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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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 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 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!
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
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 !
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.
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