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!
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.
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 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 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 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 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.
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
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,
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
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