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.
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.
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 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.”
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.
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 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 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 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 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 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 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…
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.
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
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.
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
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