Competition Dining is nuts about North Carolina’s own High Rock Farms Pecans: the Second Secret Ingredient in the Final Fire Series

North Carolina's own High Rock Farm Pecans

North Carolina’s own High Rock Farm Pecans

So, is it Pee-Can or Puh-Kahn?  While we could engage in a verbose discussion as to the correct terminology,  I am here to report that the question never came up from chefs competing for the second night of Competition Dining’s Final Fire.  All that mattered to competing chefs John Bobby and his team from Noble’s Grill in Winston-Salem and Dean Thompson and his team from Fights Restaurant at the Renaissance Marriot Hotel in Raleigh, was that this nut, was a locally grown North Carolina product and, this night it was their secret ingredient – the catalyst around which they each needed to build three different dishes for the second evening of the Competition Dining Final Fire on November 21, 2013.

Competing chefs for the second evening of Competition Dining's Final Fire in Raleigh on November 21, 2013 were Chef John Bobby, left, from Noble's Grill in Winston-Salem and Chef Dean Thompson from Fight's Restaurant in  Raleigh NC

Competing chefs for the second evening of Competition Dining’s Final Fire in Raleigh on November 21, 2013 were Chef John Bobby, left, from Noble’s Grill in Winston-Salem and Chef Dean Thompson from Fight’s Restaurant in Raleigh NC

As is the case with each secret ingredient these particular pecans were North Carolina born and bred, hailing from High Rock Farms in Gibsonville, North Carolina.

Established in 1807,  High Rock Farm is the largest working and  producing chestnut orchard in the mid-Atlantic region with a grove of nearly 500 chestnut trees.  While the farm is chestnut-centric, High Rock also produces a hearty crop  of pecans each fall from some 400 pecan trees; and in the spring visitors can look to enjoy  the annual blackberry harvest.

The historic home at High Rock Farm in Gibsonvie, NC

The historic home at High Rock Farm in Gibsonville, NC

High Rock Farm was built in 1807 by Joseph  McCain, Senator John McCain’s fourth great-grandfather. This federalist  style home features many large rooms including eight fireplaces, antique  furniture, and beautiful landscape. High Rock Farm is one of North Carolinas Historic landmarks and is listed under Preservation North Carolina.
HRF 3The farm  house sits off High Rock Road and was used as a stage coach stay in the  1800’s. At one time, the house was also home to a local tavern and area post office. Today the historic house is home to Richard Teague who planted his first chestnut tree in 1991, and is available for home and farm tours by appointment.

Pecans are generally harvested in October and then packaged for sale directly from the farm, but they go fast! To extend the life and flavor of the pecans High Rock Farm also produces and sells sugar toasted pecans and chocolate covered pecans as well as their chestnuts ( perfect this time of year for roasting over an open fire!), chestnut flour, dried chestnut kernels and in season fresh blackberries and raspberries and as well as their own blackberry jam. For information about ordering product or visiting the farm  ( or perhaps hosting your wedding celebration there) visit http://www.high-rock-farm.org/

Brianne McAlister and Richard Teague from High Rock Farm

Brianne McAlister and Richard Teague from High Rock Farm

Richard and the sales and marketing director for High Rock Farm, Brianne McAlister , were at the Nov. 21 Final Fire dinner and literally went nuts over each and every dish. I had the pleasure to meet these two ambassadors of North Carolina Chestnuts and Pecans in Charlotte when High Rock Farms Chestnuts were a secret ingredient at one of the Fire in the City Competition Dining dinners. We had a wonderful evening rekindling our friendship at Final Fire.

While the pecans may not have been as formidable of an ingredient as the chestnuts, they did offer. their own set of challenges.

You see, the pecans at High Rock Farm are unlike most other commercially produced and packaged pecans as they are not dried after shelling. Instead, Teague vacuum seals the pecan halves fresh in 5 lb. bags and freezes then for future use and enjoyment. This process helps the nuts to retain their natural moisture and the result is a more tender sweeter product.

The challenge to chefs this night came in preserving that sweet tender taste, in toasting the nuts to  the “just right” moment and in accentuating their understated flavor without masking it over with other flavor components. But such is the task for Competition Dining chefs in each and every battle and this night Chefs Bobby and Thompson, did these local pecans proud.

my vote for best use of pecans in a dessert this night of Competition Dining - Team Noble's Grill's Toasted Pecan Caramel, Vanilla Cake Spiced Diplomat, White Chocolate Pecan Created by Pastry chef Lucia Bobby

my vote for best use of pecans in a dessert this night of Competition Dining – Team Noble’s Grill’s Toasted Pecan Caramel, Vanilla Cake
Spiced Diplomat, White Chocolate Pecan
Created by Pastry chef Lucia Bobby

To paraphrase Wikipedia, pecans, like the fruit of all other members of the hickory genus, are not truly a nut, but are technically a drupe or a fruit with a single stone or pit, surrounded by a husk.  for those who have never had the pleasure of enjoying a freshly cracked pecan, Wikipedia goes on to say that “The seeds of the pecan are edible, with a rich, buttery  flavor. They can be eaten fresh or used in cooking, particularly in sweet desserts  but also in some savory dishes.”

Dish 4 from Chef Dean Thompson and  the team at Fights Restaurant in Raliegh: Pepsi® & Mystery Brewing Smoked Rye Stout Braised Pork Belly Asian Pecan Glaze, Sweet Potato & Pecan Grits Leese-Fitch Chardonnay Creamed Collards

Dish 4 from Chef Dean Thompson and the team at Fights Restaurant in Raleigh: Pepsi® & Mystery Brewing Smoked Rye Stout Braised Pork Belly
Asian Pecan Glaze, Sweet Potato & Pecan Grits
Leese-Fitch Chardonnay Creamed Collards

Dish 3 from Chef John Bobby and the team from Noble's Grill in Winston -Salem: Flounder, Citrus Ravioli, Pecan Sausage Pecan Smoked Fennel, Tarragon Emulsion

Dish 3 from Chef John Bobby and the team from Noble’s Grill in Winston -Salem: Flounder, Citrus Ravioli, Pecan Sausage
Pecan Smoked Fennel, Tarragon Emulsion

Well, whoever wrote that section for Wikipedia, has obviously never been to a Competition Dining dinner! “Some savory dishes” – ha!

Chefs John Bobby and Dean Thompson, crusted Manchester Farms Quail with pecans, made pecan sausage, pureed pecans for a savory sauce, made sweet potato and pecan grits, and, of course, used these delicious North Carolina pecans for two spectacular desserts.

More on the Battle High Rock Farms Pecan dinner to come in another blog post; but continue on and you will find that  I have included one recipe from the dinner here from the Fights Restaurant offerings – Chef Anthony Zinani’s  NC Sweet Potato and High Rock Farm Pecan Grits – Know that the quantities may be cut down if you are not cooking for 150 Competition Dining guests  enjoy!

Final Fire Battle High Rock Farm Pecans winner Chef John Bobby with Richard Teague and Brianne McAlister

Final Fire Battle High Rock Farm Pecans winner Chef John Bobby with Richard Teague and Brianne McAlister

Chefs  John and Lucia Bobby

Chefs John and Lucia Bobby

In the end it was chef John Bobby and his team from Noble’s Grill who won the battle and will now go on to the last evening of Final Fire for the Championship round against Chef Adam Hayes of The Red Stag Grill in Asheville NC. And what will the secret ingredient be that night of the competition?

Its all hush-hush until the evening of the dinner, but this food writer is already in the know and can’t wait to write about it all.

Chef Anthony Zinani - Fights Restaurant

Chef Anthony Zinani – Fights Restaurant

 

North Carolina Sweet Potato – High Rock Farms Pecan Grits

From the Flight’s Restaurant Kitchen and exec sous chef Anthony Zinani

6 cups roasted High Rock Farms Pecans, roughly chopped

4 cups Gilford Stone Ground Grits

15 roasted North Carolina sweet potatoes, roasted for 1 1/2 hours until tender

1 lb. mascarpone cheese

2 qts chicken stock

1 qt. heavy cream

1 Tbsp,. ground cumin

3 cups brown sugar

salt and pepper to taste

2 Tbsp. powdered ginger

Bring stock to a slow rolling boil. Add grits. turn heat down to simmer and stir with a wire whisk.  Pee potatoes and puree. Cook grits for one hour; add sweet potato puree, pecans, mascarpone and spices.Cook for an additional 20 minutes.

The recipe may be halved or quartered if you are cooking for less than 150 Competition Dining guests 🙂

The Secret Ingredient… Meet Final Fire’s first Clandestine Combo: Cheerwine and Cacklacky Cheerwine Sauce

comp dining logoNovember 20, 2013 marked the first battle of Final Fire –  the culmination of the eighth season of North Carolina’s favorite culinary sport: Competition Dining.

Throughout the Competition Dining’s Charlotte Fire in the City series, I detailed each and every battle and will do so with each night of the Final Fire, the competition of champions, as well.

In addition, during Final Fire,  I will also blog about each night’s secret ingredients – the all local heart and sole of each night of Competition Dining, revealed to competing chefs at 11 am the day of the battle and to the Competition Dining guests and the public who follows the social media as each dinner begins.

This narrative is the first of four 2013 “secret ingredient” posts – enjoy!

The 2013 season was the second and biggest year since founder and creator Jimmy Crippen took  the Competition statewide. Winning chefs from Blowing Rock’s Fire on the Rock, Wilmington’s Fire in the Dock,  Greensboro’s Fire in the Triad, Raleigh’s Fire in the Triangle and Charlotte’s Fire in the City all donning their coveted red jackets from the regional wins, have gathered at the Renaissance Hotel in Raleigh to compete in Final Fire to determine the statewide Champion.

Battle cheerwine and cackalacky 036

Chefs from Noble’s Grille in Winston-Salem, NC and Mimosa Grill in Charlotte, NC join Competition Dining Chef refs in an after-the -battle toast to the first battle of Final Fire.

With a $4000 cash prize, a set of Handmade Ironman Forge knives from Charlotte’s own bladesmith Steve Watkins, a trip to the CIA Napa campus compliments of Kikkoman and, of course, bragging rights.  This night, the contenders were Chef Jon Fortes and his team Chef Thomas Marlow and Chef DJ Ivey –  from Mimosa Grill in Charlotte vs chef John Bobby and his team – Chef Lucia Bobby and Chef Sara Brown – from Noble’s Grille in Winston-Salem.

In the end, Chef John Bobby and his team from Noble’s Grill pulled out the win by a third of a point – it was a close battle and a delightful evening. For more details check out my Final Fire blog post on battle Cheerwine and Cackalacky Sweet Sauce specifics; but meanwhile, read a bit more about the secret ingredients that fueled this battle’s fire…

Final Fire's November 20 Sweet Secret

Final Fire’s November 20 Sweet Secret

A Clandestine Combo

As is the case with each Competition Dining battle the evening revolves around a secret, made-or-produced-in-North-Carolina, ingredient or two. This night the secret ingredient was, in fact, a tasty twosome.

First, Cheerwine,  a legendary homegrown nectar from Salisbury, NC made with a hint on wild cherry,  and delivered with a bubbly effervescence, just as it has been since its creation in 1917. Chefs this night were required to include Cheerwine or Cheerwine syrup in each and every dish. This is a truly local beverage and many people who live outside of North Carolina may have never tasted Cheerwine until they moved to or visited the Tarheel State. Such was the case with this food writer.  Now with the intervention of the internet- Cheerwine is happily available to all.

But not so long ago, before dot coms and the internet, I grew up a Florida girl, and my first Cheerwine experience wasn’t until I came to live in North Carolina during the time I attended Queen College, now Queens University in Charlotte. My roommate was from Kannapolis and when we would go to visit her family we would stop in at a local What-A-Burger and enjoy a WitchDoctor with our delivered-to-the-car-by-a-car-hop burgers. Locally there remains a What-A-Burger in Concord NC and WitchDoctors are still available if you are interested in doing a little research. The WitchDoctor “mocktail” is a blend of Cheerwine and Sundrop (a southern-made citrus soda developed in the early 1950s) served over ice with two spears of dill pickle – an elixir of sweet and salty, it works.

Cheerwine and  a variety of Cheerwine merchandise, for those who live outside the regular distribution area, may be placed at www.Cheerwine.com

November Raleigh and Final Fire 134The first night of Final Fire the Cheerwine was paired with a slightly newer, made in North Carolina, kid on the block – the famously original Cackalacky Sweet Cheerwine Sauce made Chapel Hill, NC.  Final Fire chefs were required to include the tasty Cackalacky Sweet Cheerwine Sauce in at least one of there three dishes of the evening.

Page Skelton, creator of the Cackalacky brand,  first crafted his original zesty, award-winning Cackalacky condiment, dip, and topping from North Carolina-grown sweet potatoes and began to market it ten years ago. The original “famously original” Cacklacky Spice Sauce debuted in 2003.

This year Skelton decided to give his zesty Cackalacky a sweeter side and so conceptualized a sweet version of his popular sauce.

Cheerwine's Brad Porter, left, and Cackalacky's Page Skelton at Battle One of the 2013 Final Fire

New friends and business collaborators, Cheerwine’s Brad Porter, left, and Cackalacky’s Page Skelton at Battle One of the 2013 Final Fire

It was important to Page to continue to keep his product all local.

“As I began the search for a sweet North Carolina-made product to add to my original sauce – Cheerwine came to mind – it was a no brainer from there,” Skelton explained.

And why did Cheerwine consider the partnership? “We met Page and loved his enthusiasm and his energy, ” Brad Porter of Cheerwine told me. “It just seemed like a good idea that would really work.”

And work it has – the sweeter Cackalacky sauce has proven to be every bit as popular as the original brand.

North Carolina is the number one producer of sweet potatoes in the country, and Skelton is quick to acknowledge the role the North Carolina Department of Agriculture has played in making his vision for his original zesty sauce and the new sweeter version a reality.

Everyone knows that Goodness Grows in North Carolina; and as Skelton explains, “The folks at Cheerwine have been an absolute joy to work with on this project! “We are both family-owned North Carolina businesses who share a passion for creating happy moments!”

agriculture%20(stacked)And now you, dear reader  can experience happy moments all your own. With the November debut of the new Cackalacky Sweet Cheerwine Sauce, Page and the folks at Cackalacky are extending a special offer.

Simply visit www.Cackalacky.com and click on the Got to be NC logo found in the bottom left hand corner of the homepage – a pop up screen will appear asking for a password; just type in the word “legend” and enjoy special pricing on your first Cackalacky Sweet Cheerwine Sauce order. While you are on the website – check out all the other fabulous Cackalacky products and swag; then after you place your order, prepare to be entertained by clicking on the You Tube link at the top of the home page to see Cackalacky creator Page Skelton, a man who definitely thinks and lives “outside the box” in action – my personal favorite is the How Cackalacky ® Sauce Gets Made video – enjoy!