit

It was the first night of the Fire in the City Competition Dining semifinals and now with only two more nights in the series; it all seems as if  this past month and half since it all started has just flown by.

The evening of October 14 found chef Phil Barnes and his team Zach Renner and Ryan Daugherty from Rooster’s in the kitchen up against Chef Brent Martin and his team Geoffrey Frederick Bragg and Andrew Melton from The Peculiar Rabbit – A Jackalopes Restaurant.

I knew from the get go that it would be a close battle as these chef all had their A game going and more.

The secret ingredients (plural) were North Carolina’s seasonal winter squash from NC’s Pope & Sons Farms – acorn, spaghetti and butternut squash to be more specific…

Pope & Sons butternut squash

Pope & Sons butternut squash

Pope & Sons Acorn Squash

Pope & Sons Acorn Squash

Pope & Sons Spaghetti Squash

Pope & Sons Spaghetti Squash

chesireporkLOGO3And, as is the case in many Competition Dining dinners – the announcement of this first secret ingredient this night was  followed with the phrase…but, that’s not all.
This night NC Cheshire Pork pork tenderloin and pork butt were also in the list of secret ingredients.

So, here were the rules for the chefs from Roosters  and The Peculiar Rabbit this evening – every dish had to include at least one squash and a minimum of two of each team’s dishes needed to include pork.

Area sales staff from Southern Foods - from left Todd, Robert, Jon and GT

Area sales staff from Southern Foods – from left Todd, Robert, Jon and GT – join the chefs each morning before the competition.

The infamous Mobile Pantry

The infamous Mobile Pantry

The area sales staff from Southern Foods was there for the noontime chefs meeting to lend their support as they have been for each and every Competition Dining dinner.

Pate Dawson – Southern Foods is the title sponsor for the competition providing all the condiments, produce and product in the Competition’s now well-known mobile pantry.

One of the rules of the game is that chefs must only work with the produce and product stocked fresh for  each battle direct form Pate Dawson – Southern Foods to  the mobile pantry.  Each team of three chefs arrive early to check out what the pantry may hold this day and to refresh themselves with the layout of the Bonterra Dining and Wine Room kitchen.

In the true spirit of Competition Dining, all six chefs help to plate all six plates during service

In the true spirit of Competition Dining, all six chefs help to plate all six plates during service

The chefs had a ton of fun and joked around a bit at the start of this the first of the semi final battles, but took the task at hand very seriously and cooked like they have never cooked before.
In the end the spread was by less than a third of a point – .29 to be exact – the tightest battle in the competition so far. The win went to Phil, Zach and Ryan.

Chef Phil Barnes from Rooster’s goes to the finals of Fire in the City on Monday October 21 up against Chef Jon Fortes from Mimosa Grill. Can’t wait! But first lets recap this the first of the semi final battles.

Herein lies this night’s tale of squash and swine…

Course one for the team at The Peculiar Rabbit

Course one for the team at The Peculiar Rabbit

Course 1 was from Chef Brent Martin – a small pool of Pope & Son Farms Butternut Crema, slightly sweet, topped with a savory rich Pumpkin Ale Braised Cheshire Pork Butt and Apple & Red Cabbage Choucroute or sauerkraut. A nice way to start.

Course Two from Chef Phil Barnes

Course Two from Chef Phil Barnes

Course 2 from Chef Phil Barnes looked similar to course one in terms of presentation but yielded a totally different flavor. The pork choice here was a Wood Grilled Smoked Cheshire Pork Loin nicely done and served sliced over a Pope & Son Farms Butternut Squash Agrodulce ( a sauce or side with a sweet and sour flavor) with Acorn Squash Puree, Watercress and a lovely crunch of Fried Parsnips on top.

Course three from Chef Brent Martin

Course three from Chef Brent Martin

In Course 3, Chef Brent Martin moved from pork butt to pork loin and in this dish used the Cheshire Pork Belly to stuff the Pork Loin. The roulade of pork sat atop some delicious Chorizo Collards
Pope & Son Farms Acorn Squash Custard, Beet Reduction
Sweet Pepper & Cherry Agrodulce, Crispy Spaghetti Squash on top –  hard to pick just one this night but this was perhaps my favorite plate of the evening and  high scorer for Chef Martin.

Course Four from Chef Phil Barnes

Course Four from Chef Phil Barnes

Course 4 from Chef Phil Barnes was a heartier course, a Cheshire Pork and Pumpkin Ale Sugo (or Romanesco Tomato sauce) with
Pope & Son Farms Spaghetti Squash Pasta, Roasted Red Peppers and  Pickled Apples – a clever play on a pasta & sauce and a favorite of many diners in attendance.

Course five from Brent Martin

Course five a dessert plate  from Brent Martin

Course 5 was the dessert from Chef Brent Martin. As chefs this evening were not required to include pork in all three dishes, Martin elected to do without for dessert and instead focus on incorporating the squash. His cheesecake was delicious, but the way-too-much gelatin in the chocolate and butternut squash mix which wrapped the round of cheesecake was a disaster. Pro judges at my table agreed that the dish would have been so much better had he left the chocolate off and somehow incorporated the squash in the cheesecake. The plate was finished with a tasty Blackberry Compote, a Strawberry Coulis,  and round of crunch in the “Biscuitti” which topped the plate.

The dessert plate from Chef Phil Barnes

The dessert plate from Chef Phil Barnes

Chef Ref  Billy Seay portions out the rum

Always there to help when they can, Chef Ref Billy Seay portions out the rum

In Course Six, Chef Phil Barnes and the Roosters’ team decided to press themselves and include both secret ingredients – pork and squash in their final dish. Barnes’ Pope & Son Farms Butternut Squash Semifreddo worked will with a side tart of Baba Au Rhum, topped with a fabulous Cheshire Pork Cherry Apple Jam – I could have eaten a bowlful of this porkcentric condiment alone.

The plate was finished with a Acorn Squash Coulis

Jimmy Crippens interviews Chef Phil Barnes after the first semi final  of squash and swine

Jimmy Crippen interviews Chef Phil Barnes after the first semi final of squash and swine

Ending scores were so close it could have been anyone’s game right up until the end when Competition Dining host Jimmy Crippen announced the final scores- Chef  Phil Barnes – 19.402 and Chef Brent Martin 19.114! Congrats and Kudos to all six chefs for a great evening of fun and fabulous food!

int he house for the first of the semi final battles of Competition Dining's Fire in the City from left - Art Gallagher from J&W university, official blogger, Heidi Billotto and Roosters' own Chef Jim Nobles

In the  house for the first of the semi final battles of Competition Dining’s Fire in the City from left – Art Gallagher from J&W University; official blogger, Heidi Billotto and Roosters’ own Chef Jim Nobles

In the house this night – Professional Judges  for the evening, Art Gallagher, President of Johnson & Wales University, Chef Marc Jacksina of the soon to be open Nan and Byron’s on South Blvd. and  foodie Amy Rogers of WFAEeats, with special celebrity guest Michelle Boudin of WCNC. – A pleasure to see  all them in attendance.

For more information on Roosters Wood-Fired Kitchen, located at 6601 Morrison Blvd, Charlotte; 704.366.8688 with a sister restaurant Roosters Uptown at 150 N College St, Charlotte; 704.370.7667, visit www.RoostersKitchen.com  Rooster's Wood-Fired Kitchen on Urbanspoon

For more information on The Peculiar Rabbit (celebrating its one year anniversary this month), and located at 1212 Pecan Ave  Charlotte; 704.333.9197, visit  www.ThePeculiarRabbit.com

Competition Dining T-shirts available at every dinner and online for all shapes and sizes!

Competition Dining T-shirts available at every dinner and online for all shapes and sizes!

the Official Competition Dining T-Shirt - get yours today!

the Official Competition Dining T-Shirt – get yours today!

For information on purchasing your very own Competition Dining North Carolina grown and manufactured T-shirt, visit competitiondining.com

Battle NC Fogwood Shiitake mushrooms and fresh made First Noodle Company noodles finds Chef Luca Annunziate from Passion 8 up against Chef Vincent Giancarlo of Cantina 1511. Annunziata comes out on top and moves to the semi finals!

Cheers to these six talented chefs in the last round of the quarter finals

Cheers to these six talented chefs in the last round of the quarter finals

It was a full house at Bonterra Dining and Wine room and guest couldn't wait for the meal

It was a full house at Bonterra Dining and Wine room and guests couldn’t wait for the meal

WOW! In a word that covers what happened the evening of October 8 in the last Quarter-Final battle of Competition Dining held at Bonterra Dining & Wine Room. Six talented chefs plus two amazing Chef Refs – turned out a collective 840 plates (!) of food for a packed dining room of very excited diners. TV chefs on “Chopped”, “Top Chef” and “Iron Chef” have nothing on these guys. You just gotta give it up to these chefs when one team decides to do 150 perfectly poached eggs and the other plans for 150 creamy mushroom souffles! Incredible!

First Noodle Company freh noodles - wonton wrappers and egg noodle wrappers were one of two secret ingredients this evening

First Noodle Company freh noodles – wonton wrappers and egg noodle wrappers were one of two secret ingredients this evening

Chef Ref Lawrence Willard show off the perfect fresh Fogwood Shiitakes

Chef Ref Lawrence Willard show off the perfect fresh Fogwood Shiitakes

The secret ingredients this night – yes that is plural – were Charlotte’s own First Noodle Company and Local NC Fogwood Food Shiitakes. So, you take an Italian born and bred chef and a chef at a Mexican restaurant and you give them Asian noodles – what do you get? More than you ever expected!

The talent in the kitchen: Chefs Vincent Giancarlo and his team from Cantina 1511 and Luca Annunziata and the team from PassionEight Bistro. These guys can up with six deliciously creative courses from soup to nuts – literally.

Team Cantina 1511 - from left, Chef Greg Balch, Chef Vincent Giancarlo and Chef Kyle Biddy

Team Cantina 1511 – from left, Chef Greg Balch, Chef Vincent Giancarlo and Chef Kyle Biddy

the team form Oassiin 8 Bistro from left, Chef Luca Annunziata, Chef Matt Krenz and chef Evan Micek

the team from Passion 8 Bistro from left, Chef Luca Annunziata, Chef Matt Krenz and chef Evan Micek

Team Passion 8 won this quarter final battle and goes on to the semi finals against Chef Jon Fortes from Mimosa Grill on October 15.

Its no secret that team Cantina 1511 were the underdogs in this competition – they came in late after there had been a cancellation and they are the youngest trio of chefs in the competition. But they held their own all the way to the quarter finals and did well in this battle of noodles and ‘shrooms. They will best be remembered in this inaugural series of Fire in the City for the Texas Pete Fire roasted tomato ice cream from the first round of elimination battles and the fact that they cooked strong in this quarter final battle.

This day the chefs from Cantina did their best but got out-cooked by the more experienced team of talented chefs at Passion 8 Bistro. The battle was tough and everyone took it seriously, but still had tons of fun together which is what Jimmy Crippen’s Competition Dining is all about –  however, these chefs weren’t just noodling around in the kitchen – here’s what happened…. it all started with two courses of soup…

Course one from Chef Vincent Giancarlo

Course one from Chef Vincent Giancarlo

Course 1 was a tasty Five Spice Seared Day Boat Mahi, resting in a Fogwood Shiitake Consommé with Sesame Blanched First Noodle Co. Egg Noodles and a Shiitake Mushroom Kimchi.
The broth was good but not as full flavored as it could be, and the kimchi was a vibrant touch, but the downfall for Giancarlo in this plate were sadly overcooked noodles and the plate scored lower that Cantina 1511 would have liked.

Course two from Passion 8 Bistro

Course two from Passion 8 Bistro

Course 2 was from Passion 8 and this Fogwood Shiitake Mushroom Broth was bold and full of deep flavor; served with with Braised Cheshire Pork
Poached Egg, Nori, Bok Choy, Peppers, Pickled Asian Pear it was outstanding. If you are asking, my favorite part  was the compressed noodles – perhaps my new favorite food and the poached egg on top made the dish. These chefs gotta take risks – poaching 150 eggs to order is a big one but it worked and the scores reflected the chefs decision to take a chance,

After the soup, both chefs elected to do a protein. Both of these courses were good and scored pretty evenly…

Course three from Cantina 1511

Course three from Cantina 1511

Course 3 was a very well executed fork-tender Wood Grilled Venison Loin with Creamed Leek; served with a Red Wine Demi-glace, Fogwood Shiitake Duxelle First Noodle Co. Purse and a Shiitake Duxelle Soufflé with Late Season NC Roma Tomato Jam from Team Cantina 1511 and chef Vincent Giancarlo. Making soufflés for 150 is another gutsy move, although these were not free standing, they were delicious and a nice foil to the venison.

Course four from Passion 8 Bistro

Course four from Passion 8 Bistro

Course 4 from Chef Luca Annunziata was another hearty course, this plate featuring lamb with a soft tender Roasted Fogwood Shiitake and Goat Cheese Dumpling. On the plate a bed of arugula dressed with lemon-ginger aioli and a Sweet Potato Coulis on the side – Lamb was perfectly cooked and the dumpling delish!

Ummmm, desserts with noodles I totally get; desserts with Mushrooms not so much, but thee chefs made it work –

Course five from Cantina 1511

Course five from Cantina 1511

Course 5 from Chef Vincent Giancarlo was an Espresso-Fogwood Shiitake Ice Cream sandwiched inbetween two rcrispy rounds made from First Noodle Co. Fried Wontons. The concept was a good one but for me and for a lot of the crowd, the earthiness of the mushrooms didn’t translate well into this ice cream even with the addition of the coffee to tone it down. I did love the Candied Ginger Syrup and while I probably wouldn’t order the Sweet Shiitake Wet Peanuts again, they were interesting enough to keep me coming back for more

Course Six from Passion 8 Bistro

Course Six from Passion 8 Bistro

Course 6 from Passion 8 Bistro was another dessert – as strange as a Roasted Fogwood Shiitake Fruitcake with Almonds sounds, it worked and the Banana Infused Chocolate Ganache; the  Fennel-Orange Salad and the crunch of the First Noodle Co. Wonton Cracker made it all the better.

Chef watch as the scores for each dish are announced

Chefs watch as the scores for each dish are announced

Once scores were locked in, the packed house watched as Chef Luca Annunziata took the lead and the win. Luca competes in the second round of Semi finals against Jon Fortes of Mimosa Grill on October 15, 2013.

For more information about Cantina 1511 with two locations located at 1511 East Blvd, Charlotte; 704.331.9222 and 7708 Rea Rd, Charlotte; 704.752.9797, visit cantina15eleven.com Cantina 1511 on Urbanspoon

Congrats to chef Luca Annunziata her with Max Sullivan of Pate Dawson - Southern Foods

Congrats to chef Luca Annunziata, here with Max Sullivan of Pate Dawson – Southern Foods

For more information about Passion 8 Bistro located at 3415 S Carolina 51  Fort Mill, SC; 803.802.7455, visit  Passion 8 Bistro.com Passion8 Bistro on Urbanspoon

For more information on Fogwood Shiitake Mushrooms visit http://fogwoodfood.com/shiitake-mushrooms/

For more information about First Noodle Company, in Charlotte since 1987, visit http://www.firstnoodleco.com/

It’s Battle Olde Mecklenberg Brewery Copper Amber Ale with Chef Brian Mottola, e2 Emeril’s Eatery VS Charlotte Chef Jon Fortes, Mimosa Grill, Charlotte. Chef Jon Fortes taps the win and pours on into the semi finals!

team e2 Emerils Eaters with chefs

Team e2 Emerils Eaters with chefs Michael Quetti, Chris Langdon and Brian Mottola

Team Mimosa Grill with Chefs

Team Mimosa Grill with Chefs, from left, Jon Fortes, Thomas Marlow and DJ Ivey

It was bound to happen…with so much local beer in the Carolinas it was just a matter of time before beer was the secret ingredient for Competition Dining’s Fire in the City.

On Monday Oct 7, 2013, the third battle of the quarter finals, things were indeed brewing at Bonterra Dining & wine room for Battle Olde Mecklenberg Brewery Copper Amber Ale with two talented chefs at the helm – Chef Brian Mottola and his team from e2 Emeril’s Eatery and Chef Jon Fortes and his team from Mimosa Grill –  two of uptown Charlotte’s best places to dine.

OMB Copper - the secret ingredient for Battle 13 of Fire in the City

OMB Copper – the secret ingredient for Battle 13 of Fire in the City

When I met with all six chefs around noon this day, they had checked out the Mobile Pantry fully stocked for the competition by title sponsors Pate Dawson/Southern Foods, but they had no idea what the secret ingredient might be.

“It’s easier not to think about it so much,” said Chef Thomas Marlow from team Mimosa Grill. ” if you have a plan for what you think it might be, when you find out what is really is, you just have to rethink it all over again.”

When pressed to guess, these chefs though it might be local honey and /or eggs; but I don’t think any of them ever suspected beer. They were dumbfounded for just a moment when Chef Ref Lawrence Willard made the big reveal. Each team had 7 growlers – or 7 (74 oz) glass jugs- of Olde Mecklenberg Brewery’s Copper Amber Ale with which to cook for nearly 130 dinner guests.

If you are doing the math – that’s 780 plates in all – 390 for each team… and all of them had to incorporate the taste and the nuances of OMB’s Copper.

A Taste of the action on the line during service

A Taste of the action on the line during service

While that’s a bunch of people to serve and while each team is responsible for three of the six plates, one of the truly wonderful things about Competition  Dining is the camaraderie the chefs find in the kitchen. It goes without saying that everyone wants to win – but each night after the food and the flavor, its about getting it all out to the guests so the chefs work together on the line to help each other plate.

Chef Ref Lawrence Willard sets the Copper on tap at the Bonterra Bar

Chef Ref Lawrence Willard sets the Copper on tap at the Bonterra Bar

If you could take a look in the kitchen at any given time during service, you wouldn’t know which chef’s plates were going out because its a team effort to make it all work – all under the guidance of two of the most stand up guys I have ever had the pleasure of meeting – Pate Dawson-Southern Foods’ & Competition Dining’s  Chef Refs: Chef Lawrence Willard and Chef Billy Seale. These dinners simply wouldn’t work without them.

A toast to the beverage good for what "ales" you

A toast to the beverage good for what “ales” you

This night My biggest worry was that this dinner might not work for me – You see, for this food  and blog writer, this particular ingredient was a bit of a challenge. Before this night I was not a beer drinker. I love the way all beer smells, and I’ve tasted and tasted and tried and tried to like it,  but when it comes to drinking, it is never been my beverage of choice.

Heidi and the beer guys - from left - With Daniel Hartis, Cam Heiliger, Heidi Billotto and Matt McKenzie

Heidi and the beer guys – from left – With Beer Blogger, Daniel Hartis, OMB’s own Cam Heiliger, Heidi Billotto and Beer columnist, Matt McKenzie

That said I’m a team player and I knew that  OMB’s Cooper has a lot of culinary nuances so I jumped in with both feet anxious to learn of the possibilities. As my luck would have it  the  Competition Dining powers that be sat me at a table with all the “beer guys” so I could learn first hand from the experts. It was delightful company  and delicious fare, leaving me at  dinner’s end, not older “Bud-wiser”  on the nuances of local beer.

In case you are wondering what makes this particular ingredient so special, OMB Copper is an authentic Düsseldorf style “Altbier.” Alt (pronounced ‘Aahlt’) literally means “old” in German, as in “old school.” In other words, it’s beer the old fashioned way with just four ingredients – water, yeast, hops and time.

The result in Copper, OMB’s flagship brew is a “lagered ale” that beer lovers describe as amazingly satisfying. For me it was not so hoppy – which was a good thing and I must say, it paired better with the food this night than did wine or any other beverage.

So beer or not, as is the case in each Competition Dining meal, the test is to make the most of the flavor of the secret ingredient and it was the collective opinion of all in attendance this night that  e2’s Brian Mottola and Mimosa Grill’s Jon Fortes served this secret ingredient well.

Here’s what was on tap:

Course One from Chef Brian Mottola

Course One from Chef Brian Mottola

Course 1 from Chef Mottola and the e2 team, was I thought, amazing; problem was while it tasted good with the beer,  it didn’t taste much like the beer. On the center of the plate a crispy Bacon Torchon with a side of OMB Copper Amber Ale Braised Broccolini and deliciously sweet – almost too sweet – Caramel Apples

Course two from team Mimosa ad Chef Jon Fortes

Course two from team Mimosa ad Chef Jon Fortes

Beer novice that I am, I honestly didn’t realize that Course 1 was lacking any beer flavor until I tasted Course 2 from Chef Fortes. The Beer Cheese,  the Beer Battered Broccolini, and the Beer Peppers, in particular all hinted of OMB’s Copper and tossed together with sweet Little River Lump Crab and a light OMB Copper Amber Ale Vinaigrette it worked and scored team Mimosa some high points.

Course Three from Chef Brian Mottola

Course Three from Chef Brian Mottola

Course 3 came from Chef Mottola who had me at the quail. It was a delicious plate and the maple “sting” was killer. good
Manchester Farms Crispy Quail with Parsnip Puree
Maple “Sting” OMB Copper Glaze and a  Sage-Citrus Gremolata

Course Four from Chef Jon Fortes

Course Four from Chef Jon Fortes

Course 4 was described by guest Pro judge OMB’s Cam Heiliger as “brilliant”  and the other Pro judges at my table agreed. The pairing of barley in a risotto made with beer was perfect and garnered this dish high scores. It was OMB Copper Glazed “Naked Bird” Chicken Roulade stuffed with
Cheshire Pork atop a bed of  Beer & Barley Risotto with a
Crispy Chicken and  Celery & Apple Slaw finish on top. Delish!

Course Five by Chef Brian Mottola

Course Five by Chef Brian Mottola

Beer for dessert? With a bit of out of the box thinking from these talented chefs but, of course… 

Course 5 was from team e2 and chef Mottola – a OMB Copper Amber Ale Ice Cream, with a crispy edged Brown Butter Sponge Cake
Under is all was a square of OMB Copper Chocolate Fudge,  finished with what I thought was a clever Porcini mushroom Streusel

Course six from team Mimosa Grill

Course six from team Mimosa Grill

Then came Course 6  and what might have been a close match was about to change. Mimosa Grill’s Chef DJ Ivey’s conception of an OMB Dessert Trio simply knocked people’s socks off – the trio consisted of  a delicious Orange Scented OMB Copper Crackle Bar; a tasty OMB Copper Ice Cream Sandwich with Beer Ganache ( oh my!) and a demi tasse sized OMB Copper Ice Cream Float, yes that’s beer with ice cream on top – a new way to eat your beer and drink it too! Ales well that ends well !

Competition Dining host Jimmy Crippens interviews Chef Jon Fortes at the dinner's end

Competition Dining host Jimmy Crippens interviews Chef Jon Fortes at the dinner’s end

Fortes and team Mimosa stoutly defeated the competition this night and will go on to the semi finals to compete against team Passion 8 Bistro and chef Luca Annunziata on Tuesday Oct 15, 2013.

Chef Jon Fortes from Mimosa grill and Chef Brian Mottola from e2 look forward battling it out again at  Competition Dining 2014

Chef Jon Fortes from Mimosa grill and Chef Brian Mottola from e2 look forward battling it out again at Competition Dining 2014

Congrats to all the chefs – it was an incredible dinner and I know we will see all of you back in the competition at next year’s Fire in the City!

Meanwhile, for more information on Mimosa Grill located at 327 S Tryon St, Charlotte, NC 28202; 704.343.0700, visit www.harpersgroup.com/mimosa.asp

For more information on e2 Emerils Eatery located at 135 Levine Avenue of the Arts #100, Charlotte, NC 28202; 704.414.4787, visit www.e2emerils.com

For more information on Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, visit www.oldemeckbrew.com

Battle Lusty Monk Mustard finds Chef Nicholas Daniels, Wooden Vine up against Chef Brent Martin, Peculiar Rabbit. Robust Mustards for the Passionate palate lead Chef Brent Martin to a spot in the semi finals

and the secret ingredient for this battle was Lusty Monk Mustard

…and the secret ingredient for this battle was Lusty Monk Mustard

nc comp diningThe month of October kicked off with the last three battles of the Quarter Finals of  the inaugural season of Competition Dining’s Fire in the City…here is  recap of the action from Tuesday Oct 1, 2013.

It was a  brawny battle between Chef Nicholas Daniels and his team from Wooden Vine vs Chef Brent Martin and his team from  Peculiar Rabbit; and the secret ingredient for this second night of quarter final action – mustard!

Indulge, repent, repeat…. is the tag line for Lusty Monk Mustard; and so it goes and so it was at Competition Dining’s Battle Lusty Monk Mustard.

These diners toast to a fun evening of Competition Dining - Charlotte's newest team sport!

These diners toast to a fun evening of Competition Dining – Charlotte’s newest team sport!

125 or so lucky diners feasted on six fine courses of fare, each centered around the sweet, spicy hot flavors of NC’s own Lusty Monk Mustard. The question on each individual diner’s mind was how well did each chef incorporate the unique taste  of this mustard into each of their three required dishes for the competition.

Lusty Monk Mustards are fresh-ground, hand-crafted, and full of fire but full of flavor as well which made them a perfect secret ingredient for this night of the quarter finals of Fire in the City Competition Dining between teams from the Wooden Vine led by chef Nicholas Daniels and The Peculiar Rabbit led by Chef Brent Martin.

Lusty Monk is a family-owned, quality-conscious company, devoted to the idea that condiments should never be boring. They lovingly craft the mustard in small batches, and the company encourages their collective brethren to slow down and savor each bite.

Chef Nicholas Daniels from The Wooden Vine comes up with plan for the evening

Chef Nicholas Daniels from The Wooden Vine comes up with plan for the evening

All six chefs worked to plate each of the six courses for the evening

All six chefs worked to plate each of the six courses for the evening

While Quarter final Competition Diners did just that and enjoyed the fare immensely;  the action in the kitchen was anything by slow – what these guys turned out was terrific and the scores were very close. With a half point spread, Martin and the team from Peculiar Rabbit had what it took to really cut the mustard and took the lead.

Chef Martin and team Peculiar Rabbit move into the semi finals to battle Chef Phil Barnes and the Roosters team on Monday Oct 14. Here is how the evening played out….

Course One from team Wooden Vine

Course One from team Wooden Vine

Course one started the evening with a roulade of NC Flounder Stuffed with Burn In Hell Maple Leaf Farms Duck Chorizo &  a Farro and Duck Crackling Hash with a Confit of Orange Salad with Asparagus, all finished with an Altar Boy Serrano Beurre Blanc
This was the first plate out for Chef Daniels and while flavors were good, the fish was slightly over cooked – a tough break right out of the gate.

Course Two from Team Peculiar Rabbit

Course Two from Team Peculiar Rabbit

Course Two was Chef Martin’s first course of the evening. The Arugula Salad with Confit of Manchester Farms Quail was nice, but for me the star of the plate was the innovative Crispy Fingerling Chips made with a leaf of sage sandwich in between two thin slices of potato (more please!)

These unique fingerling  and herb potato chips topped the salad in course two

These unique fingerling and herb potato chips topped the salad in course two

The salad was finished with a tremendous Pickled Radish Original Sin & Bacon Vinaigrette Oyster Mushroom Confit – a great use of this night’s secret ingredient and Martin’s scores on this dish reflected that!

Course Three from Chef Brent Martin

Course Three from Chef Brent Martin

Course 3 was also from Chef Brent Martin and like the first course featured  NC Flounder but this time scallop stuffed and served  with a fabulous Crawfish & Maine Lobster Beignet in a Golden Beet & Sweet Pepper Reduction and a Burn In Hell Chipotle Mustard Aioli – all topped with a smooth and delicious Scallop Mousse with Brunoise Tomato – a high scoring plate for team Peculiar Rabbit

Course Four from Team Wooden Vine

Course Four from Team Wooden Vine

Course 4 went back to Chef Nicolas Daniels and centered around a Sundried Tomato & Original Sin Stone Ground Mustard Rubbed Veal Tenderloin with a side of Altar Boy Honey Mustard Ravioli stuffed with a House Made Ricotta-Arugula Pesto sauced with an Apple Mustard Soubise (a béchamel with an oniony base) and a bit of Charred Swiss Chard. The ravioli here, on my plate slightly undercooked,  proved a hard call for Chef Daniels although the combination of the home made ricotta and the mustard was brilliant. The veal, though, was sadly tough and this was  likely the plate that took Daniels down.

Mustard for dessert? But of course, and interestingly, the fine flavors in the trio of Lusty Monk Mustards available to the chefs made a sweet course very workable.

Course Five from Team Wooden Vine

Course Five from Team Wooden Vine

Course Five came from chef Nicholas Daniels and was comprised of a Chocolate Brownie topped  with a Burn In Hell Chipotle Mustard & Almond Brittle which was indeed the star of the plate!  A side of Bourbon Ice Cream with Root Beer Caramel & Citrus Blackberry Gastrique finished the dessert.  Daniels had me at the brittle – he could box and sell it if he had a mind.

Our second dessert of the evening was the night’s final course. Don’t you just love Competition Dining – the edible sport where one dessert isn’t enough – but I digress…

Course Six from Team Peculiar Rabbit

Course Six from Team Peculiar Rabbit

Course Six was a Altar Boy Honey Mustard Buttermilk Panna Cotta from Chef Martin dressed with a Recuerdo Malbec Gelee, and  Walnut Biscotti Crumble. The plate was finished with a
Prickly Pear Gastrique and Poached Asian Pear

The scores were close and it could have been anyone’s game. While congratulations go to both teams for a dinner well played, it was Chef Brent Martin and team Peculiar Rabbit who would continue on to cook another day.

Quarter Final Battle Mustard Champion, Chef Brent Martin from Peculiar Rabbit

Quarter Final Battle Mustard Champion, Chef Brent Martin from Peculiar Rabbit

Making a surprise guest appearance this night was this food writer's husband, Tom Billotto- Cheers!

Making a surprise guest appearance this night was this food writer’s husband, Tom Billotto- Cheers!

For more information on The Peculiar Rabbit located at 1212 Pecan Ave, Charlotte, NC 28205; 704.333.9197, visit www.thepeculiarrabbit.com

For more information on The Wooden Vine, located at 231 N Tryon St  Charlotte, NC 28202;
704.376.8463, visit www.thewoodenvine.com  

For more information on Lusty Monk Mustard, visit www.lustymonk.com

For more photos from Battle Lusty Monk Mustard and all the Competition Dining Fire in the City Dinner – visit and “Like” Competition Dining on Facebook!

Battle High Rock Farm Chestnuts and TOPO Carolina Whiskey; Chef Phil Barnes of Rooster’s meets Chef David Moore from Gallery Restaurant and Barnes takes the first quarter final win!

The Team from Rooster's From left, chef Zach Renner, Executive Chef Phil Barnes, and Chef Ryan Daugherty

The Team from Rooster’s. From left, chef Zach Renner, Executive Chef Phil Barnes, and Chef Ryan Daugherty

The first quarter final competition of Fire in the City was a  spirited battle between Chef Phil Barnes of Rooster’s and Chef David Moore of Gallery Restaurant at Ballantyne. It was a close battle between these two hard working and talented chefs, but when all the plates were cleared and scores announced,  it was Chef Phil Barnes who took the win and will move on to the Competition’s semi finals on October 14!

The team from Gallery Restaurant. from left, Executive Chef David Moore, Chef Chris Wrenn and Chef Michael Renfield

The team from Gallery Restaurant. from left, Executive Chef David Moore, Chef Chris Wrenn and Chef Michael Renfield

This night of  competition was “Spirited” in more ways than one: first because these six chefs got along so well in the tight quarters of the kitchen at Bonterra Dining and Wine Room; and secondly because the secret ingredient this evening was a local spirit – Top of the Hill’s Carolina Whiskey made from 100% NC local organic wheat and distilled in Chapel Hill.

But wait, that’s not all – the stakes are getting bigger as the quarter finals begin; and so this time out for these chefs, there were two secret ingredients; and for this night at least – the local whiskey was paired with local chestnuts from High Rock Farm in Gibsonville, NC.

The first quarterfinal secret ingredients - TOPO organic whiskey and High Rock Farm Chestnuts

The first quarterfinal secret ingredients – TOPO organic whiskey and High Rock Farm Chestnuts

This was the first time ever that either of these two local North Carolina products have been used in Competition Dining; and  while both chefs found them to be a bit challenging, the smooth creamy, nutty flavors of both of these local NC products  complimented each other and really were a perfect pairing.

Top of the Hill is one of several new local distilleries popping up on the NC horizon. The distinction is that TOPO is the only organic disillery in the south and the only Green Plus Distillery in the country! TOPO produces vodka, gin and whiskey. As the distillery is just two years young, this whiskey – which is clear – is still considered to be Moonshine, but TOPO’s co-owner and spirit guide Esteban McMahan told me that they are working on an aged whiskey to be released soon – at first in airline bottles and then with time in a larger bottle format. If you’d like to taste and start drinking local spirits for yourself, TOPO spirits are available in larger NC ABC stores.

Paired with the whiskey  as the secret ingredient, were North Carolina Chestnuts from High Rock Farm in Gibsonville – just a short drive outside of Greensboro.

As new and young as TOPO distillery is, its partner for this evening  is an historic NC farm. Established in 1807, with nearly 500 trees, High Rock Farm is the largest grower of Chestnuts in the mid-atlantic region. High Rock Farm also grows pecans and produces fresh nuts, chestnut flower and a unique dried chestnut chip of sorts.

Both the Distillery and the farm invite visitors and give tours, so if you’d like to find out more about either of these Good to be Grown in NC treasures, follow the links at the end of this post and give them a visit.

In fact, on November 3 from noon to 5 pm High Rock farms will be hosting their second annual Chestnut Festival. $5 gets you in the door for lots of fun, historic house tours, food, music, local beer and wine and, of course, local chestnuts.

For this evening of competition, chefs had to include the TOPO Whiskey and either the whole chestnuts, the chestnut pieces or the chestnut flour in each dish. They also had the option of including TOPO vodka and gin at their discretion.

Interested in trying your hand at cooking with these two unique local products – take a look at what chefs Phil Barnes and Chef David Moore did this first night of Competition Dining quarter-finals and be inspired!

Course One from Chef David Moore

Course One from Chef David Moore

Course 1 was a beautifully presented plate from Chef David Moore.  The inch and a half tall TOPO Gin Shrimp Mousse stood aside a High Rock Farm Chestnut Crepe stuffed with a smoky Charred Eggplant, and finished with a TOPO Carolina Whiskey Tomatillo Sauce. While I adored the slightly sweet crepe with the smoky rich eggplant filling, I would have loved a bit more of the whiskey sauce. The shrimp mousse here was a non plus for me – it seemed much more of a separate item on the plate rather than an accompaniment to make a cohesive dish. Other dinners obviously agreed as, as pretty as it was,  this was a low scoring dish for Moore.

Course Two by Chef Phil Barnes

Course Two by Chef Phil Barnes

Course 2 from Chef Phil Barnes may have been the favorite plate of the evening. An incredibly well done TOPO Carolina Whiskey Braised Pork Belly was the star of the plate accompanied by Barnes’ take on a High Rock Farm Chestnut Crepe stuffed with Collard Greens, Parsnip & Chestnut Puree
This course was Barnes’ highest scoring plate and the highest scoring course of the evening.

Course three from Chef Phil Barnes

Course three from Chef Phil Barnes

Course 3 also came from Barnes – so in these quarter-final rounds, these chefs were also faced with the challenge of  plating back to back courses. After the competition, Barnes told me that this was his most challenging plate. At first he wanted to make pasta, but while the conception of Chestnut pasta was a good one, there were problems with the process, so the Rooster’s team had to drop back and rethink it. Gnocchi seemed a clever solution and Barnes really pulled it out. The slightly sweet nutty flavor of his High Rock Farm Chestnut Gnocchi, in a Chestnut-Carolina Whiskey-Apple Soubise with
Chestnut & Arugula Pesto was underscored with the intense TOPO Carolina Whiskey Sriracha Apples. For some the apples were too potent an ingredient, but when all the parts where eaten in one bite, I thought it to be  a good blend of taste and texture.

Course Four for Chef David Moore

Course Four for Chef David Moore

Course 4 from Chef David Moore was rich with the High Rock Farm Chestnut Smoked Pork Tenderloin bathed in Chestnut Butter with a side of delicious TOPO Carolina Whiskey Current Jam – Yum!  But for me, the Whole Grain Chestnut Flan which stood beside the pork was this plate’s demise, and honestly, I didn’t think  it was very typical of the way Moore cooks. It just didn’t have the refined sophistication his food usually brings to the table.

Whatever happened in the kitchen here, the flan was dry and crumbly. Easy to be a morning after “Armchair quarterback” but  while it was full of chestnuts I think I might have opted to leave the broken flan off  the plate in lieu of a green of vegetable of some sort.

Cpurse five from Chef David Moore

Course five from Chef David Moore

Conversely in Course 5, Chef David Moore was back. I thought the rich buttery High Rock Farm Chestnut White Chocolate Butter Cake with TOPO Carolina Whiskey Honey Sauce and Roasted Pink Lady Apples was outstanding
It’s crispy browned crust added a nice crunch and the flavors were so nicely blended that nothing overwhelmed. This was a favorite for me,  Moore’s highest scoring plate and the  second highest scoring plate of the evening

Course six by Chef Phil Barnes

Course six by Chef Phil Barnes

Its a tough job when a six course dinner includes two different desserts, but my fellow diners and I were more than happy to take on the assignment.

Course 6 from Chef Phil Barnes with a nice  slice of High Rock Farm Chestnut Pound Cake with a Chocolate Chestnut Mousse topped with chips of deep fried spiced chestnuts and finished with  my favorite part of this particular dessert –  a practically perfect TOPO Carolina Whiskey Caramel,

Chefs from Roosters and Gallery restaurants toast at the end of the evening to a battle well played

Chefs from Rooster’s and Gallery restaurants toast at the end of the evening to a battle well played

As Competition Dining host and creator Jimmy Crippen announced the scores  plate by plate , it was hard to see which was the battle would roll.

In the end the win wound up in  Barnes’ court – congratulations for a job well done!

Cheers to both chefs and their talented teams for sharing what they all do so well with  the 125-130 diners in attendance and  enjoying the process and the spirit of comradely and fellowship in which Competition Dining was conceptualized.

For more information about Rooster’s Wood Fired Kitchen with two locations near Southpark at 6601 Morrison Blvd. Charlotte,  28211;  704.366.8688; or Uptown at 150 N. College Street  Charlotte, 28202; 704.370.7667, visit www.roosterskitchen.com

New friends as a result of Competition Dining from left Brianne McAlister and Richard Teague of High Rock Farm NC chestnuts; Esteban McMahan, spirit guide from TOPO distillery and yours truly, Heidi Billotto, official blogger of Competition Dining's Fire in the City

New friends as a result of Competition Dining… from left Brianne McAlister and Richard Teague of High Rock Farm NC chestnuts; Esteban McMahan, spirit guide from TOPO distillery and yours truly, Heidi Billotto, official blogger of Competition Dining’s Fire in the City

For more information about Gallery Restaurant at Ballantyne Resort located at 10000 Ballantyne Commons Pkwy  Charlotte 28277;
704.248.4100, visit www.gallery-restaurant.com

For more information about High Rock farm Chestnuts visit http://www.high-rock-farm.org/ or friend High Rock farm on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/highrockfarm

For more information on local spirits and TOPO distillery, visit http://topodistillery.com/ or friend TOPO on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TOPO.Distillery