First Taste of Spring at The SavorNC Cooking Stage

4452defe-d5bd-4fc1-9cc8-2289ed2d4211Tomorrow Friday Feb 23, 2017 marks the first day of all the food flavor and fun at the SavorNC Cooking Stage at the Southern Spring Home & Garden Show at the Park Expo in Charlotte NC. The show runs for 6 full days – this weekend of Feb 23-26 and then again the weekend of March 3-5. Attendance at the SavorNc Cooking Stage is free with your ticket to the show and we will be located right by the show entrance, so you can’t miss us!

 

savorncI happily play the part of host of the cooking stage and have invited over 40 restaurant chefs, private chefs, caterers, farmers and other food-centric folk to be on stage with me cooking with tons of local produce, proteins and products.  The North Carolina Department of Agriculture has come on as the title sponsor of the stage, so we are the SavorNC Cooking Stage and each day we have a different local day sponsor involved in all the action.

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The cooking demos each day start at 10:30 am and run every hour on the half hour. Chefs will be cooking, sharing technique, tips about buying local and handing out complimentary samples at each and every demonstration.

At the end of each demo, we’ll ask a couple of fun trivia questions pertaining to what each chef said, and where ingredients might have come from and the winners will get great prizes which will include gift  bags of swag from the NC Department of Agriculture, gift certificates from the participating restaurants and special samples and or coupons from our day sponsors.

Recipes from each day of demos and a photo recap of the day will be posted on these blog pages each evening of the show, so stay tuned for the word on lots of local eats and how to make them in your kitchen over the next ten days. Consider these two weekends a first taste of Spring with all the wonderful local ingredients this, my favorite season of the year, brings.

Here is the line up of chefs for each day  and a little bit about our GotToBeNC Day Sponsors for this first weekend of the 2017 Southern Spring Show… Look for a similar article next week on the line up of all the action for the March 3-5 weekend or check here for a link to the complete list of participating chefs

img_7229Goodnight Brothers Country Ham from Boone North Carolina kicks off our list of day sponsors this year on Friday February 24, 2017. Throughout the day chefs will be hamming it up with Goodnight’s all natural line of thin sliced dry cured ham (I like to call it North Carolina’s answer to  Italian prosciutto) as well as Goodnight’s classic Country Ham. Goodnight Brothers has sent me two HUGE boxes of  sample sized packages of ham to hand out to the crowd and at 12:30 I will be on stage with Bill Goodnight of Goodnight Brothers, cooking with both varieties of this locally cured ham and talking about the history of this family owned company and how they do what they do.  if you have ever eaten a ham biscuit at Bojangles, then you know how wonderful Goodnight Brothers Ham really is – take this opportunity to come to the Spring Show on Friday, to try, taste and learn more about it.

Cooking onstage with me Friday February 24, 2017 –

10:30 am
Springtime Favorites

Chef Blake Hartwick, Bonterra Dining & Wine Room

11:30 am
WCCB Everyday Eats Hamming It Up

Chef Troy Gagliardo
WCCB Charlotte

12:30 pm
Cooking with Goodnight Brothers Country Ham
Cooking Stage Host Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto and Bill Goodnight from Goodnight Brothers Country Ham

1:30 pm
The Sweet & Savory Sides of Eating Local
Chef Paul Verica and Chef Ashley Boyd, Heritage Food Drink, Waxhaw NC

2:30 pm
It’s Cookin’ at The Cowfish

Chef David Lucarelli, The Cowfish Sushi & Burger Bar

3:30 pm
Charcuterie and Cooking with Beer 

Chef Terra Ciotta and Chef Philip Lloyd, The Art Institute

4:30 pm
Dinner from the Springtime Garden

Chef Michael Rayfield, U.S. National Whitewater Center

5:30 pm
Gluten Free Vegan and Vegetarian

Chef Beverly McLaughlin, Beverly’s Gourmet Foods

img_7234On Saturday February 25, 2017 Parla Pasta from High Point North Carolina is our day sponsor and you won’t believe all the delicious Pastabilities we’ll have on hand. Simone Drake from Parla’s parent company Drake’s Pasta will be with us all day and is bringing a wonderful pasta salad for show goers to snack on between demos as well as plenty of coupons to hand out, so everyone can go and buy their favorite variety of Parla Pasta from their grocer’s freezer case after begin inspired by the culinary action onstage. Again, chefs will be cooking with the different varieties of Parla Pasta throughout the day and at 12:30 Simone and I will take the stage together to cook and talk pasta. Parla Pasta is available at grocery stores across Charlotte – find it in the freezer section at your favorite locations of Harris Teeter, The Fresh Market, Publix, Ingles, and Lowes Foods.

And here is who will be cooking onstage with me for Saturday February 25, 2017:

10:30 am
Little Plates, Big Flavor with Stoke Restaurant’s infamous Pork Ragu

Chef Chris Coleman, Stoke at the Marriott

11:30 am
Sweet Springtime Dreams

Chef Ashley Boyd and Chef Miranda Brown, 300 East

12:30 pm
Ah, The Parla Pastabilities

Cooking Stage Host Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto with SImone Drake of Parla Post

1:30 pm
It’s Got to Be NC!

Clark Barlow, Heirloom Restaurant

2:30 pm
Kale Yeah!

Heidi Billotto cooks with the Greens that Grow at Tega Hill Farms

3:30 pm
Entertaining on the Fly: From Zero to Party in under and Hour
Susan Murray Innkeeper and Cookbook Author, Carolina B&B, Asheville

4:30 pm
Pasta and Prosciutto with Springtime Style
Chef George DiPaolo from the Community Culinary School of Charlotte

5:30 pm
Risotto From the Springtime Garden
Chef Geoff Bragg from the Community Culinary School of Charlotte

cloister-honeyOn Sunday February 26, 2017, our friends Randall York and Joanne di la Rionda from Cloister Honey are in the house with their entire line of sweet and savory locally raised honey. Cloister Honey will be available to sample and purchase throughout the day right at the cooking stage. Many chefs will be incorporating the line of Cloister Honey into their recipes and  in the 12:30 time slot this day, I’ll be cooking with Cloister and Randall and Joanne will join me onstage to talk about raising bees, how they came to build a hobby into a company and we might even get  Joanne to share her secrets ( well some of them) on how she develops her delicious honey blends and flavor infused varieties. Cloister will be giving away samples as a part of each prize package during each of the chefs demos throughout the day  – its going to be a sweet way to wind up this first weekend of fun and local flavor on the SavorNC Cooking Stage at the Southern Spring Home & Garden Show.

On the SavorNC Cooking Stage Sunday, February 26, 2017:  

10:30 am
Sunday Brunch Fresh from the Farm

Chef Kevin Woods cooks with  Two Moons Family Farms

11:30 am
The Art of Japanese Cuisine From Yama, Yama Izakaya and Baku Restaurants

Chef and Sake Specialist Birdie Yang

12:30 pm
Catch the Buzz – Cooking with Cloister Honey

Cooking Stage Host Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto with Cloister’s Randall York and Joanna de la Rionda

1:30 pm
Jamie’s Favorite Top Chef Recipes

Chef Jamie Lynch of 5 Church and Top Chef Charleston contestant

2:30 pm
Donuts: Not Just for Breakfast
Courtney Buckley, Your Mom’s Donuts

3:30 pm
Wine Pairings with Local Favorites 
Josh Villapando, Assorted Table Wine Shop

So Many great local GotToBeNc products to feature on the Savor NC Cooking Stage this first weekend of the show, and so many chefs to help create the show. I’m proud to say we have a truly great line up of award winning and nationally recognized chefs here in Charlotte and our surrounding areas and  I am thrilled to promote them on the SavorNC Cooking Stage this weekend and next.

charlotte-living-winter-2017-coverIn addition to recipes and samples and all the fun you’ll have at the Savor NC Cooking Stage, remember to also pick up a copy of the new issue of Charlotte Living Magazine. That beautiful dish on the cover was prepared by Chef Thomas Marlow of Mimosa Grill in Uptown Charlotte.

As many of you know, In addition to this blog, I also am the food editor at Charlotte Living and this first issue of the year is our annual food issue. So excited to see my “100 + Restaurants Worth Your While Restaurant Guide” finally done and printed up in living color. A TEN-PAGE spread of great places to eat in Charlotte and a word or two about many chefs who make this such a wonderful food-centric city. Pick up a copy of the magazine at the SavorNC Cooking Stage and enjoy the guide, articles on Mimosa Grill in Uptown Charlotte and Highland Avenue Restaurant in Hickory as well as a piece on local Moorseville woodworker Jeffrey Mathews of Old World Moulding Company who creates incredible cutting boards for chefs around the world; and  a section on 6 ways to open a package, box, bottle or jar to Eat Local and more. Can’t wait – you can check out the Restaurant Guide and some of these other articles online at CharlotteLiving.com

 

 

 

A Bite of GotToBeNC Competition Dining Charlotte from Behind the Scenes

DSC_0655As many of you know I travel with the GotToBeNC Competition Dining series organizers across the state of North Carolina – promoting chefs and their culinary prowess as they participate in  dinner events set up like a live version of a mix of Chopped and Ironchef.

Slide95My job is not to cook, but  instead to tell the tale of chefs and farmers, restaurants and featured products; and in addition to handle all the social media, the sponsors and relationships with our competing chefs.

I love what I do and have met some very cool people in each city, but have to say I am so happy to be in Charlotte this month as The GotToBeNC Competition Dining series kicks off a seven night series in the Queen City.

 

Team Radical Range Riders

Team Radical Range Riders

Monday Aug 8 was evening one. This first preliminary battle saw chefs Paul Verica from Heritage Food & Drink; Ashely Boyd from 300 East and Heritage Food& Drink and Joe Bonaparte from the International Culinary Institute of Myrtle Beach on Team 3 Cooks up against chefs Adam Reed from Sante of Matthews, Terra Ciotta of the Art Institute of Charlotte’s Artisan Restaurant and Jess Cochran from CPCC’s culinary school who came to play as Team Radical Range Riders.

Team 3 cooks

Team 3 Cooks

The concept of a dream team of chefs – all from one restaurant or from three separate restaurants is new to the GotToBeNc Competition Dining Series this year and the chefs and the audience are loving the experience.

I, too, had a blast yesterday. I have had the pleasure of knowing all of these chefs for years – save for Jess who I just met the other day and am looking forward to getting to know.

Its been great watching all of them grow, hone their skills, make their marks both individually and together to help carve a place for the Charlotte culinary community in the statewide, regional and national spotlights.

Yesterday was no different and the fact that all six of these chefs were good friends with similar cooking styles, made it all the more fun from the Chefs’ Breakfast at the start of the day to the announcement of the winning team about 9:30 Monday night.

images-2One of this year’s Competition Dining sponsors, Alsco, treats the chefs in each region across the state to a relaxing breakfast as a start to the day and in Charlotte our breakfast spot is @Dawn, located at 2130 Ayrely Town Blvd at the intersection of I-485 and South Tryon Streets, the relatively new breakfast concept brought to you by Greg and Subrina Collier of The Yolk, a great  little breakfast spot in Rock Hill. After a family style meal of local eggs cooked to order, two kinds of grits, pancakes, waffles, bacon, sausage, biscuits, fresh local fruit, coffee tea and more and some fun photos the crew all headed over to Bonterra Dining & Wine Room, our home base for each of the Charlotte events.

chefs at the reveal

Chefs meet each day with Chef Ref Chad Blackwelder for the Secret Ingredient and Mystery Basket reveal

Back at Bonterra Dining and Wine Room, located on Cleveland Ave in the Dilworth neighborhood,  Competition Dining Chef Ref Chad Blackwelder from Sanford, NC, sets up a refrigerated mobile pantry, sponsored by Pate Dawson Southern Foods full of great items for the chefs to cook with and make a part of the meal. The pantry has all the basics and includes lots of North Carolina product.

 

 

In addition Chad UPDATED - NCDAalso shops at local markets in each city so that the end result of each six course meal features a good mix of  local farmers, NC  Produce, product and proteins as well as a mix of other regional and seasonal items.

At the reveal each morning of competition, chefs learn of the secret ingredient they will be working with – to be featured in each of their 3 courses to make a 6 course meal. In addition, they have a group of mystery basket ingredients to choose from that they must include somewhere in the meal.

To that end, the first Charlotte preliminary  dinner featured Black Mountain Chocolate cocoa nibs and Dominican Chocolate as well as several varieties of local chiles and peppers.

The chiles and peppers came almost entirely from the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market from my friends Mark and Mindy Robinson at Tega Hill Farm and from Cathy and Eric McCall at As Hot As Possible Hot Pepper Herb Farm. Poblano chiles were from Coto Farms at the Atherton Farmers market and the spicy Thai Chiles were from Ma Cha at the Charlotte Regional Farmers’ Market

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Chef Paul Verica | Heritage Food&Drink

From the  Mystery basket selections, chefs were limited to two proteins – duck from Joe Jurgielewicz & Son – a fourth generation sustainable duck farm in Pennsylvania and one of the leading Pekin duck suppliers in North America ; and Greenbrier Farms pork, a farm I discovered and was happy to bring to the Competition Dining table and to the attention of Pate Dawson when we competed in Greenville SC last year.

DSC_0561

Chef Adam Reed Sante of Matthews

Also in the Mystery Basket this first night of Charlotte competition, other local favorites from the Savory Spice Shop in Southend and from Charlotte’s own, award winning Cloister Honey. Basics in the kitchen also came from lots of local farms all of whom sell at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market on Saturdays including watermelons, onions, and more from A Way of Life Farm; cucumbers, blackberries and more from Burton Farms; Tomatoes and Peaches from Lincoln County; Blueberries from Blackwood Berries, a farm located not far from Fayetteville, NC

These six chefs did both secret ingredients and all the mystery basket and pantry items proud in six courses that featured flavors from an rich Manchamanteles sauce served in The Radical Range Riders course 3 to a light NC Peach and Thai Chile sorbet a part of the plating for Team 3 Cooks course 6. The intriguing mix kept the crowd guessing all through the evening as to which team made which plate, but as Competition Dining host and creator Jimmy Crippen always remnds guests, it is always best not to guess who made what, but instead to simply vote your palate.  For final results of this first battle and a detailed description of each plate visit the Results Page at the Competition Dining Website

In the end, it was an excited Team Radical Range Riders who took the win and will go on the compete in the Thursday August 11 semi final round.

They will go up against the winner of tonights August 9 battle which will find Team Bistro 127 from Hickory NC with chefs Shawn Bank, John Edwards and Jeff Croft all going up against Team Vicious & Delicious with chefs Ryan Forte and Phillip Platoni from Southminster in Charlotte and chef Brigitte Oger from Craft Cakes of Charlotte. Check out these pages on Wednesday Aug 10 to see the results of the  Tuesday Aug 9 nite event.

As I write this Monday night recap, chefs are in the kitchen with 2 very cool secret ingredients, one a local seasonal favorite and the other one you might be surprise to find is an ingredient produced in the state of North Carolina.  Here are all of the Aug 10 chefs at the

 

Its anyone’ game. Tonight’s  preliminary battle and the August 11 semi final battle are already sold out with a waiting list, but tickets to the  Aug 22 and 23 preliminary battles are still available.  Treat yourself to a night of North Carolina’s favorite culinary sport and join us, if you will.

Tickets for the preliminary events are just $74.78, exclusive of beverages. Here are the direct links:

August 22 between Team Lucianos Charlotte and Team Fahrenheit CLT

August 23 between Team Heirloom and Team Trois Petit Cochon with chefs from The Fishmarket in Ft. Mill and Cafe Montes in Charlotte

Don’t miss a single bite of the action – if you can’t make it you can follow along on all the social media – I look forward to seeing you there – Cheers!

 

2016 GotTobeNC Competition Dining Series Comes to Charlotte

BlackCompDiningLogoIts called Competition Dining – The GotToBeNc Competition Dining Series – to be exact.  Its a series of interactive dining events held across the state of North Carolina.  Think of it as what you would get if  you combined the cooking and competition premise of  the television shows Chopped and  Iron Chef and then add in the fact that YOU get to be the judge as teams of talented area chefs create a number of courses centered around a “secret ingredient” each night of competition.

As many of you may know, I work and travel across North Carolina with the Competition Dining team headed by the uber-enthusiastic host and creator or the event, Jimmy Crippen.

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODI absolutely love what I do as the face behind all the #CompDiningNC social media, newsletters etc,  coordinating relationships with local, regional and national sponsors; helping to connect local farmers and chefs and in general making sure that our dinner guests have the most fun possible as we competing across North Carolina, this year with regional series in Durham, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Raleigh, Charlotte and Wilmington.

Its fun to travel meeting talented chefs across the state, but I am particularly excited to be home in Charlotte next month as the competition kicks off August 8, showing the state what Charlotte chefs bring to the table. Excited, too, to be the first to share the news in this post as to which Charlotte-based chefs are competing and when they will be in the GotToBeNC Competition Dining spotlight, that’s right – you heard it hear first!

bring your own battery packs - CopyAs a dinner guest at any Competition Dining event, you and your dining companions will enjoy a six course meal, but you won’t know which team of chefs prepared which course. You’ll have fun voting on the specially designed app on your phone, voting and posting on your own social media if you would like, as you enjoy each sweet and savory forkful. In the end, your votes are tallied, the teams come out to meet the crowd, the scores are reveled and one team wins and the other goes on the cook another day.

UPDATED - NCDAThere really is nothing else like it... with the NC Department of Agriculture as the title sponsor, The GotToBeNc Competition Dining series comes with a focus on promoting local NC and for this series Charlotte area produce, proteins and products.

Here’s how it all works – Every GotToBeNC Competition Dining Series dinner event includes two chef teams battling it out, each preparing three courses centered on a featured North Carolina ingredients  – its like simultaneously eating at two of your favorites restaurants.

bonterra_thumbnailIn Charlotte all of the  events will take place at Bonterra Dining and Wine Room, located at  1829 Cleveland Ave. We book out the restaurant on the days of competition; our chefs start early in the  morning with the reveal of the secret ingredient or ingredients, cook all day and then plate and serve guests at the event that night. Doors and the bar open at 6 pm and the show starts about 6:45.

verica in actionWhile the chefs are cooking in the kitchen, as ticketed guests, you can get in on the action as well, savoring a full-service, six-course meal without knowing which chef prepared which plate.  As you enjoy the dinner, you’ll vote on each dish using the free app, and ultimately help determine who moves on to the next round and who goes home. Guests attending the finale in each region receive a gift bag of coupons, swag and samples compliments of our Competition Dining Sponsors.

While the Charlotte Food-centric crowd has been enjoying the competition for several years running now, its always fun to have a new twist. New to GotTobeNc Competition Dining for 2016, the creation of All-Star Dream Teams allows chefs from different restaurants to partner together for the three-person teams, upping the potential caliber and creating a more fun and competitive atmosphere for all.

In just a few weeks the Queen City series kicks off. In Charlotte, 24 highly competitive chefs on eight individual Dream Teams go up against each other for the regional Charlotte win.

The Charlotte series will take place in two heats, the first with 2 preliminary Battles on August 8 and 9 and a semi final round on August 11. The second heat sees preliminary battles on August 22 and 23  and a semi final round on August 25.

The Charlotte Finale will take place on Sunday August 28. The finale is already sold out. No doubt that each of the preliminary rounds and the semi final showdowns will soon be sold out as well. I don’t want you to miss out on all the fun – check your calendars, call your friends and make your reservations TODAY .

Here is the lineup of talented Dream Team chefs  all are in contention for the big Charlotte win…. I don’t want you to miss a single bite of the action, so to make it easy, I’ve included the brackets with competing teams plus links to tickets sales for each battle. Can’t wait to see you there! Just click on the red dated link to purchase tickets for each individual battle

Aug. 8 GotToBeNc Competition Dining Charlotte Prelim Dinner:

Team 3 cooks Comp dining cltTeam 3 COOKS from Waxhaw: Paul Verica, owner and chef at Heritage Food & Drink; Joseph Bonaparte, executive director at the International Culinary Institute of Myrtle Beach; and Ashley Boyd, pastry chef at Heritage Food & Drink and 300 East in Charlotte.

Radical Range Riders comp dining CltTeam Radical Range Riders from Matthews: Adam Reed, owner and chef at Sante of Matthews; Terra Ciotta, culinary instructor and chef at Artisan Restaurant in Charlotte; and Matthew Sganga, owner and chef at the Stone Table in Monroe.

Team Bistro 127 Comp Dining nc CLTTeam Bistro127 from Hickory: Shawn Bank, executive chef at Bistro127; John Edwards, sous chef at Bistro127; and Jeff Croft, assistant sous chef at Bistro127.

ViciousandDeliciousTeam Vicious and Delicious from Charlotte: Ryan Forte executive chef at Southminster; Phillip Platoni, chef de cuisine at Southminster; and Brigitte Oger, owner at Craft Cakes in Charlotte.

 

Aug 11 GotToBeNc Competition Dining Charlotte Semifinal Dinner sees the  Aug. 8 winning team versus Aug. 9 winning team

 

Aug 22 GotToBeNC Competition Dining Charlotte Prelim Dinner:

Team LucianosTeam Luciano’s from Charlotte: John Soilis, executive chef Luciano’s Ristorante Italiano; Daniel De Dios Guerrero, chef de cuisine at Luciano’s Ristorante Italiano; and Giovanni Bassi, sous chef at Luciano’s Ristorante Italiano.

team black mamba 2Team Fahrenheit Charlotte from Charlotte: David Feimster, executive chef Fahrenheit Charlotte; Rachel Child, pastry chef at Fahrenheit Charlotte; and Lewis Carter, sous chef at Fahrenheit Charlotte.

 

Aug 23 GotToBeNC Competition Dining Charlotte Prelim Dinner:

Team Heirloom comp dining cltTeam Heirloom from Charlotte: Clark Barlowe, chef and proprietor at Heirloom; Zack Gragg, executive sous chef at Heirloom; and Ann Marie Stefany, pastry chef at Heirloom.

Team Les Trois Petit Cochon comp dining cltTeam Les Trois Petit Cochon from Fort Mill: Neil Bratton, executive chef at Fish Market Bar and Grill; Jon Ernst, executive chef at Café Monte in Charlotte; and Wade Waller, former executive chef at Standard Brewing Co. in Maryland Heights, Missouri, now relocating to Charlotte

 

Aug 25 GotToBeNc Competition Dining Charlotte Semifinal Dinner sees the  Aug. 22 winning team versus Aug.23 winning team

August 28 GotToBeNC Competition Dining Charlotte Finale – Winner of the Aug 11 semi final goes up against the winner of the Aug 25 semi final for the Charlotte regional prize package including the coveted red chefs jacket compliments of Alsco, a check for $2000 in cash and prizes from Pate Dawson Southern Foods, an autographed book from Master Baker Lionel Vatinet of La  Farm Bakery in Cary NC and a hand forged knife from Charlotte Bladesmith Steve Watkins of Ironman Forge…and then of course there are the braggin’ rites and entree to the November Battle of Champions.

 

Ten of NC (and VA’s) best, take NYC by Storm

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODThis weekend, April 16-18, a bit of Southern charm, flavor and a lot of local culinary talent is headed up to the Big Apple.  Ten chefs will share the flavors of our region at the James Beard House in two separate dinners, the first A Taste of Charlotte on Sat April 16, and the second, Small Towns, Big Flavors on Monday April 18.
In  the second half of this post you’ll find a beautifully filmed  presentation of the local Charlotte production called order/fire by videographer and photographer Peter Taylor and chef Marc  Jacksina. The focus of this most recent edition of order/fire is the group of five Charlotte-based chefs and their journey this weekend to New York City where they have been invited to cook at the James Beard House on Saturday night April 16, 2016.
Taylor and Jacksina explain the order/fire project as “a lighthearted, conversational approach” to filming the life of someone in the culinary industry. “Each episode aims to get to know the area’s leading culinarians, mixologists, restaurateurs, purveyors and farmers to paint them in a more multidimensional light.”
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Heidi with the five chefs featured in the April 16 James Beard dinner along with Bonterra sous chef Mike Long and 300 East Assistant Pastry chef Miranda Brown

As a food writer of several decades in Charlotte, I have watched these chefs grow through the years, define their technique and style and even at their young age become a part of the old guard in the Charlotte culinary community.  I am so proud of this group of five representing Charlotte in such a big way and even prouder of the fact that they are bringing locally farmed and produced product of so many local and regional farms and farmers along for the ride. Watch the video and see how many local products you can count!
Go and show them how it done Chef-Chris Coleman The Asbury; Paul Verica, Heritage food & drink; Ashley Boyd, 300 East; R Blake Hartwick, Bonterra Dining & Wine Room; Bob Peters The Punch Room, we’ll be here rooting for you!
But that’s not all…here are five more reasons for us to take pride in our regional cuisine. That’s right, it’ll be a double dose of the Carolinas ( and a bit of Virginia) for the food-centric New York City crowd as chefs Kyle Lee Mcknight, Highland Avenue in Hickory; Nate Allen, Knife & Fork in Spruce Pine, NC; David Bauer, Farm & Sparrow Bakery in Candler NC; Ian Boden, The Shack in Staunton, Va; and Harper Bradshaw, Harper’s Table, Suffolk Va bring together their incredible pool of culinary talent to present a five course dinner  April 18, 2016.
Click the links in the first paragraph of this post to see what both of these talented teams will  be cooking in NYC and then file the info below when you are ready for a short road trip for some great eats… #TellTheHeidiSentYou
mcknight_kyle
Chef Kyle McKnight, Highland Avenue, 883 Highland Ave, Hickory NC  For reservations, Call 828.267.9800 or visit www.highlandavenuerestaurant.com

Highland Avenue Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

allen_nateChef Nate Allen, Knife & Fork Restaurant, 61 Locust Ave in Spruce Pines, Nc, For reservations call 828.765.1511  or visit KnifeandForkNC.com Knife & Fork Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

baeur_davidChef David Bauer, Farm & Sparrow Bakery in Candler Nc  Call 828.633.0584 or visit Farm and Sparrow.com

 

boden_ian_photo_sera_petrasChef Ian Boden, The Shack, 105 S. Coulter Street, Stauton VA, Call 540.490.1961 or visit TheShackVA.com The Shack VA Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

bradshaw_harperChef Harper Bradshaw, Harper’s Table, 122 N. Main Street, suffolk VA, Call 757. 539.2000 or visit HarpersTable.com Harper's Table Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

IMG_8983

Heidi with Chefs Sam Stachon and Kyle McKnight of Highland Avenue in Hickory NC

“To be in New York celebrating Highland Avenue’s success with our culinary team is an honor and a privilege. We believe in the mission of the James Beard Foundation and we believe that food, philanthropy and community will build a better tomorrow for all.” says Meg Jenkins Locke, owner of Highland Avenue. While not  mentioned on the Beard site, Chef Sam Stachon ( formally of King’s Kitchen in Charlotte and now at Highland Ave.) will be with Kyle and the Small Town, Big Flavor chefs as well.

So you can’t get to NYC this weekend, but still want in on all the action on Saturday and Monday nights from the comfort of your own home? The dinners start at 7 pm both nights, click on the James Beard Kitchen Cam  just before that and I think you’ll be able to watch all of the chefs in action…
And now on to the order /fire video featuring the Taste of Charlotte chefs learn more about their excitement and a bit about what local flavors they are bringing along. Its going to be a great weekend for these 10 culinarians… New York City prepare to be WOWED!. Kudos chefs – To each and every one!

(This post and video as originally seen on the order/fire website.  Credits to Peter Taylor and Marc Jacksina)

This Saturday night, if you’re in NYC and if you’re lucky enough to have one of the tickets to the dinner, you can have a Taste of Charlotte at the James Beard House.

4 Charlotte chefs, all past and future guests on order/fire, and one Charlotte mixologist, (arguably one of the best in the world) Chris Coleman from the Asbury, Blake Hartwick from Bonterra, Paul Verica from Heritage, Ashley Boyd from 300 East and Bob Peters from the Punch Room. These guys will be doing their best to wine and dine and impress in New York.

A couple of weeks ago order/fire stopped in as they prepped for their shake down dinner, a preview of the same dinner they will serve at the JBH, at Bonterra. We talked to each one a little about what they will be doing and what it means to get to cook at such a revered place of honor. Check it out here!

If this weekend whets your palate for more here is where you can go next week to find each of these talented Charlotte-based chefs and taste for yourself!! #TellThemHeidiSentYou

coleman_chris

Chef Chris Coleman

Chef Chris Coleman, The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel, 235 North Tryon Street Charlotte NC Call 704.342.1193 for reservations or visit TheAsbury.com The Asbury Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

hartwick_blake

Chef Blake Hartwick

Chef Blake Hartwick, Bonterra Dining and Wine Room, 1829 Cleveland Ave, Charlotte NC Call 704.333.WINE for reservations or visit BonterraDining.com Bonterra Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

verica_paul_t

Chef Paul Verica

Chef Paul Verica, Heritage Food | Drink, 201 West South Main Street, Waxhaw NC  Call 704.843.5236 for reservations or visit HeritageFoodanddrink.com Heritage Food & Drink Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

boyd_ashley

Chef Ashley Bivens

Chef Ashley Boyd, 300 East, 300 East Blvd, Charlotte NC Call 704.332.6507 or visit 300East.net 300 East Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato  Ashely is also the pastry chef for Heritage Food | Drink

peters_bob_2

Mixologist Bob Peters

Mixologist Bob Peters, The Punch Room (in the Ritz Carlton) , 201 E. Trade Street, Charlotte NC Call 704.547.2244 or visit twitter.com/THEPUNCHROOM Punch Room Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

 

blog headerKeep up with my latest restaurant finds, cooking class schedules and recipes too as well as some three day weekend travel ideas with tips on where to eat drink and sleep and what to see while you are there. Simply subscribe to HeidiBillottoFood.com in the space provided in the side bar on the home page. In the meantime, follow me on Facebook at Heidi Billotto and Heidi Billotto Cooks; on Twitter @HeidiCooks; on Instagram  at Heidi Billotto and on PInterest @HeidiBillottoFood

 

Hurry, Hurry…Read All About It

Lots to read about in the culinary sections in both the Fall and Winter issues of Charlotte Living Magazine – ICYMI ( In Case You Missed It), today I wanted to share links to my recent culinary, giving back , art and travel articles 

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODIn between cooking classes and catering, articles and recipes on HeidiBillottoFood.com and posts on my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages, I write four times a year for a fabulous publication in Charlotte: Charlotte Living Magazine.
These perfectly bound glossy pages pair my words with wonderful photos and give me a chance to write in more detail about many of my favorite people and places.
You can pick up a copy of Charlotte Living Magazine at lots of places around Charlotte, including The Savory Spice Shop in Southend, EarthFare, Whole Foods, and The Atherton Mill Farmers’ Market, just to mention a few; or you can read it online in it’s flipbook format at CharlotteLivingMagazine.com.
The Food and Entertaining section online offers links to archived articles I have written over the past year on Kindred Restaurant in Davidson, The Fig Tree Restaurant, Bonterra Dining and Wine RoomPassion 8 Restaurant, Chef Bruce Moffett’s Trio of Restaurants: Barrington’s, Good Food on Montford and Stagioni , a piece about three ever favorites: The Heirloom, The Asbury and Fahrenheit Clt and more.
While a portion of the content in these archived articles may be dated by seasonal references,  the basic information is still current and it is important to note, that these restaurants continue to be places to put on your dining out radar.
over shot for fall recipesOn these pages you’ll also find stories about local product such as Charlotte’s own Cannizzaro Sauces.read more here…. and  a fun story on a new beverage category hitting bottle shops and grocery stores all over the southeast: Islander Ginger Beer.
What makes it new, is this is Alcoholic Ginger Beer and what makes is pertinent to you and Charlotte is that this Ginger Beer has North Carolina roots!
I won’t print any spoilers here – just…read more here… and then I know you’ll head out to buy a four pack for your next batch of Moscow Mules, Mimosas, or perhaps a Dark and Stormy or two. Islanders are available in Harris Teeter’s across the state and locally in Total Wine and Earthfare too.
2015 Fall issue of Charlotte Living
In the Fall 2015 issue we put an incredible dessert by Chef Ben Kallenbach, executive pastry chef at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge on the cover and the cover story is about the hotel’s Gallery Restaurant and the talent Chef David Moore and his team bring to the table. Read more
This fall issue also includes a Three Day Weekend article all about Winston-Salem, the gate way to the North Carolina wine country and home to a host of great places to stay, eat and explore, such as Graze Restaurant, Atelier On Trade, Meridian Restaurant and more …Read More
2016 Winter issue of Charlotte Living
The culinary section in the Winter 2016 issue  is filled with places and products  you simply must try sooner than later if you haven’t already! Pick up an issue as you’ll want to devour each and every page. This issue is on newstands now, but until you have the issue in hand, I’ll tease you with a taste and a link back to my featured stories:
On Chef Tom Condron and his modern take on French cuisine at Lumiere French Kitchen in Charlotte’s Myers Park neighborhood… Read More

On Chef Tim Groody and his farm to The Fork! fare in Cornelius… Read More…in addition to nightly dinners, be sure to check out Fork’s Sunday brunch, too!

elizabeth ave Charlotte Living story heidi with chefsOn the all new Elizabeth Ave corridor in Charlotte, The Queen City’s first streetcar in 77 years  and the chefs ( Luca Annunziata of Passion 8, Paul Ketterhagen of Carpe Diem, Marc Jacksina of Earls Grocery, Trey Wilson of Customshop, Jose Garcia of 1900 Mexican Grille and Tequila Bar and Sun Jae Kim of Elizabeth Creamery) that are making this two block stretch Charlotte’s newest restaurant row… Read More… A big shout out to all of these chefs who came to help a writer out when I called them on a cold and rainy November Monday to come out for a photo at one of the Elizabeth Ave street signs – they all happily obliged and I couldn’t have been more thrilled – here is one of the shots I jumped in for fun just before Jose got there!

And speaking of Charlotte chefs, hope you will enjoy reading a recap I put together on a great giving back effort coordinated by the Charlotte-based Piedmont Culinary Guild and lead by chefs, farmers and people who cared  when our neighbors in South Carolina were affected by the October 2015 flooding. They all pitched in, not for publicity, but because it was the right thing to do, but I wanted to give them a little love and tell the story…Read More

Looking for a great way to Eat Local at home? Don’t miss the detes on my new favorite with Take and Bake product: frozen scones from Charlotte’s own The Scone Shop ( and YES, there is a package in my freezer, even as I type this – so you now I practice what I preach)… Read More

Food is art they say and it was my pleasure in this issue to write about the very talented Loren DiBenedetto, a Charlotte artists who paints the food you love to eat ( You’ll see when you…Read more… that Loren also paints detailed pet portraits, so if you have four legged friends, you’d like have captured on canvas, you might want to reach out to Loren for details. We own 6 of Loren’s charming paints ( 4 cats, a pear and a study of figs) and we love them every one.

blossom shop logoFinally, I would be remiss if I didn’t share one link for an advertisement in this Winter issue – its the back inside cover ad for The Blossom Shop. The Blossom Shop is owned my my dear friends and family by marriage Ted Todd and Debby Sacra. It’s been my go-to florist for years ( even before I married Tom and info the family) and I can’t say enough good things about the work they do – always making every special event in life even more memorable.  Call them, you’ll be thrilled you did.

Heidi Billotto 2008

To see The Blossom Shop ad now, follow this link – which will take you to the  online flipbook, then flip over to page 83. Here you’ll see a wedding photo of my my niece and new nephew from their September 2015 nuptials. As you will see, the bride and groom, Kendel and Chad Parks, were dazzling and the flowers were stunning!

Cheers to photographer Critsey Rowe for capturing it all on film and to the talented staff at Charlotte living for transforming it all into the best ad ever!

Competition Dining Heads to Greenville, South Carolina

Logo500x200 - laurel wreathThe Competition Dining Series Greenville, a single-elimination tournament highlighting the best of the state’s food, agriculture and culinary talent, will pit 14 highly competitive chefs against each other in its upcoming series in the South Carolina Upstate. After  years of competing across the state of North Carolina, the summer of 2015 marks the first foray for Competition Dining across state lines into South Carolina. Each  of the 13 interactive Greenville battles will be hosted at Larkin’s Sawmill from Aug. 3 through Sept. 7. Tickets, info on participating chefs & more are available online. at the Competition Dining website.


travelers rest frms market signAs many of you know, I travel with the Competition Dining team, as the voice behind all of Competition Dining’s social media; as a liason between all of our  current and potential sponsors; and as a connection between the chefs and literally hundreds of North and South Carolina farmers. I love scouting local farmers markets and niche grocery stores in each region in which we compete, looking for great product to feature in  battles in Raleigh, Winston-Salem, Charlotte, NC and now in Greenville, SC, too!

greenville sat market photoThe Greenville farmers’ markets are the bomb, from the Downtown Greenville TD Saturday Market to the market at Travelers Rest. If the crowds are any indicator, its a sure thing that Greenville locals know that shopping Local is the only way to go!  I can’t wait for Competition Dining Greenville guests to taste all the great LOCAL Certified South Carolina product we’ve found to feature in each of the Greenville Battles; and I can’t wait to see how our 14 Greenville series chefs showcase it all!

 

comp dining promoCompetition Dining is the Carolina’s favorite culinary sport. At each dinner, two teams of chefs battle it out, each preparing three courses centered on a secret featured regional ingredient. Ticketed guests from across the Carolinas arrive the evening of competition to savor a six-course meal without knowing which chef prepared which dishes. Unlike any other cooking competition, attendees vote on each course using their smart device and a specially designed app, and ultimately help determine who moves on to the next round and who goes home. It’s addictive and you’ll most certainly want to come & experience it more than once!

 

 

Greenville chefs FB cover Best                                   The Greenville  SC Series Brackets:

Quarter Finals:

Semi Finals:

  • August 31 Dinner: Winner of Aug 19 Battle versus Winner of Aug 25 Battle RESERVATIONS
  • September 1 Dinner: Winner of Aug 24 Battle versus Winner of Aug 26 Battle RESERVATIONS

       Grand Finale:   September 7 Dinner: Winner of Aug 31 Battle Versus Winner of Sept 1 Battle                                                                                             RESERVATIONS
OwnerJimmyCrippenindiningroom“Since we started these battles, Competition Dining Series has hosted hundreds of chefs and thousands of community members in North Carolina,” said Jimmy Crippen, Competition Dining Series founder and host. “We’re thrilled to do the same in Greenville with the launch of our first South Carolina series. We have chefs from here in Greenville and all over the region, and it’s sure to be a highly competitive tournament.”

 

 

By the end of the 2015 season, the Competition Dining Series will have hosted 80 individual teams of Carolina chefs in three regions of North Carolina: Raleigh, Winston-Salem & Charlotte as well as the series in Greenville, SC.

Graze team shrineUltimately, five regional winning chefs will have received a grand prize of $2,000 and a handmade chef knife by Ironman Forge and each winning team member will have been awarded with Competition Dining’s coveted Red Chef Jacket.  Additionally, all five regional championship teams win the right to move on to compete in the Battle of Champions Final Fire held in October in Raleigh, NC.

Winners and winning teams so far for the 2015 season include: Chef Ryan Conklin and team REX Healthcare in Raleigh; Chef Joe Cornett and team The Flipside Restaurant in Rock Hill, SC and Chef Brent Martin and team The Summit Room in Charlotte, NC and most recently Chef Richard Miller and team Graze in Winston Salem.

Who will the Greenville, SC winner be? Only time will tell. But time goes fast, so if you want to come and see for your self, make your Greenville reservations now!

An interactive culinary experience, Competition Dining is unlike any other dining event in the country. and as host Jimmy Crippen is fond of saying, “Its the most fun you can have on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday night!”

Make Your Reservations Today Online at CompetitionDining.com; click on the Greenville Icon OR SIMPLE USE THE RESERVATION LINKS IN THIS POST. I’ll be at each and every Greenville Battle – Hope to see you there! 

For more information: visit www.competitiondining.com or get in on the conversation at www.facebook.com/competitiondining and @CompDiningNC on Twitter or Instagram

 

 

Making a list, Checking it Twice – Heidi Billotto’s Restaurant Guide of Great Charlotte Spots to Wine and Dine

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODA Few of my Favorite Finds

When I moved to Charlotte nearly 40 years ago, if you wanted wine or a cocktail with dinner it meant brown bagging and there was no such thing as pizza delivery or valet parking. Now, as we end 2014 and  move headstrong into 2015, Charlotte’s culinary skyline continues to expand and the nation is starting to pay attention.  Great chef-driven restaurants abound in every neighborhood; new locally-owned restaurants are opening every day. 

The list in this post was first published and is up online in the current issue of Charlotte Living magazine. It started as a Baker’s Dozen round up of 2014 – a bakers dozen to give myself a cushion from only listing a top ten. But then 10 grew to 20 and, well, you know the story. This list is not a finite one, but a work in progress.

The problem with a list of any kind is that once you write it and publish it, a new place opens or you rediscover old favorites you want to add. So this list starts as a post  and then next week  it will be become a page on my blog at HeidiBillottoFood.com under its own tab.  In the weeks and months ahead, I’ll add to it with updates of new finds, old favorites and don’t miss places in a dedicated blog post out each week on Wednesday or Thursday with enough time for you to make weekend plans..

My hope is for it to grow into a list of great places to simply eat or wine and dine your way across the  Carolinas.

It is in alphabetical order and offers something for everyone, suiting every palate and pocketbook. Most of these restaurants opened this year or late in 2013, but some are old favorites I just had to mention.  

Your favorite places on my list may vary from day to day depending on your mood but  I can promise there is not a wrong choice in the bunch. Take the tasting into your own hands and check back weekly for additions and updates and even some video from my monthly Charlotte Today restaurant segments.

Enjoy! – Heidi Billotto

 

The Asbury – Off the lobby of the historic Dunhill Hotel at 235 North Tryon Street. Call 704.342.1193. Visit DunhillHotel.com/Dining. Under the watch of executive chef Chris Coleman the Asbury offers modern southern cuisine with a farm to fork approach with a menu that honor the past and celebrates each seasons supporting local farms, farmers and producers along the way. Private dining rooms separate bar area and lounge The Asbury on Urbanspoon

Baku Robata Bar and Lounge – 415 Sharon Road, Call 704.817.7173. Visit Baku-restaurant.com        Japanese cuisine featuring  Robata and Yakitori grilled seafood and meat specialties as well as unique presentations of sushi and sashimi. All of it beautifully done. Tapas style serving, so go prepared to share items at the table. At the bar, an extensive collection of premium sake, wines , beers and craft cocktails – this writer’s favorite – the kumquat infused Sazerac made with candied kumquats, Russell’s reserve rye, Absinthe and lemon juice Baku-Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Bonterra Dining and Wine Room – 1829 Cleveland Ave, Charlotte, NC 28203  Call 704.333.9463. Visit BonterraDining.com.       The band is back together again at this old Charlotte favorite reinvented  in the fall of 2014 with the return of Chef Blake Hartwick doing great new things  and taking the menu back with a whole new and delicious farm to fork vibe along with pastry chef  Jason Lemon and sous chef Mike Long.. Nightly  food and drink bar specials, incredible desserts, excellent service staff, lots of room and great opportunities for private events. Private rooms, wine cellar dining, catering, great venue for weddings and receptions Bonterra on Urbanspoon

Dean & DeLuca Wine Room – 6903 Phillips Place Court, Charlotte, NC. Call 704.643.5152; Visit Deananddeluca.com/aboutus/northcarolina  Made in America  wine comprised of many tasty selections all available by the bottle, the glass or the taste. Red and white flights, plus a long list of domestic and imported beers. Enjoy the a menu of delicious fresh made options many featuring local ingredients. For something light, think snacking and sharing and turn to the list of cheese and charcuterie (complete with several vegetarian pates) or small plates. For something more, there is a short list of flavorful entrees and desserts to help finish it all off in style. Gift Baskets, Catering, Patio Dining Dean & Deluca's Wine Room on Urbanspoon

E2 emerils eatery – 135 Levine Avenue of the Arts #100, Charlotte, NC. Call 704.414.4787. Visit emerilsrestaurants.com/e2-emerils-eatery           Chef de Cuisine Brian Motola at the helm of the talented team in this Uptown eatery channeling  owner  and creator Emeril Lagasse’s take on  New Orleans-inspired American cuisine. Motola uses many local and regional products on the menu which changes seasonally. Top notch wait staff will make you feel right at home.  For a quick bite at breakfast or lunch patrons can also enjoy e2 to go and to make it more convenient you can order ahead online ( via computer or mobile device) and pick up within 30 minutes. But at dinner plan to go, relax and take it all in course by course. The tuna crudo, beef carparcio and wood roasted oysters are great ways to start. Salads and entrees delicious, too; but be sure to pace yourself and save room at dessert time for the banana cream pie, oh my!        Separate bar area, patio dining,  private rooms, wine dinners,  catering E2 Emeril's Eatery on Urbanspoon

Fig Tree Restaurant – 1601 E. 7th Street, Charlotte, NC Call 704.322.3322; Visit CharlotteFigTree.com        Fine seasonal cuisine with French and Italian influences.  This beautifully restored building  is The Lucas House, a registered historic landmark home and a fine example of a 1913 Craftsman Bungalow nestled at the corner of 7th street and Louise Ave in the charming Elizabeth neighborhood. Top notch staff with attention paid to every detail. Owned and operated by chef and proprietress Greg and Sara Zanitsch. Award winning wine list – you will leave wanting for nothing but to come and enjoy it all over again.    Private Rooms, patio Dining, separate bar area, wine dinners, annual game dinner, catering The Fig Tree Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Heirloom Restaurant – at 8470 Bellhaven Blvd.  Charlotte, NC 28216; Call  704.595.7710; Visit HeirloomRestaurantNC.com           Chef Clark Barlowe’s flavors are intricate, texture is key, and each plate a work of art as good to look at as it is to eat! Tasting menu’s are fun and a great way to try it all.  It’s nearly impossible to make a recommendation as every dish in this all local from North Carolina restaurant changes from day to day, but guests at Heirloom will delight in knowing that they are enjoying any given menu item at the height of just harvested flavor. Private dining room, cooking classes and farm dinners. Heirloom Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Heritage Food and Drink – 201 W, South Main Street, Waxhaw, NC 28173 . Call 704.843.5236 . Visit HeritageFoodAndDrink.com           Chef Paul Verica’s vision for Heritage? To bring the idea of tradition back to life and to celebrate the bounty of our region and the seasonality of local product . Verica’s  personal take on New American Cuisine style finds his menu featuring the best in each local product. Supporting farms and producers from around the region, Verica incorporates molecular gastronomy’s powders and sprays in a way that simply feels right. This baker of biscuits and doughnuts also serves small plates layered in Mason jars, just for the fun of it. Big flavors make for a very satisfying dining experience, indeed. Catering Heritage Food and Drink on Urbanspoon

Fahrenheit  Charlotte – Fahrenheit Charlotte is located  at 222 S Caldwell St in the Hyatt Place Hotel, Charlotte, NC 28202;  Call 980.237.6718; visit ChefRoccoWhalen.com                                                                                      One of the Queen City’s newest and highest dining establishments. The venue – 21 floors up – undoubtedly has the best view in the city. The menu, which changes quarterly, lives up to the striking atmosphere with an air of creative yet comfortable sophistication. I’m crazy about the ramen noodle appetizer , but don’t miss the short ribs, the potato starter or any of the seafood entrees –  the level, quality and presentation of each dish delights. Nightly specials Private rooms, catering, separate bar Fahrenheit on Urbanspoon

Flipside Café – 3150 Highway 21 North, Fort Mill SC, 29715. Call  803.802.1711.  Visit theflipsidecafesc.com      This little casual café in the Regency Park strip mall in Ft. Mill is owned and operated by a talented husband and wife team of chefs: Jon and Amy Fortes . The Flipside kitchen  is turning out big flavors – lots of them local and all of them fresh and delicious. Check it out -Breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner – great kids’ offerings with tasty rather grown-up, well seasoned choices. And even though Amy’s palate may be pork-centric, there are lots of vegetarian selections on the menu too!  Chef Jon Fortes was the winner of the 2013 and 2014 Competition Dining Fire in the City Championship and went on take the 2014 state wide title as well.  Catering The FlipSide Cafe on Urbanspoon

Fork! – 20517 N Main St, Cornelius, NC Call 704.655.7465 Visit ForkRestaurantCornelius.com                      Fork! is home to chef Tom Groody, a true frontrunner among chefs in Charlotte, Tim was the very first here to ever put a farmers’ name on the menu. Groody’s style is clean and uncomplicated ; paying homage to the vast array of locally sourced ingredients on his menu.  Menu changes daily and featured items change with the season. This old home turned restaurant is a charming venue  with on the porch seating in suitable weather. Separate bar area. catering Fork! on Urbanspoon

 Kabab Je Rotisserie and Grill – 2233 Matthews Township Pkwy. Sycamore Commons  Mathews NC.  Call 704-845-0707.  Visit kababje.com         This great little place just keeps getting better and better, from classic Hummus  to stuffed grape leaves to the grilled lamb and chicken shawarma. Don’t miss the Za’taar “pizza”, the roasted cauliflower, the falafel and the chick pea and broad bean appetizer called Ful Mudammas.  With a host of sweet syrupy Middle Eastern desserts, a tiny cup of Lebanese coffee made with cardamom is the perfect finish.  Patio dining and Catering, too! Kabab-Je Rotisserie and Grille on Urbanspoon

Little Spoon Eatery – 2820 Selwyn Ave, Charlotte, NC 28209 Call (704) 496-9908  Visit LittleSpoonEatery.com/ “ the little spot right on the corner”, this neighborhood spot for breakfast and lunch is taking the Myers Park neighborhood by storm,  chef Miles Payne at the helm using local ingredients and supporting local farms in almost all of his breakfast and lunch offerings. Its all good, but I can’t get past the homemade pop tarts, the bowl of frothy cappuccino and the over easy eggs with toast. Weekends are packed, so go on a weekday and take the time to relax and enjoy before you start your day. Patio dining, take out

Lumiere French Kitchen – 1039 Providence Rd Call 704.372.3335 Visit lumieremyerspark.com The newest culinary adventure by  Chef Tom Condron and restaurateur Matthew Pera. These two long time Charlotte culinarians, owners of the very successful gastropub, The Liberty on South Blvd, have taken a more formal turn at Lumiere. Don’t miss the Wild Mushroom “Lyonnaise” salad or the Mediterranean White Sea Bass with roasted with olives, basil and lemons, beluga lentils, mushrooms and herb butter. Excellent staff, tremendous wine offerings and a host of classic French dishes with Chef Condron’s modern twist. Taking it up a notch in Charlotte,  Lumiere French Kitchen is located in the heart of Myers Park bringing modern French cuisine to the Queen City. Wine dinners, Cooking classes, catering Lumiere French Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Mama Ricotta’s  – 601 S Kings Dr, Charlotte, NC; Call 704.343.0148. Visit MamaRicottasrestaurant.com Great neighborhood spot for classic Italian and  American Italian fare, all exceptionally well done. From scratch sauces, homemade cheeses and sausages, fresh baked bread and from scratch pastas made from high quality imported Italian ingredients.  Competition Dining semi finalist chef Tom Dyrness heads the team as executive chef and menu favorites include:  the meatballs or Polpette Al Forno, the grilled salmon and arugula salad, any of the pastas and the pizza hot out of the wood burning oven. Mama’s is the flagship restaurant of owner Frank Scibelli’s FS Foods chain that includes Midwood Smokehouse, Pacos Tacos,  and a huge catering division as well.   Patio dining, full separate bar, catering Lumiere French Kitchen on Urbanspoon

 

Passion 8 -1523 Elizabeth Avenue Charlotte, NC, 28204. Call 704.910. 3161. Visit ThePassion8.com                   Owned by chef Luca Annunziata and his lovely wife Jessica, Passion 8 Bistro moved  from its tiny home in Ft. Mill to bigger newer more sophisticated digs in Charlotte on Elizabeth Ave. in Charlotte in late October. While the surrounds are new, Chef Luca and his staff continue to supporting nearly 75 different local farms across  North and South Carolina and serve their own contemporary style of farm to fork cuisine.  Looks for special theme dinners and cooking classes too.  The new interiors are soft and sophisticated yet warm and inviting; with the same family friendliness and incredible local fare and flair that has always made you want to come back for more. Make your reservations now for the weeks and months ahead – its gonna be a hot spot in town, for sure. Now serving lunch as well! Private rooms, chefs table, catering, craft cocktails, separate bar Passion8 on Urbanspoon

The Summit Room1531 East Blvd. Call 980.237.2227 . Visit thesummitrm.com         In a clever and creative move, The Summit Room owners also own the adjacent restaurant The MayoBird and the two dining establishments share this picturesque porch and patio. The MayoBird is open for breakfast and lunch, while The Summit Room with Chef Brent Martin at the helm in the kitchen is open from early afternoon till the wee hours of the evening. But at night, the space at MayoBird is available for private events.   Chef Martin has come into his own at the helm of this kitchen, doing some really innovative things with the menu. Love that the menu changes at his whim, with the weather, and with the availability of local product. Specials are always great – the hand cut fries are incredible!  Private rooms, seating at the bar, catering The Summit Room on Urbanspoon

Stagioni   – 715 Providence Rd. in the Eastover neighborhood. Call 704.372.8110. Visit stagioniclt.com       Stagioni, the third jewel in Chef Bruce Moffett’s triple crown of restaurants including Barrington’s and Good Food on Montford opened  to rave reviews and  standing room only crowds. The menu, which changes with the seasons, features deliciously done Italian classics with a fresh, modern twist. The food, like that in each of the Moffett Group restaurants is beyond reproach; and the atmosphere at Stagioni is, well, the Moffett website says it best, “The Moffett’s know from experience that life’s greatest memories unfold around the dinner table. Stagioni ( is the perfect place) to bring family and friends together.” Separate bar, catering Stagioni on Urbanspoon

 

Terra – 545 Providence Road, Charlotte NC; Call 704.332.1886; Visit TerraCharlotte.com.  A quaint little neighborhood French café you’re going to love. The menu changes with the seasons, the service is very personal and the feel is classic French right down to owner Thierry Garconnet, who is living his dream of bringing a taste of his home town in Paris back to the states. This charming little bistro is tucked away at the end of a small strip right next to Starbucks, but don’t let the casual surrounds fool you, the food is the real deal. Daily specials include: Tuesdays: All you can eat Mussels; Wednesdays: Pasta Special and Thursday: Half price wine  Patio Dining Terra on Urbanspoon

 Va da Vie Gelato – 4203 Park Road  Call 980.201.9159. This free standing building  with the little patio offers big flavors inside –flavors like homemade, almond,  pistachio, coffee bean, chocolate hazelnut, lemon ricotto, local strawberry and blueberry and pineapple and mango! It’s all in the guise of homemade gelato by owners John and Wendy Paglia  who use all local product to make their Piedmontese style gelato and sorbet. No bases or mixes just local Homeland Dairy milk and cream and real fruit, fair trade coffee, local cheese and imported Italian nuts –  no chemicals or preservatives.  As this product doesn’t travel well – you can’t really take quantities to go – just gotta eat it there and savor the moment

Wolfgang Puck’s Pizza Bar – Phillips Place Call 704.295.0101 Visit wolfgangPuck.com                  Charlotte’s WP Pizza Bar is Puck’s flagship Pizza Bar Restaurant and offers  a relaxing getaway from to enjoy lunch and dinner. While the menu offers an assortment of appetizers and pasta dishes, for me this place is about the pizza done in Wolfgang’s signature style a la an aromatic wood burning oven.  Puck is in town occasionally but day to day it is the talented Chef Scott Whallen and staff who channel Puck’s vision and creative juices into beautiful  and delicious plates for lunch and dinner. Our go to order is the arugula and asparagus salad lightly dusted with grated Parmesan, teamed with any one of the lists of pizzas – our current faves are the mushroom pizza with rubiola cheese and the slightest drizzling of truffle oil and the margarita pizza – simply perfect for two to share. Wolfgang Puck Pizza | Bar on Urbanspoon

 

Your Moms Donuts – 11025 Monroe Rd, Matthews, NC 28105 Call 803.280.5720 Visit Yourmomsdonuts.com    I’ve talked about these wonderful square-shaped locally-made donuts throughout the year.  The company is owned by Benjamin Frye, chief donut maker and his wife Courtney Buckley, manager of everything else. These truly  gourmet donuts are made with locally sourced ingredients, including organic, NC grown flour , grass fed dairy, local pasture eggs, and the donuts are fried in freshly rendered  leaf lard!

The best news of 2014 is that Your Moms Donuts is now operating out of its own bricks and mortar location on Monroe Rd. Donuts are available every day but Monday for breakfast and lunch or until they sell out.  Check the website or follow on Facebook @yourmomsdonuts and Instagram @yourmoms_donuts for the daily list of flavors. Large orders in advance. Complimentary delivery is available. Your Mom's Donuts on Urbanspoon

 

Patio Picks – Do it Dining al Fresco

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODDining al fresco – the art of eating outdoors is a pleasure that combines casual atmosphere, fresh air, cool breezes and great food and beverage. The venue can range from family style BBQ and picnic tables or even your car at places like BBQ King on Wilkinson Blvd. or Brooks Sandwich House on North Brevard Street to a setting with comfy patio furniture seating at places such as Osso Restaurant and Lounge at the Music Factory and Bonterra Dining and Wine Room in Dilworth.

Lots of restaurants with patios offer opportunities for dining al fresco throughout the year, but late spring, summer and on into early fall is the time we want to enjoy the out of doors as much as we can. So lap up the sunshine or sit in the cool comfort of the summer shade. Join your kids in a game of shuffleboard at the patio at Zada Jane’s in Plaza Midwood while you wait for a table at breakfast or brunch; take in the splendor of our city’s skyline from the highest heights atop the patio at Chef Rocco Whalen’s Fahrenheit Restaurant  at the Hyatt Place Hotel uptown; or enjoy food, wine and occasional music at several eateries or wine shops with outdoor dining and tastings such as Napa on Providence in Eastover; and Vin Masters in SouthEnd.

Alfresco dining in the Queen City can range from large venues, such as the patio at Mimosa Grill, Uptown that over looks the plaza and a bustling sections of Tryon Street to small, much like the patio at Fenwicks on Providence Road,  with just a few tables on the front porch of this neighborhood gathering spot

Great patios to see and be seen abound at local breweries in NoDa; bars and restaurants surrounding the Music Factory; and in shopping “villages” around town where several restaurants might have patios grouped together off a main courtyard as at Ballantyne Village where patios from Mellow Mushroom, Terrace Cafe and Villa Antonio meet; or off South Main Street in Davidson where the back porch patio of the Pickled Peach looks over the patio behind Summit Coffee nestled up to an adjacent playground – on Saturday mornings this “common area” is home to the Davidson Farmers’ market where locavores can enjoy combine their morning coffee al fresco with a little fresh from the farm shopping trip.

Favorite al fresco eats from Toscana, Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar, Tupleo Honey, The Summit Room and Va da Vie Gelato

Favorite al fresco eats from Toscana, Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar, Tupleo Honey, The Summit Room and Va da Vie Gelato

Tis the season, indeed, and so my June restaurant segment on WCNC’s Charlotte Today with hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway features five of my favorite places to dine al fresco with some of my favorite summer menu selections as well… enjoy!

toscana logoWe’ll start with what I have always thought to be one of the most romantic patios in town, Toscana, located in Shops on the Park across from SouthPark, 6401 Morrison Blvd. 704.367.1808. Like all of Augusto Conte’s magical restaurants, the menu at Toscana offer high quality fresh made Italian fare and the patio is like sitting off a small village side street in Tuscany. Comfortable seating surrounded by a shrub lined fencing keeps it tight and cozy, A beautiful fountain offers the cool comfort and pleasant sounds of a water feature and  large pots of herbs define the heritage.  In the evenings the open sky view add the romance of moonlight and the stars. One of our favorite dishes at Toscana is the gnocchi, tender potato pillows bathed in a light fresh tomato sauce touched with basil and mozzarella – add a bottle from the well appointed wine list – perfecto! Toscana on Urbanspoon
Wp white logoNot far from Toscana, is Wolfgang Puck’s Pizza bar located in the Phillips Place shopping center 704.295.0101 Charlotte’s WP Pizza Bar is Puck’s flagship Pizza Bar Restaurant and offers  a relaxing getaway from to enjoy lunch and dinner. The patio is off to the side of the restaurant, away from parking and much foot traffic and offers a cozy comfortable place to great place to getaway from it all.  Perfect for business meetings, ladies who lunch or a midday tete-a-tete.  While the menu offers an assortment of appetizers and pasta dishes, for me this place is about the pizza done in Wolfgang’s signature style a la an aromatic wood burning oven.  While Wolfgang himself does occasionally make appearances at the restaurant, day to day it is the talented Chef Scott Whallen and staff who channel Puck’s vision and creative juices into beautiful  and delicious plates for lunch and dinner. We now enjoy WP as our go to after the movies spot and our go to order is the arugula and asparagus salad lightly dusted with grated Parmesan, teamed with any one of the lists of pizzas – our current faves are the mushroom pizza with rubiola cheese and the slightest drizzling of truffle oil and the margarita pizza – simply perfect for the two of us to share. Wolfgang Puck Pizza | Bar on Urbanspoon

Tupel Honey Cafe (Contributed)Next, Tupelo Honey at 1820 South Blvd. 980-225-9167. The restaurant and patio are located on the second level of the historic SouthEnd Building,  take the stairs or the elevator up and the fun begins. The restaurant is full of action and a buzz most of the time, so the patio offers a lovely slightly quieter dining option. Great for families or dinners for two, big overhead fans keep the climate cool and in case of inclement weather their are outdoor curtains drawn to keep the rain away. The vibe at Tupelo is reconstructed Southern and it is exceptionally well done from soup to nuts. Great service and an assortment of wonderful craft cocktails and local beers round out the experience. Must tries this season include the sweet potato pancakes ( breakfast is served whenever you want it at Tupelo), the black bean burger and tofu wings (three cheers for some great vegetarian options), the fabulous Southern Popcorn ( aka fried okra) and the Carolina Mountain Trout with Goat cheese grits – shooo mercy! and Tupelo’s own Brown Butter Pecan Pie.  Look for bar specials on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday ( the least crowded days and nights to dine at this Charlotte favorite); and while you are there shop for cookbooks, Tupelo’s biscuit mix and of course, jars of Tupelo Honey. Tupelo Honey Cafe on Urbanspoon

summit logoThe Summit Room at 1531 East Blvd. 980.237.2227 is one of Charlotte’s newest places to dine al fresco. In a clever and creative move, The Summit Room owners also own the adjacent restaurant The MayoBird and the two dining establishments share this picturesque porch and patio. The MayoBird is open for breakfast and lunch, while The Summit Room with Chef Brent Martin at the helm in the kitchen is open from early afternoon till the wee hours of the evening.

Several years ago the Dilworth Communtiy made it a mission to  drive neighborhood foot traffic with more pedestrian friendly streetside dining. As a result,  many neighborhood places on the boulevard offer patio dining but not many do it better than this. Rocking chairs with side tables on the porch, patio tables in the sun or under umbrellas –  its a great place for everything from power lunches to a glass of wine or tea – with two very different dining concepts. At  The Summit Room, Chef Martin doing some really innovative things with the menu. Love that the menu changes at his whim, with the weather and with the availability of local product. Specials are always great – the hand cut fries are incredible and  my new favorite – a quenelle (or oval shaped scoop) of chicken liver mousse atop a house made waffle with candied and pickled fruit and microgreens is a real winner! The Summit Room on Urbanspoon

va de vie logo

Wendy and John Paglia create nine different varieties of from-scratch gelato, fresh every day

Wendy and John Paglia create nine different varieties of from-scratch gelato, fresh every day

Finally, the newest patio on our list for today, at just a month old, is to be found in the unlikeliest of locations: the center of the Park Road Shopping Center parking lot!  This free standing building  with the little patio offers big flavors inside –flavors like homemade, almond,  pistachio, coffee bean, chocolate hazelnut, lemon ricotto, local strawberry and blueberry and pineapple and mango! It’s all in the guise of homemade gelato at Va da Vie Gelato, 4203 Park Road 980.201.9159  … owners John and Wendy Paglia use all local product to make their Piedmontese style gelato and sorbet. No bases or mixes just local Homeland Dairy milk and cream and real fruit, fair trade coffee, local cheese and imported Italian nuts –  no chemicals or preservatives.  As this product doesn’t travel well – you can’t really take quantities to go – just gotta eat it there and savor the moment.  During the heat of the  day enjoy the cool marble-lined comfort inside; and  in the evening mix and mingle on the patio with friends and neighbors of all ages, comparing flavors and deciding which one you will order next. Va da Vie Gelato on Urbanspoon

 

To watch the restaurant segment that  inspired this blog post and originally aired on WCNC-TV’s Charlotte Today, simply click on the  caption of the photo of Toscana’s beautiful Italian Patio, then go out and enjoy al fresco dining in Charlotte for yourself.

 

 

Feeling Romantic? Six Sensational Spots to Dine with Your Valentine

This photo is from the first restaurant segment I did for Charlotte Today in August 2013 - now, happy to say, it has turned into a monthly segment with show hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway

This photo is from the first restaurant segment I did for Charlotte Today in August 2013 – now, happy to say, it has turned into a monthly segment with show hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway

As many of you know, each month I present a “where to dine” restaurant segment on WCNC’s Charlotte Today program. Every 4-6 weeks the show’s producers and I select a topic or theme  and I choose 5-6 restaurants to chat about on air. As February is the month of hearts and flowers, this month’s challenge was to gather a group of Romantic restaurants to share with Charlotte Today viewers and this Blog’s readers.

There was a time in here in Charlotte  that gathering this many outstanding chef driven restaurants may have been a daunting task, but in 2014 there are lots of wonderful restaurants I could have put on this list – I chose the six that for me ( and my hubby Tom Billotto) have come to be the most romantic. For me, a part of that is that these are all chef-driven establishments, with chefs, sous chefs pastry chefs and line chefs who all cook from their hearts. That love and passion is conveyed in the cuisine, making dining out a true pleasure for the mind, body and soul.

No matter if you are just kindling or trying to respark the fire, Romance doesn’t just happen on Feb 14 – enjoy a romantic dinner any night of the week and know that  these fine dining establishments run wine tastings and dinners, special cooking classes and prix fixe menus at all different times of the year, as do many of Charlotte’s chef-driven and independent restaurants.  I’ve added notes about upcoming February events at each post as well as links to all of the restaurant websites at the end of this article, so start making plans now and plan  to try them all – There was never more wonderful time in the Queen City, with more possibilities  for  delighting in dining aux deux, than now…enjoy!

Behind the scenes: finished plates sit atop a Rubbermaid hand cart until it was time to shoot the restaurant segment

Behind the scenes: finished plates sit atop a Rubbermaid hand cart until it was time to shoot the restaurant segment

To enhance the video and the chat with show hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway, I ask restaurants to prepare a plate that I can pick up and assemble at the studio – its like having something special to share for show and tell.

Many thanks to all the featured restaurants chefs and sous chefs for helping me out with product for the February segment.  I wish I had taken more behind the scene shots this time. Chefs, sous chefs, pastry chefs and restaurateurs gave me each component of the dish as well as a hand rendered drawing or quick tutorial at pick up as to how to assemble it all.

through the magic of television, these plates would soon be up and center for their close up

through the magic of television, these plates would soon be up and center for their close up

As this segment was on a Monday morning and most of these restaurants weren’t open on Sunday, chefs came in early Monday morning or prepped things for me late on Saturday night or actually came in on Sunday, to help it all come together.

I can’t tell you how appreciative I am of their extra efforts to help me boast about the quality and high caliber that is now standard in the Charlotte restaurant arena . While these are not the only great restaurants in the Queen City, this group of six is great representation of all Charlotte has to brag about.

All of these restaurants are ranked at the top of lists of kudos, yielding recommendation’s not only from this food writer,  but from the likes of Zagat, AAA’s Four Diamond Awards in North and South Carolina, Open Table, the Wine Spectator, DiArona, The Food Network, AOL restaurant rankings, and more. Check individual websites for all the accolades.

From the set of Charlotte Today with hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway

From the set of Charlotte Today with hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway

To that end, it goes without saying that service, atmosphere and cuisine, too, are all spot on at each and every one of these places;  no such thing as a bad choice here.

Here is my short list of a half dozen of my favorite Romantic restaurants in Charlotte. The video from the Charlotte Today segment follows.

As I mentioned in the video, poet Ogden Nash wrote a little two line verse which said, “Candy is Dandy but Liquor is Quicker!” take those two lines to heart and intertwine a dinner at any one of these restaurants and with a little help from Cupid, you’ll hit a home run for sure…

Bonterra logo

First on my list is Bonterra Dining and Wine Room. This may be the most romantic restaurant here for me because I met my husband Tom at a mutual friend’s wedding at Bonterra and my life has been a wonderfully romantic whirlwind every since. In fact, while we were married out of town, we had a big party after our wedding at Bonterra. Many couple in Charlotte have weddings, rehearsal dinners and big engagement parties at Bonterra. The historic building, refurbished and owned by John “JD” Duncan, was once an old church and simple has an air of romance about it. The dining room offers open seating at tables for 2 to 8 and can accommodate larger parties as well.

The NC cheese plate with Bonterra's hummus and olives along with offerings from Goat Lady Dairy, Chapel Hill Creamery and Looking Glass Creamery paired with 1 or 2 of the 200 wines by the glass is a great way to start an evening at Bonterra

The NC cheese plate with Bonterra’s hummus and olives along with offerings from Goat Lady Dairy, Chapel Hill Creamery and Looking Glass Creamery paired with 1 or 2 of the 200 wines by the glass is a great way to start an evening at Bonterra

Seating at the bar as well with over 200 outstanding wines offered by the bottle and by the glass. Its fun and romantic to each order a different by-the-glass pour and then share sips along with something from the bar bite menu or a cheese tray before dinner. The bottle of Robert Foley Petit Syrah is one of our favorites and I included it in the photo as a shout out to our good friend Bob Foley, winemaker extraordinaire!

With small tables au deux tucked in the alcoves, a  private balcony upstairs and a wine cellar downstairs for private dinners there are plenty of places to sit snuggled away from the main dining area if you would like a bit of privacy while you dine.

Coming soon at Bonterra – a “Girls Night Out” wine dinner on Wednesday Feb 5 featuring Ponzi Wines; regular bar specials each night; and a Thursday night wine dinner as a part of the upcoming Charlotte Wine & Food Weekend in April.

Bonterra Dining and Wine Room is located at 1829 Cleveland Ave. at East Worthington Ave.  Reservations: 704-333-WINE(9463).   Bar opens at 4:30 pm Monday-Saturday The Restaurant opens for dinner at 5:30 pm Monday-Saturday. For more info and to get on Bonterra’s newsletter list, visit www.BonterraDining.com  Bonterra on Urbanspoon

The McNinch House in Charlotte's historic Fourth Ward

The McNinch House in Charlotte’s historic Fourth Ward

Next up, for a romantic evening on the town, the McNinch House Restaurant. Located in Charlotte’s Historic Fourth Ward neighborhood, this Victorian-era house was originally home to  Charlotte Mayor Sam McNinch; now for the past 22 years it has been the McNinch House Restaurant.

Each table at McNinch is set with antique china, crystal and silver

Each table at McNinch is set with antique china, crystal and silver

Beautifully appointed, the home is owned by Ellen Davis, a front runner on Charlotte’s ever growing culinary landscape. McNinch House recently won its 16th consecutive Four Diamond designation from AAA, is listed as one of the top “extraordinary” restaurants in America by Zagat’s Dining Guide. Davis was Charlotte’s original street vendor,  back in the late 1980’s early 1990’s as she sold hotdogs from a cart while the house was being renovated to become a restaurant on the main floor with her private residence on the floor above.

Rack of lamb with mushroom risotto from McNinch's Chef William Parham

Rack of lamb with mushroom risotto, one of McNinch’s most popular entrees, from McNinch’s Chef William Parham

There are no menus at the McNinch House. When you make a reservation, you order your entrée on the phone and then the rest of the meal is built around your selection using seasonal produce and proteins.

The restaurant offers several selections of prix fixe menus: A classic 7-course  menu which includes appetizer, soup, salad, sorbet, entrée, cheese and dessert for $99 per person ( plus beverages, tax and gratuity) or a 5-course  menu at $79 per person ++.

For Valentine’s they are offering an  all-inclusive package for two with a 6-course chef’s menu with wine pairings, for $450 per couple

McNinch House Restaurant is located in uptown Charlotte  at 511  N. Church St.  Phone:  704-332-6159. Open Tuesday – Saturday Reservations Required.  Seatings available  Tuesday-Thursday On the half-hour, 5:30 pm-8 pm;  Friday-Saturday On the Hour    5:30 pm-8 pm.  For more information visit, www.mcninchhouserestaurant.com McNinch House on Urbanspoon

Zebra 2My third suggestion for Valentine wining and dining is Zebra Restaurant in the SouthPark area.  Zebra offers fine continental cuisine with French influences. Since Inception, Zebra has been recognized with numerous honors and awards of distinction.  including OpenTable Diners Choice, Zagat Best Restaurant, Wine Spectator Magazine Award of Excellence, and AAA Four Diamonds for eleven consecutive years.

With two adjacent dining rooms the restaurant also offers seating in a small intimate room off the bar  and when weather permits out on the beautiful, newly decorated patio. Owned by Chef Jim Alexander, Zebra serves breakfast lunch and dinner, is a great spot not only for romance but for the corporate breakfast and lunch crowd as well; and in addition Zebra is hosting several monthly wine dinners in the next several months. Zebra also offers on and off site catering for private parties and events – call the restaurant for details.

The signature salad from Zebra Restaurant

The signature salad from Zebra Restaurant

In the Charlotte Today  segment we featured Alexander’s signature salad at Zebra – a delightful presentation that will make your sweetie smile! Zebra sous chef Chris Wriggle gave me a quick tutorial on how to put it together and I believe I did Zebra proud. Local organic greens gathered in a tuille vase, dressed with a raspberry vinaigrette and  honey Dijon and finished with a garnish of local Tega Hills Farm’s micro greens. As delicious as it is beautiful.

Entertainment at Zebra – music always sets the mood for romance; so its nice to know that on most Friday nights in February, Zebra features live guitar music in the bar with a bar bites menu and tasty $12 wine flights. This month guitarist Harry Bell  performs on Friday Feb 7; and my favorite musician in town, Tom Billotto on guitar and vocals on Friday Feb 21 and Friday Feb 28 from 6-8 or 9 pm. if I am not working, I am usually in the crowd – the official groupie in the room – so I hope to see you there!

On Wednesday February 19, 2014 come to Zebra and enjoy a four course wine dinner featuring SCHWEIGER Vineyards.  The evening starts with an hors d’oeuvre reception followed by a four course dinner with wine pairings for just $75 per person ++.  RESERVATIONS REQUIRED, 704-442-9525

Zebra is located at 4521 Sharon Road, across from SouthPark Mall. For reservations and gift certificates, please call 704-442-9525. For more information visit www.zebrarestaurant.net Zebra Restaurant and Fine Catering on Urbanspoon

The Dunhill Hotel in Uptown Charlotte

The Dunhill Hotel in Uptown Charlotte

Fourth on my list of six is  a new restaurant run by a very talented long time Charlotte chef. After making a name for himself and honing is own sophisticated Southern style at The McNinch House,

Chef Chris Coleman

Chef Chris Coleman

Chef Chris Coleman is now the executive chef and director of food and beverage for The Asbury at The Dunhill Hotel. Named in honor of Louis Asbury, Sr., the Charlotte architect who designed the Mayfair Manor—now The Dunhill Hotel—in 1929, The Asbury celebrates the best of what the South has to offer in ingredients, technique, creativity, and, of course, hospitality. The Asbury is a tribute to Chef Coleman’s southern roots and the culturally diverse community of the New South from which he draws inspiration.

Cheers to The Dunhill's bartender Pete Ladino who makes you feel right at home

Cheers to The Dunhill’s bartender Pete Ladino who makes you feel right at home

What could be more romantic? Its a fabulous hotel dining experience where you can whisk your Valentine away after dinner and maybe a nightcap a the bar to a hotel room right upstairs if you’ve got  a mind; and then go and enjoy the restaurant all over again with room service or breakfast downstairs in the morning. In fact, with a great baby sitter and tickets to a show or concert uptown  you could make it a one stop weekend for Valentine romance!

The Asbury boasts a wonderful little bar where bartender Pete Ladino  makes everyone feel right at home.  Go old school and enjoy a cocktail or  sip on a glass of wine and preview the cuisine with something from the bar bites offerings.  Once seated for dinner, you’ll be wowed with Chris’ eclectic Southern menu in the restaurant featuring as much local product as Chris can source.  And then be prepared to be blown away by the talent that is Asbury pastry chef Patty Greene.   Unable to select just one, I featured two of Patty’s desserts on the show – first a unique take on raspberry cheesecake and then a chocolate espresso cake, my oh my!

Patty Greene's chocolate Espresso cake at The Asbury

Patty Greene’s chocolate Espresso cake at The Asbury

Patty Greene's raspberry cheesecake at The Asbury

Patty Greene’s raspberry cheesecake at The Asbury

The Asbury serves breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, and brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.  In addition to the ground floor restaurant space, The Asbury caters unique, private dining experiences and hosts special events throughout its intimate second floor   Located in The Dunhill at 235 N. Tryon Street, the parking entrance for The Asbury and the hotel is just off 6th street. Call 704-342-1193 for dinner reservations or more info. For room reservations at The Dunhill call 704-332-4141 or visit www.TheDunhillHotel.com  The Asbury on Urbanspoon

Fifth up, another newbie for Charlotte diners from a much loved and admired chef – Bruce Moffett’s newest jewel in the Moffett Restaurant Group triple crown – Stagioni! After much success with Barringtons and Good Food on Montford Moffett opened Stagioni about a month ago now to rave reviews. The menu is decidedly Italian, with an all Italian wine list of delicious pours.  Moffett and his team lead by executive chef Larry Schreiber have kept true to traditional Italian recipes like porchetta, arrancini, homemade pasta, and wood-oven baked pizza but have  put their own little twist on things here and there.

A tray of Stagioni's snacks and spreads for the two of you to share

A tray of Stagioni’s snacks and spreads for the two of you to share

The menu at Stagioni – “four seasons of food”, is of course, seasonal; and as I have eaten my way through winter I cannot wait to see what’s in store for spring. For the Valentine segment, we features a board of Stagioni’s snacks and spreads, such as fava bean  spread, liver pate, puree of cauliflower with truffles, stuffed peppadew peppers, tapenade and more with flat bread toasts and delicious fried chicken skin “chips” – perfect for the two of you to share while you make your dinner choices.

The historic house was once home to  Blanche Reynolds-Gourmajenko who loved to entertain and the villa traditionally served as a grand place for people to gather at the parties and dinners Blanche hosted.  They say that Blanche loved the home so  much that she hasn’t left and her spirit haunts the estate.

Banche Reynolds -

Banche Reynolds-Gourmajenko

All I can say is that Blanche must be very happy having people gather round the tables in her home once again surrounded by good food and drink.  The softly lit small bar and dining room with open kitchen and seating in front of the wood burning pizza oven are all beautifully designed to keep the integrity of the original home, while offering a modern spin on dining out.

Stagioni is located at 715 Providence Rd. in the Eastover neighborhood. Call 704.372.8110 for reservations. For more information about the menu, the history of the home and links to Barrington’s and Good Food on Monford, Stagioni’s sister restaurants, visit http://stagioniclt.com/  Stagioni on Urbanspoon

passion 8Finally, the last of these six romantic dining spots, Passion 8 Bistro – the name says it all. A place that is passionate about local farms, food, and service. Owned by chef Luca Annunziata and his lovely wife Jessica, Passion 8 Bistro has plans to soon move from its tiny home in Ft. Mill to bigger newer but every bit as romantic, digs in Charlotte on Elizabeth Ave.  The group is still waiting for permits and construction to be finalized, but until the move Chef Luca and his culinary team Chef Matthew Krenz and chef Evan Micek, are still cooking up a storm in Ft. Mill, serving an all market menu every evening,  supporting nearly 50 local farms in North and South Carolina.

A scallop starter from the Valentine menu at Passion 8 Bistro

A scallop starter from the Valentine menu at Passion 8 Bistro

Get caught up in the passion this Valentine’s Day with a special prix fixe Valentine’s Day Dinner menu Friday, February 14th from 5:00pm to 10:00pm; 4 courses with choices for each course. $140 per couple. make your reservations now by calling 803-802-7455. For the Charlotte Today segment we shared one of the first plates from the Valentine menu – a perfectly seared scallop atop a rounded cake of grits, topped with a red cabbage slaw, crispy pancetta and Tega Hills Farm micro greens surrounded by a pool of Charon sauce – a béchamel flavored with tomato.

If you and your sweetheart enjoy cooking together, then start sharing the passion this weekend at a special Valentine’s cooking class at Passion 8 -Saturday, February 8th from 11:00am to 2:00pm  3 courses for $75 per couple with a champagne toast.

from left, chefs Evan Micek, chef Matthew Krenz and chef Luca Annunziata make their Food Network debut on Feb 19 at 9 pm

from left, chefs Evan Micek, chef Matthew Krenz and chef Luca Annunziata make their Food Network debut on Feb 19 at 9 pm

On the Charlotte Today segment I announced that Passion 8 would be featured on a new Food Network show  – Buy This Restaurant – to air Monday Feb 3. My mistake – the show premiered on Monday, but the Passion 8 segment actually airs on Wednesday, February 19th at 9:00pm on the Food Network    http://www.foodnetwork.com/shows/buy-this-restaurant.html   Don’t miss it!

Meanwhile, to make your reservations at Passion8 Bistro simply call the restaurant at 803-802-7455. Passion 8 is currently located at 3415 Hwy. 51 North – just three miles past the tiny historic downtown of Pineville, NC. For more information, visit http://www.passion8bistro.com/ Passion8 Bistro on Urbanspoon

Cheers to the February Romantic Restaurant segment

Cheers to the February Romantic Restaurant segment

Now, that you’ve read all about it,  click here to watch the video from my Valentine segment on Charlotte Today. I’ll be back for my monthly cooking segment on Charlotte Today on Thursday Feb 13, Channel 36 – 6 on cable –  with three great Valentine recipes for Fondue au Deux! See you then! Cheers!

Still time to Indulge in Charlotte Restaurant Week – The 2014 Winter Queens Feast runs Jan 17-26

cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgWith the last weekend of the winter 2014 Queens Feast Charlotte Restaurant Week upon us, I wanted to share two fabulous dinners my husband Tom and I enjoyed during the two week winter run of this semi annual culinary event.

What? You’ve never partaken in Restaurant Week before? What are you waiting for? You have until January 26 to enjoy the perks – make your reservations today!

Its super simple and at 3 for $30 pricing (3 courses for $30, exclusive of alcohol, tax and gratuity) its a great way to try out a new place or revisit on old favorite…

Here is how it works –

Charlotte Restaurant Week - the winter 2014 Queens Feast

Charlotte Restaurant Week – the winter 2014 Queens Feast

There are over 100 participating restaurants on the Queens Feast web site, so lots of offerings to choose from – search for restaurants by neighborhood or name.
Then, click on each restaurant’s name to view the exact location of each dining establishment, contact/reservation information and the restaurant’s  special Charlotte Restaurant Week menu. To make it all the easier, the link to the site is at the end of this post.

Be sure to make advance dinner reservations and then all you have to do is show up. Its really just that easy.  No passes, tickets, or restaurant coupons are  required.

Most restaurants go all out to share what they do on a regular basis for an exceptional 3 for $30 pricetag. Some restaurants also offer their regular menus should not everyone in your party want to partake in the Restaurant week offerings and this year I have noticed that many places are offering several additions or enhancements to their individual Queen Feast menus at an additional charge.

Heidi Tom and SwitchbackWith so many Charlotte area restaurants participating, the choice of where to dine is a tough one. Over the past two weeks, my husband, Tom Billotto and I took time out to eat at two outstanding Charlotte restaurants participating in the promotion: Passion 8 Bistro and Bonterra Dining and Wine Room.

Our first dinner was the first Sunday of the Queens Feast run. Passion 8 Bistro is one of our favorite places in town, but they are not usually open on Sunday or Monday nights. For restaurant week, however, the schedule changes and the place is open for business as usual on what are regularly the chefs nights off. I called to make reservations and was delighted to find they had a table for two open.

The team at Passion 8 Bistro

The team at Passion 8 Bistro

We enjoyed an incredible Restaurant Week meal  – chefs Luca Annunziata, Matt Matthew Krenz and Evan Micek and staff outdid themselves!  So much food on the 3 for $30 menu – portions are big, so some of our dinner made its way into to-go containers and we very much enjoyed the rest for lunch the next day!

While I ordered from the Restaurant Week menu, Tom opted to ordered from the short list of nightly specials. It was wonderful to have so many choices.
Food, wine, service and atmosphere are always wonderful at this small 48 seat bistro supporting over 40 farms and serving a market menu every evening.  A pictorial of our first 2014 Restaurant Week meal follows.
Passion 8 Bistro's escargot

Passion 8 Bistro’s escargot

Passion  8 was serving the Restaurant Week menu as well as an abbreviated regular menu – so we decided to mix it up a bit – I ordered a la restaurant week and Tom went for the nightly specials – a marvelous mix as we shared each plate.
I kicked it off with the escargot in a fabulous chimichurri butter and ancho cream sauce on the evening specials menu. When I was a little girl escargot was the first “fancy” food I ever ordered in a restaurant – tongs, shells, tiny forks, garlic butter and all. These escargot at Passion 8 were. oh so. different than that and oh so. much better than what I remembered – no shells, no special equipment; but it brought back wonderful memories. It’s been so long since I have had escargot -LOVED them done this way!
Passion 8 Cheese plate

Passion 8 Cheese plate

Tom started with the Passion 8 cheese plate – my photo here really doesn’t do it justice – a beautiful oversized platter of four cheeses with a delicious local jam and crispy flatbread crackers.
pasnip and NC apple soup with BBQ beet salad, crispy pigs ear, Tega Hill Farm microgreens

pasnip and NC apple soup with BBQ beet salad, crispy pigs ear, Tega Hill Farm microgreens

Next, the first of three courses from my offical Charlotte Restaurant Week meal at Passion 8  – a warm and creamy apple and parsnip soup topped with a BBQ beet salad and a slice of crispy pigs ear. Okay, I’ll bite… the beets obviously weren’t the challenge here –  I am a beet lover and the salad with Tega Hill farm micro greens was a nice foil to the creamy soup . But the pigs ear…well, honestly could have done without the pig’s ear – but in the spirit of paying homage to the whole animal when you use local product, I got it – I tasted it and it was a nice touch!

Passion 8's infamous Calamari Cubano

Passion 8’s infamous Calamari Cubano

Tom’s second plate was the infamous Passion 8 calamari – this is a dish Chef/owner Luca Annunizata has had on the Passion 8 menu for years – his original plan was to change the recipe around every month or so and make it some sort of calamari special; but regular customers – the Billotto’s included – won’t let him take this lime, jalapeno and honey glazed fried calamari off the menu – with good reason:its incredible! A must try the next time you go to experience dinner at Passion 8.

NC trout with black garlic sauce

NC trout with black garlic sauce

Entrees came next – for me the Restaurant Week  – NC trout with smoked NC trout roe and a side of silken tofu and black garlic sauce – really tasty and the first time I have ever had Black Garlic – thank you to Passion 8 chef Matthew Krenz for all of the information about this warm, rich and earthy ingredient. Now I am anxious to get some and try it out in recipes for myself.

Wild caught U-10 scallops with parsnip puree, Brussels sprouts with cherries and almonds, bourbon and thyme demi

Wild caught U-10 scallops with parsnip puree, Brussels sprouts with cherries and almonds, bourbon and thyme demi

Tom ordered the scallops from the non restaurant week menu – outstanding and of melt -in-your-mouth proportions ( there is also a scallop starter on the Charlotte Restaurant Week menu at Passion 8.) Toms plate was done with a parsnip puree and Brussels sprouts with  cherry and almonds and a Bourbon and Thyme demi  – oh my!

dark chocolate ganache with grand Marnier scented meringue

dark chocolate ganache with grand Marnier scented meringue

And for dessert on the Passion 8 Bistro Charlotte Restaurant Week menu – a bowl of chocolate ganache studded with Grand Marnier scented meringue, devil’s food cake and  a roasted pear – nuff said!

sous vide NC apples with sorghum molasses infused crème fraiche

sous vide NC apples with sorghum molasses infused crème fraiche

Tom Billotto’s favorite Charlotte Restaurant Week dessert at Passion 8 Bistro was the rich and wonderful sous vide NC apples with sorghum molasses infused crème fraiche – a perfect ending to the evening.

Bonterra logoOur next 2014 winter Queens Feast restaurant week meal this week was at another of our favorite restaurants – Bonterra Dining and Wine Room located in Charlotte’s historic SouthEnd. Bonterra is a special restaurant for Tom and me, as it is where we met at a friend’s wedding in 2003, but despite our emotional attachment to the place, the food is always excellent and the wine list of offerings by the glass and by the bottle, always spectacular…and the service is some of the best around. Thanks to owner John “JD” Duncan and staff for doing such a wonderful job!

Bonterra's Chef Bill Schutz in action

Bonterra’s Chef Bill Schutz in action

Bonterra doesn’t offer the restaurants’ regular menu during all the restaurant week hubbub; however there are some “enhancements” to the 3 for $30 menu you can make if you would like a different seafood or steak option or would like to add Bonterra’s signature fried lobster tail, a crab cake or shrimp or scallops to any entrée. Enhancements or no,   Chef Bill Schutz outdid himself on the menu … simple but decidedly delicious.

NFL logoRight after Restaurant Week ends, Chef Bill will be representing Charlotte, cooking at an exclusive NFL cocktail party in NYC. As this pre Superbowl extravaganza,  each city with an NFL team will have a chef cooking and a representative of their team in attendance.  I know Bill will represent us well – can’t wait to hear what he’ll be cooking – more later!
For now its back to our 2014 Bonterra restaurant week meal…
Bonterra's crispy calamari

Bonterra’s crispy calamari

To start,  Tom was still in calamari mode and so he ordered the crispy calamari  with creole seasoning, tomato aioli and fresh herbs – excellent.

Grilled shrimp and Anson Mill grits at Bonterra

Grilled shrimp and Anson Mill grits at Bonterra

I opted for a simple but rich and flavorful plate of the most tender grilled shrimp over a bed of Anson Mill grits.  I asked for the Andouille cream sauce on the side and I found  it was the perfect way to enjoy all the intricate flavors of each component of this tasty dish.

saintsbury pinot noir
One of the wonderful things about dining at Bonterra is the wine list    – from the start, the bar at Bonterra has been set up with an exclusive system for storing and preserving the wines at the restaurant, leading to the largest by the glass wine program in the country with more than 200 options at any one time. Whenever you dine at Bonterra you can wine as well – by the glass or by the bottle. This night Tom and I enjoyed one of our favorite California Pinot Noirs- Saintsbury 2010 Carneros – oh so good!
Bonterra' s roasted free range chicken breast

Bonterra’ s roasted free range chicken breast

My entrée for this Charlotte Restaurant Week dinner at Bonterra Dining & Wine Room was the roasted free range chicken breast served with toasted farro, leaf spinach, red wine shallots and a fresh thyme sauce;

The pasta option on the Bonterra restaurant week menu

The pasta option on the Bonterra restaurant week menu

while Tom, very much enjoyed the  pasta offering –  an excellent choice tossed with asparagus, fire roasted mushrooms, basil and Parmigiano.

The evening ended with two delicious desserts – a NY style cheesecake for Tom and a molten  chocolate cake for this food writer – delish!
For more information about all of the restaurants participating in Charlotte’s 2014 Queens Feast Restaurant Week visit: http://www.charlotterestaurantweek.com/articles/charlotte-restaurant-week-info-472876/how-do-i-take-part-in-11212684/#ixzz2rEVhBNAB
For more information on Passion 8 Bistro in Ft Mill – visit www.passion8bistro.com 

Passion8 Bistro on Urbanspoon

For more information on Bonterra Dining and Wine Room in Charlotte’s SouthEnd neighborhood, visit  www.bonterradining.com

Bonterra on Urbanspoon

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

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 

Battle Texas Pete between Chef Vincent Giancarlo of Cantina 1511 and Chef Bruce Moffett of Barrington’s. Giancarlo and the Cantina 1511 team pull off an upset with an unexpected win!

Chef Bruce Moffett Barrington's Restaurant

Chef Bruce Moffett
Barrington’s Restaurant

Chef Vincent Giancarlo Cantina 1511

Chef Vincent Giancarlo
Cantina 1511

September 24 marked the date for Battle 8 of the Fire in the City Competition Dining. The last of the preliminary rounds of competition this night was between Chef Bruce Moffett of Barrington’s Restaurant and Chef Vincent Giancarlo of Cantina 1511. As always the chefs arrived at Bonterra Dining and Wine room around 11 or so to check out the kitchen and the well -stocked mobile pantry provided by Pate Dawson – Southern Foods specifically for the event. At noon they sat down with Competition Dining creator and host Jimmy Crippen to review the video presentation for the evening, go over the rules and learn the secret ingredient.

texas peteTurns out this last night of preliminary rounds belonged to North Carolina’s own Texas Pete!

To find out more about this flavorful NC hot sauce I turned to the Texas Pete website:

Even the waitstaff at Bonterra Dining and Wine Room got into the Texas Pete theme of the evening

Even the waitstaff at Bonterra Dining and Wine Room got into the Texas Pete theme of the evening

You may be wondering how is it that a tasty red pepper sauce made in North Carolina happens to be named Texas Pete? Well, legend has it that, when Sam Garner and his three sons, Thad, Ralph and Harold, were trying to come up with a name for this spicy new sauce they had created, a marketing advisor suggested the name ”Mexican Joe” to connote the piquant flavor reminiscent of the favorite foods of our neighbors to the south. But Sam wanted more of  an all-American name and suggested the word “Texas”, a state that  also had a reputation for spicy cuisine be used in the name. Then, he glanced at son Harold, whose nickname was ”Pete” and the Texas Pete cowboy was born.

Team Barrington's; from left, Chef Mike Vergili, Chef Kerry Moffett and Chef Bruce Moffett

Team Barrington’s; from left, Chef Mike Vergili, Chef Kerry Moffett and Chef Bruce Moffett

Team Cantina 1511: From left, Chef Kyle Biddy, Chef Vincent Giancarlo and Chef Greg Balch

Team Cantina 1511: From left, Chef Kyle Biddy, Chef Vincent Giancarlo and Chef Greg Balch

While it  is interesting to look at now – nothing much about the story of Texas Pete mattered to the chefs from Barrington’s and Cantina last Tuesday morning.

All that really mattered was that each team was told they had a minimum of 2 gallons of the full flavored hot sauce with which to work; and, in the end, present three different plates each to nearly 130 dinner guests.

It was going to be a heated battle for sure.

You could see the wheels in the heads of these chefs turning as they made plans for the short 6 hours they now had to prep and cook before the battle began.   In this food writer’s opinion, the skill involved this night would be in using this secret ingredient to its full potential – underscoring the flavor of the sauce without over accentuating the sauce’s heat.

So how did the chefs prepare for this evening of Competition Dining?

Cantina owner Ben Filmalter told me in advance of the battle, that for his team at Cantina 1511, it was like entering a David vs Goliath situation.

They were definitely the underdogs going up against Moffett and his team from  Barrington’s Restaurants, one of Charlotte’s most popular places to dine; the #1 Zagat-rated restaurant in Charlotte  and one of AOLs top 11 restaurants in the country.

The Cantina chefs prepared themselves with weekly meetings trying to anticipate secret ingredients and figure what they would do in a worst case situation aka – how do we make dessert if the secret ingredient is fish? After having attended an early battle, Filmalter offered his team the following advice: to keep dishes colorful and simple, keep descriptives easy to understand; and he said that he felt the dessert plate would most certainly be the make it or break it moment of the evening.

As it turns out this last piece of advice was a very accurate prediction of things to come.

Here is what happened as we, the collective dining audience, that night ate are way through six Texas Pete laced plates of sensational savory and sweet offerings.

Course 1 by Chef Bruce Moffett of Barrington's Restaurant

Course 1 by Chef Bruce Moffett of Barrington’s Restaurant

Course 1 was a delightful way to begin. Chef Moffett’s Texas Pete® Marinated Ceviche of NC Shrimp Maine Lobster and Little River Lump Crab sat in a pool of pleasantly piquant Citrus-Tomato Gazpacho, and was topped with a Root Vegetable Salad and Cilantro.   The plate was exceptionally well done – the flavor of the Texas Pete was there but understated enough to be noticed without overpowering the fresh taste of the seafood.

Course 2 by Chef Vincent Giancarlo of Cantina 1511

Course 2 by Chef Vincent Giancarlo of Cantina 1511

Course 2 a starter from Chef Giancarlo was also delicious; but here  the taste of the Texas Pete® used to Brine the Maple Leaf Farms Breast of Duck served with a Golden Beet Puree, Baby Arugula & Radish Salad, Texas Pete® Vinaigrette, and a Bing Cherry Gastrique was more understated. In fact, if Twitter posts during dinner are any sort of a read, it wasn’t the use of the Texas Pete at all, but the rich Bing Cherry Gastrique that made diners love this plate so much.

While courses 1 and 2 got high points from the crowd, courses 3 and 4 were the highest scoring of the six plates presented this night; and my two personal favorites of the evening, here’s why…

Course 3 from Chef Bruce Moffett of Barrington's Restaurant

Course 3 from Chef Bruce Moffett of Barrington’s Restaurant

 Course 3 was a beautifully presented Southern “sandwich” of sorts – Comprised of Manchester Farms Southern Fried Quail with Grilled NC Peach and Red Onion Salad and an Ashe County Bleu Cheese Biscuit, the plate was finished with a swirl of Texas Pete® Jus. Honestly Chef Moffett had me at the quail – this tiny breast was perfectly cooked, and along with the soft creamy taste of the blue cheese biscuit, the piquant peach and onion salad and the heat in the Texas Pete au jus,  it was, for me, a sublime blending of taste and texture. I could have eaten several more.

 

Course 4 by Chef Vincent Giancarlo of Cantina 1511

Course 4 by Chef Vincent Giancarlo of Cantina 1511

 Course 4 was another crowd pleaser. In this dish Chef Giancarlo’s Texas Pete® Poached NC Shrimp took center stage and they were packed with flavor. Supporting  the spicy shrimp on the plate, a rather mild Andouille Étouffée and an excellent Caramelized Onion Grits Cake all atop a pool of Ashe County Bleu Cheese Fondue, garnished with a single Chive. Nicely done!

Although no one knew it at the time, up until this point in the battle, the scores that divided the two chefs were very close.  With a mere 8/10ths of a point between the two teams, the battle could have gone either way.

Its the nature in a competition of any kind that some days there will be an upset. Culinary competitions are no exception -sometimes things just go wrong and you try to make the best of it. It happens to everyone despite reputation, credentials or accolades – sometimes soufflés don’t rise, ice creams don’t freeze and custards don’t set; and sometimes the other guy just out cooks you. It is the nature of the beast and  such was the case at the end of this night for Chef Vincent Giancarlo of Cantina 1511 and Chef Bruce Moffett of Barrington’s.

Course 5 from Chef Bruce Moffett of Barrington's Restaurant

Course 5 from Chef Bruce Moffett of Barrington’s Restaurant

Course 5 was Moffett’s  Mexican Texas Pete® Hot Chocolate Custard with Cinnamon Churros, topped with Candied Serrano Chili Pepper. This is the dish that did Moffett in this night.

For whatever reason, the custard didn’t set as it was intended;  so it was presented as more of a thick sauce on the plate, served with two small bits of very tasty cinnamon churros and a quenelle of whipped cream with a sprig of mint; finished with several slices of candied Serrano. While the custard smelled wonderful and  tasted good;  presented in this way, there were too few churros on the plate in comparison; and honestly, it looked a hot mess. Add to that the fact that the candied serranos were more fiery than they were candied and you have a dessert that sadly just didn’t work. Had this custard set into a firm mass and been scooped in a quenelle alongside the whipped cream, the results of the evening might have been very different.

 

Curse 6 by Chef Vincent Giancarlo of Cantina 1511

Course 6 by Chef Vincent Giancarlo of Cantina 1511

Course 6 was Giancarlo’s dessert offering. The Texas Pete® Smoked Tomato Ice Cream was a very creative move for the Cantina team.

But my honest assessment was that the texture was grainy – not smooth and creamy like an ice cream should be. Had I been voting, I would have taken big points off for that, but I must admit, the flavor was good and kept me coming back for more.  My two cents? I think Giancarlo should take a slightly smaller portion of this frozen medley, call it a “frozen salsa” and serve it at Cantina 1511 in the same phyllo shell atop  a slightly peppery bed of mixed greens alongside the Texas Pete shrimp from course four of this competition – a new bar bite , perhaps?

One must, however,  give credit where credit is due; and this night,  served in a crispy phyllo cup, the “ice cream” sat alongside a delicious Texas Pete® Mixed Nut Praline, and a tremendously flavorful Basil Syrup. The crowd loved the innovative effort and the flavor and as a result,  its the dish that gave Giancarlo the lead.

the winners of Battle Texas Pete - Chef Vincent Giancarlo, center, and the team from Cantina 1511

the winners of Battle Texas Pete – Chef Vincent Giancarlo, center, and the team from Cantina 1511 with Cantina owner, Ben Filmalter

Congratulations go out to Chef Vincent Giancarlo and  Team Cantina 1511 who now will go on to the quarter finals to battle Chef Luca Annunziata and Team Passion 8 Bistro on October 8.

For more information about Cantina 1511 with two locations at 1511 East Blvd Charlotte, NC 28203; 704.331.9222; and  7708 Rea Rd Charlotte, NC 28277; 704.752.9797, visit http://cantina15eleven.com/

Battle Texas Pete - 2 004For more information about Barrington’s Restaurant located at 7822 Fairview Road, Charlotte, North Carolina, 28226; 704.364.5755;  visit  http://www.barringtonsrestaurant.com/

For more information about Barrington’s sister restaurant, Good Food on Montford, visit www.goodfoodonmontford.com/

For more information on and recipes for  NC’s own Texas Pete, visit http://www.texaspete.com/

Battle Joyce Farms Naked Chicken Chef Rob Masone, Heist Brewery, Charlotte vs Chef Luca Annunziata, Passion 8 Bistro, Fort Mill, SC. Passion 8 Bistro Takes the Ride into Victory Lane

Chef Rob Masone form Heitz Brewery

Chef Rob Masone from Heist Brewery

Chef Luca Annuziata from Passion 8 Bistro

Chef Luca Annuziata from Passion 8 Bistro

“If you don’t take risks, then maybe there is no reward.”

So said Passion 8 Bistro’s Executive Sous chef. Matthew Krenz after the 7th Competition Dining Battle Monday night Sept 23. It was Battle Joyce Farms Naked Bird Chicken; and that “take risks” attitude is what wowed diners with not one, but two desserts – one from each team of edgy chefs.

Like the four courses that preceded the finale for this evening’s meal, each dessert was made with chicken – who’d of ever thunk it?   More about the end of the meal later, right now lets go back to the beginning.

The teams from Passion 8 Bistro, on the left, and Heitz Brewery on the right with Competition Dining host and creator, Jimmy Crippen; as they learn the secret ingredient for the evening.

The teams from Passion 8 Bistro, on the left, and Heist Brewery on the right with Competition Dining host and creator, Jimmy Crippen; as they learn the secret ingredient for the evening. From left, Chef Matthew Krenz, Chef Evan Micek, Chef Luca Annunziata, Jimmy Crippen, Chef Rob Masone, Chef Dominique Chavez and Chef Bobby Varwick

The competitors for this evening  of Competition Dining’s Fire in the City were Chef Rob Masone from Heist Brewery and Chef Luca Annunziata from Passion 8 Bistro. Both chefs seemed pleased to have chicken as the featured ingredient, but both had obviously planned on the secret ingredient being something else. “We were thinking it would be some weird ingredient, so we were happy about the chicken,” said  Annunziata.

Masone concurred, saying they, too, thought the secret ingredient would be harder to work with;  but the  culinary truth is that sometimes the simplest of ingredients require  the most culinary skill.

Both teams served the secret ingredient well – six plates to make the meal from appetizers to desserts.

but_naked_chickenJoyce Foods “Naked Chicken” is another excellent Got to be NC product, distributed by Competition Dining title sponsor Pate Dawson – Southern Foods.   Based in Winston-Salem. NC with farms across the Piedmont, Joyce Foods heritage breed chickens are raised on small North Carolina farms with  plenty of room for chickens to roam. The company’s trademarked Poulet Rouge breed is a slow growing, naturally raised heritage breed, raised on an all vegetarian diet with no hormones, no growth stimulants, or antibiotics and away from any pesticides; thus the moniker Naked Chicken.

But as tasty as these heritage breed birds are, the fact is that these Competition Dining chefs had only select parts of the chicken with which to work, which made this “easy” ingredient a bit more of a challenge.

Each chef was given about 30 lbs of  what is known in the industry as an airline breast – that is a boneless breast with the drummette wing bone attached; about 30 lbs. of boneless, skinless chicken thighs and about 20 lbs. of chicken skin. No extra bones, no organ meat, no extra fat – developing intriguing deep flavors without additional parts was going to be tough. But these talented chefs came through in ways you and I would have never imagined.

Course One - Battle Chicken by Chef Rob Masone

Course One – Battle Chicken by Chef Rob Masone

Chef Bobby Varwick makes the tasty pink waffles for the first course

Chef Bobby Varwick makes the tasty pink waffles for the first course

Course 1 was from the Heist Brewery team  “Naked Chicken and Waffles” featured beet waffles, topped with Chocolate & Coffee Chicken Cracklings  and a Sun Drop-Elderberry Syrup.

This dish created a lot of chatter around  the collective dining table as it was presented on the plate on a piece of stone. While the roughly honed stone made for a great visual, it may have been a move that would come back to bite Masone as there were questions about putting something on the plate that wasn’t edible.   For me , the frustration with this dish was that the tasty syrup was on the stone and on the plate under the stone – and so hard to get to and hard to taste. My fellow diners must have agreed, as the result was an unexpected low score for the first plate out from Heitz Brewery.

Course 2 - Battle Chicken from Chef Luca Annunziata

Course 2 – Battle Chicken from Chef Luca Annunziata

Course 2 was a home run out of the box, Passion 8’s  Deconstructed Wood Fired Chicken Salad with Herbs, Pickled Beets, Rutabaga Spiced Walnuts, and a Dried Cherry Vinaigrette; garnished with Shaved Johnston County Country Ham was a crowd pleaser for sure. The chicken was moist and tender with a nice balance of flavor on the plate; and the perfectly cut veggies showed an incredible array of knife skills coming from the kitchen.

Course Three - BattleChicken from Chef Rob Masone

Course Three – Battle Chicken from Chef Rob Masone

Chef Masone and his team from Heist Brewery came back strong with Course 3, an International Sushi that everyone seemed to love.

The addition of chopsticks made it even more fun.  Inside the sushi: Thai Charred Naked Chicken served with Pickled Cabbage & Pancetta,  and a hot and spicy beautifully arranged oval of Raspberry Wasabi on the plate for dipping. Delicious  and left me wanting more.

 

Course 4 - Battle Chicken from Chef Luca Annunziata

Course 4 – Battle Chicken from Chef Luca Annunziata

Perhaps the favorite dish of the evening, and as rumor has it of the competition thus far, was Course 4  of this battle. Passion 8’s Naked Chicken Thigh Mousseline Stuffed with Andouille Sausage; served with a Potato Confit and Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette with Roasted Shiitake-Asparagus Slaw and finished with Shaved Ashe County Romano  was certainly the highest scoring dish of this inaugural Fire in the City’s preliminary rounds and likely the dish that solidified  this win for Chef Annunziata and his team.

Heidi Billotto, left, and Jessica Annunziata, right

Heidi Billotto, left, and Jessica Annunziata, right

As the official blogger of this series of culinary competitions, I eat and blog; but I do not vote, as I have been in the kitchen during the day and have seen what the chefs are up to and know the ingredients with which each team is working.  I do however make a practice of surveying the crowd, questioning fans of each restaurant, as well as mothers, girlfriends and wives of the chefs to see if they have a feel for each course. Shortly after having enjoyed the perfectly prepared chicken mousseline, I chatted with my friend Jessica Annunziata, Chef Luca’s wife, to see if she had a feel for what the guys from Passion 8 were turning out. “I could go either way on some courses,” she admitted. “But this one I know – who else but Luca would do a Mousseline?”

Jessica was right and a well done mousseline at that.

And then came the desserts.

Now, I am not sure that anyone at Joyce Foods or any other NC heritage breed poultry producer ever anticipated raising chickens to serve for dessert; but these chefs felt that a sweet end to the competition was anticipated by the crowd and they aimed to please.

For this food writer and blogger, a chicken dessert is a hard thing to swallow ( pun intended), but Chefs Masone and Annunziata did their best to make  it a palatable finish.

Course Five - Battle Chicken from Chef Rob Masone

Course Five – Battle Chicken from Chef Rob Masone

Chef Masone plates 120 portions of his Battle chicken dessert

Chef Masone plates 120 portions of his Battle Chicken dessert

The first dessert of the evening came from Chef Masone and the team at Heist Brewery – Course 5 was a Half Moon Naked Chicken, with AB Vannoy Country Ham Fire Roasted Apples, Forest Mushrooms Sweet Potato Mascarpone Icing, all topped with Candied Ginger Torched Marshmallow . While the concept was an interesting one I personally thought it to be poorly executed – the marshmallow topping was cloyingly sweet, and  grainy with sugar. For me it was much like eating Thanksgiving dinner all in one bite – poultry, ham, apples, and sweet potatoes with those tiny little marshmallows on top – too much of a good thing.  I would have preferred this ending plate as a starter, perhaps with a pour of Heitz’s lastest Autumn brew, sans the sweet finish on top.

 

Course six - Battle chicken by Chef Luca Annunziata

Course six – Battle Chicken by Chef Luca Annunziata

The second dessert was the evening’s final plate and came in the guise of Course 6 by the Passion 8 team and Chef Annunziata. Chicharones on top of and a line of, Pomegranate Molasses under a Smoked Pistachio Mousse, accented with Cocoa Dusted Parsnip, and garnished with Picked Thyme.

Personally I liked this dessert much better; but then, I am a sucker for fried crispy chicken skin. Playfully called chicharones here, its what my brother and I grew up calling  gribenes and this part of the plate brought me right back to my childhood. Have to say though, that the majority of the sold out crowd packed into the Bonterra dining room for Battle Joyce Foods Naked Chicken did not agree; as this dish, like the dessert from Heist, garnered lower scores than either chef would have liked.

Jimmy Crippen with Chef Luca Annunziata and the team from Passion 8 for an after-the-battle interview.

Jimmy Crippen with Chef Luca Annunziata and the team from Passion 8 for an after-the-battle interview.

Jimmy Crippen interviews Chef Rob Masone on his thoughts after Battle Joyce Foods Naked Chicken was done.

Jimmy Crippen interviews Chef Rob Masone on his thoughts after Battle Joyce Foods Naked Chicken was done.

In the end, scores tallied, it was the team from Passion 8 Bistro that celebrated with  the proverbial chicken dance down Victory Lane.

Both teams worked hard and worked together and certainly had fun in the process. Their efforts were  appreciated by the crowd who had a fabulous time from beginning to end. Kudos to the chefs from both teams for a battle well played.

Chef Luca Annunziata and the team from Passion 8 will go on to the Quarter finals to battle Chef Vincent Giancarlo and the team from Cantina 1511 on October 8.

For more information on Passion 8 Bistro located at 3415 S Carolina Hwy 51 in Fort Mill, SC  29715; 803.802.7455, visit www.passion8bistro.com

For more information on Heist Brewery located at 2909 N Davidson St #200 in  Charlotte, NC  28205; 704.375.8260, visit www.heistbrewery.com

For more information on Joyce Foods Naked Chicken visit www.joycefoods.com

Battle Goat Lady Dairy “Julian” Aged Gouda with Chef Jon Fortes, Mimosa Grill vs Chef Sam Stachon, King’s Kitchen. The sixth battle of the series and Fortes takes the cheese!

Chef Luca Annunziata from Passion 8 Bistro

Chef Luca Annunziata from Passion 8 Bistro

Chef Rob Masone from Heist Brewery

Chef Rob Masone from Heist Brewery

As I write this post it is early morning on Sept 23. Chef Luca Annunziata and his team  from Passion 8 Bistro are preparing to meet  Chef Rob Masone and his team from Heist Brewery on the culinary battlefield that is, for this competition, the kitchen at Bonterra Dining and Wine Room in Charlotte’s historic Dilworth neighborhood.

The Kitchen at Bonterra Dining and Wine Room

The Kitchen at Bonterra Dining and Wine Room

Chefs will meet around 11 am or so to get a feel for the lay of land in the kitchen, check out the mobile pantry full of excellent product and produce from title sponsors Pate Dawson – Southern Foods; and put together their individual strategies. Around noon they  will find out the secret ingeredient for this Battle 7 of the inaugural  Fire in the City competition dining series.

As the competition’s official blogger,  I’ll be there to cover all the action  – during the day today and again during dinner tonight

The Official Blog of Fire in the Coty

The Official Blog of Fire in the Coty

Follow me on Twitter @HeidiCooks and on the Heidi Billotto Cooks Facebook page throughout the day today for updates; and then I’ll meet you back here with the play by play and photos in  the comprehensive post tomorrow morning.

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North Carolina's own Goat Lady Dairy aged Gouda goat cheese

North Carolina’s own Goat Lady Dairy aged Gouda goat cheese

But first, time for a recap on Battle 6 held just over a week ago. On the table – the secret ingredient, goat cheese, local goat cheese from Climax NC; Goat Lady Dairy “Julien” gouda, to be more exact.

Just six dinners in and this food writer is running out of superlatives – somehow the words “wonderful” and “fabulous” just don’t seem enough to describe the Sept 11 evening of Competition Dining, although the evening was every bit of that and more.

Chef Jon Fortes and the team from Mimosa Grill

Chef Jon Fortes and the team from Mimosa Grill

Chef Sam Stachon and the team from King's Kitchen

Chef Sam Stachon and the team from King’s Kitchen

In the kitchen battling it out – Chef Jon Fortes, Executive Chef of Mimosa Grill with his team and  Chef Sam Stachon, Executive Chef of The King’s Kitchen with his team.

As is the case with nearly all of these dinners, the day was fun-filled from the very beginning. These two chefs met through Competition Dining, but hit it off from the get go.

“We both wanted the win,” said Sam Stachon of The King’s Kitchen. “But pretty much from the beginning, it was like we were all working together in our own place.”  It’s this good nature of friendly competition that makes these Fire in the City integrated dining events so much fun.

Sam Stachon , left and Jon Fortes enjoyed the competition and working with each other from the beginning

Sam Stachon , left and Jon Fortes enjoyed the competition and working with each other from the beginning

John "JD" Duncan and  Charlotte Fire Fighters

John “JD” Duncan and Charlotte Fire Fighters

Captain Rob Brisley and the Charlotte Fire Fighters enjoyed and every course

Captain Rob Brisley and the Charlotte Fire Fighters enjoyed and every course

As it was Sept 11, it was a special night. Early on, weeks before the battle, Chef John Fortes told me he thought the historic date would yield a smaller than usual dining audience; but no, this night played to a sold out crowd.

Host, and Competition Dining founder and creator Jimmy Crippen started the evening off with his video presentation as always; but this night included a special tribute to 9/11 with a moving rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by The Charlie Daniels Band.

To make it even more moving, John “JD” Duncan, owner at Bonterra played host to his neighborhood fire station, as he does each and every year since the 9/11 tragedy. Captain Rob Brisley of the CFD was there too, and delivered the fire safety message that has become the mantra of Competition Dining – The leading cause of home fires and burn injuries is cooking; so Keep your kitchen safe and make reservations to dine out at your favorite Charlotte restaurant!

The dinner was delicious – here’s the plate by plate , play by play…

The first course by Chef Jon Fortes

The first course by Chef Jon Fortes

My plate at the end of  the First Course

My plate at the end of the First Course

Course 1 set the tone of the evening for me – this “cheese plate” with  a trio of offerings was, as it turned out, from Chef Jon Fortes and included  “Goat Lady Julian Cheese Trio” Bacon Wrapped Julian with Port Wine Reduction; Goat Lady Biscuit with Heirloom Tomato & Chorizo Soup; and Whipped Cheesecake with Brown Butter Pine Nuts and Country Ham

The Second Course by Chef Sam Stachon

The Second Course by Chef Sam Stachon

In Course 2, Chef Sam Stachon took advantage of a product that had been the secret ingredient just nights before – the very delicious A.B.Vannoy Country Ham  and did it proud, serving it with  Fingerling Potato Hash, Pepperonata,  all topped off with a Goat Lady Julian Frico

The third course by Chef Jon Fortes

The third course by Chef Jon Fortes

Course 3 was the highest scoring course of the evening. Chef Jon Fortes’ Goat Lady Julian & Parsnip Gnocchi, Creamed Sweet Corn, Tasso Ham, Mushroom Conserva

 

The Fourth Course by Chef Sam Stachon

The Fourth Course by Chef Sam Stachon

Course 4 Cottonwood Pumpkin Ale Braised Manchester Farms Quail Warm Julian Cheese & Farro Salad with Charred Cabbage – while the cheese and faro salad was extraordinary, the quail and cabbage didn’t hold their weight and consequently, this was Chef Stachon’s weakest course and may have been what finally decided the battle

The Fifth Course by Chef Jon Fortes

The Fifth Course by Chef Jon Fortes

Gotta love cheese grits and in Course 5, Chef Jon Fortes brought it with Confit Cheshire Pork Roulade, Goat Lady Julian Grits Soufflé, Dried Apples, Smoked Blueberries

 

The Sixth Course from Chef Sam Stachon

The Sixth Course from Chef Sam Stachon

A high scoring Course 6 in the guise of a melt-in-your-mouth dessert was a hit for Chef Sam Stachon and the team from King’s Kitchen. On the plate – Julian Cheese & Apple Tart with  Mascarpone Chantilly Spiced Caramel Sauce  – a delicious end to an excellent an most memorable evening!

Chef Jon Fortes, Center with Harpers' Group's Steve Seitz, left and Tom Sasser, right

Chef Jon Fortes, Center with Harpers’ Group’s Steve Seitz, left and Tom Sasser, right

Chef Jon Fortes and his team from the Harper’s Group Mimosa Grill will now go on to compete in the quarter-final battle on October 7 against Chef Brian Mottola and the team from e2 Emeril’s Eatery.

Tickets are sold out so, live vicariously and follow this blog for the bite-to-bite action on the dinner and the day of the battle

For more information about Mimosa Grill located 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 King’s Kitchen located at  129 W Trade St  Charlotte, NC 28202;  704.375.1990; visit www.kingskitchen.org/ The King's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

goat lady dairy

Our Friends at Goat Lady Dairy

For more information on Goat Lady Dairy Goat Cheese in Climax NC, visit www.goatladydairy.com/

For a great video on Competition Dining’s Fire in the  City check out the  video coverage that aired a week or so ago on WCNC’s  Charlotte Today – reporter Davyee Sutton was at the A.B. Vannoy County Ham Battle and got an insiders look on all the action! Thanks Davyee!!

Battle Old Mill of Guilford Stone Ground Grits with Chef David Bettendorf, River’s Edge at the US National White Water Center vs Chef Brian Mottola from e2 Emerils Eatery. Mottola takes the win by less than one -half point!

The star of the evening, Old Mill of Guilford Stone Ground Grits

The star of the evening, Old Mill of Guilford Stone Ground Grits

Wowza! Tuesday Sept 10 marked a wild ride in the Competition Dining kitchen at Bonterra Dining and Wine Room on Cleveland Ave.  This night the six obligatory courses – three from each chef – revolved around the use of a very Southern North Carolina ingredient – white and yellow stone ground grits from Old Mill Of Guilford Stone Ground Grits.

So okay , you say,  thats easy peasy, right – cheese grits, shrimp and grits, grits and grillades – three dishes, done!

Not for these two very talented. very energetic chefs and their culinary teams all eager to strut their stuff. For Competition-dinner goers  this night, grits were transformed into pasta, sushi, and more!

First lets meet the players and then we’ll check out their take on cooking with local grits.

Chef David Bettendorf, left, and the team from River's edge

Chef David Bettendorf, left, and the team from River’s Edge

Chef brian Mottola and the team from e2

Chef Brian Mottola, center, and the team from e2

Battle grits matched the cooking styles and technique of Executive Chef David Bettendorf and his team from River’s Edge, the restaurant and catering services at the US National White Water Center with   Executive Chef Brian Mottola and his team from e2 Emerils Eatery.

I came into the kitchen late in the day, but both chefs seemed pleased with what they had planned for the evening and thrilled that grits were the secret ingredient.

Chef Brian Mottola  was moving fast but said he was happy with the way the day had gone. “Once I got my first course done and settled, things were good, ” He told me when I peeped my head in the kitchen about a hour before service to check in on things.

Course 1 NC Yellow Corn Grits Pasta, Hoppyum Braised Cheshire Pork Belly Poached Egg, Duck Cracklin Bread Crumbs by Chef Brian Mottola

Course 1 NC Yellow Corn Grits Pasta, Hoppyum Braised Cheshire Pork Belly Poached Egg, Duck Cracklin Bread Crumbs by Chef Brian Mottola

I really had no idea what he meant, but later on into the evening he explained  to the crowd that he decided to make pasta with the grits. Good plan, however, stone ground grits are too course for pasta,  he had to grind them down in a small grinder until he had enough to make pasta for 100! A project which, as it turned out, took him three hours of his six hour prep time. A gutsy move but one that worked and on top of it all he served the pasta with poached eggs – hard to do on such a large quantity of plates that all have to go out at the same time.

Southern Sushi, Poached Cabbage Filled White Grits Country Ham Mirin & Wasabi, Pickled Jicama Slaw, Wasabi Crème Fraiche, Wonton Crisps  By Chef David Bettendorf

Southern Sushi, Poached Cabbage Filled White Grits Country Ham Mirin & Wasabi, Pickled Jicama Slaw, Wasabi Crème Fraiche, Wonton Crisps By Chef David Bettendorf

“We had tentative plans to use grits anyway,” shared Chef Bettendorf, “so this worked out perfectly!”

While I loved the first course of pasta, the second dish of the evening – Bettendorf’s first plate-  was my absolute favorite – I don’t know if this was in David Bettendorf’s tentative plan, but I am glad his Southern Sushi concept with  made it to the plate! It was a  solid dish with an excellent balance of acidity  and cream – who would have thunk it? –  eating grits with chopsticks!

As you can see, both of these chefs came in with a “no guts, no glory” attitude. They each brought their A games as is evident in the miniscule point spread between the two at the end of the battle.

As it turned out the pasta – my other favorite plate of the evening was Mottola’s lowest scoring dish – While he had me at the soft poached eggs, I  think the  runny eggs may have not been the crowd pleaser he had assumed;  but in the end his other plates scored just high enough to take the win.

“It was a good battle and to tell you the truth, if it had not been for Chef David’s help my first course might not have all made it on the plate,”  Mottola said, when Competition Dining creator Jimmy Crippen asked him about working side by side in the kitchen with the team from River’s Edge.

Bettendorf expressed the same feelings saying that these competitions are a great way to test your limits, share your strengths and get to know other top chefs in the area.

Now that I’ve hit on my favorite plates – here is the rundown on the other four courses of the evening…

Course three from Chef Mottola

Course three from Chef Mottola

For Course 3 , service was back in the hands of Chef Mottola. A delicious Truffle Beurre Fondue Poached Lobster served nestled beside a Mascarpone Yellow Corn Grits Cake Radish, with Asparagus and a bit of Heirloom Tomato Salad

 

Course Four from Chef David Bettendorf

Course Four from Chef David Bettendorf

Course 4 from Chef David Bettendorf was comprised of a nicely cut filet of Roasted NC Flounder,  with a Sweet Potato & Goat Cheese Yellow Grits Cake, a Citrus Demi-Glace, tiny little Cipollini Onion Rings,  and a sweet and spicy Heirloom Tomato Chutney

 

Course Five from Chef Brian Mottola

Course Five from Chef Brian Mottola

Course 5 from Chef Brian Mottola, was a tightly wrapped Boudin Grits Stuffed Quail, with a tasty Muscadine Glaze Puree, and crunchy Parsnip Chip

 

Course six from Chef David Bettendorf

Course six from Chef David Bettendorf

Course 6 was our only dessert of the evening – Chef David Bettendorf presented a small Yellow Grits and Mascarpone Sicilian Cake with side of  Smoked Cherries  and  a Grape Nehi Glace with  Honey Mascarpone, and Almond Brittle. The  smoked cherries took me by surprise at first but in the end, mixed with the Grape Nehi Glace and the honey Mascarpone, they were  the perfect end to the meal.

Next Chef Brian Mottola and the e2 team will battle the winner of  tonight’s battle between Sam Stachon of The King’s Kitchen vs Chef Jon Fortes from Mimosa Grill in the quarter finals on October 7.

For more information on E2 Emerils Eatery, 135 Levine Avenue of the Arts #100  Charlotte, NC 28202
(704) 414-4787, visit www.e2emerils.com

For more information on River’s Edge 5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy, Charlotte, NC 28214, visit www.usnwc.org

Battle Scott Farms Sweet Potatoes with Chef Nicolas Daniels, The Wooden Vine vs Chef Paul Ketterhagen, Carpe Diem Restaurant – Nicolas Daniels Wins By < 1 Point!

Chef Nicolas Daniels from The Wood Vine Bar & Bistro

Chef Nicolas Daniels from The Wood Vine Bar & Bistro

The place was packed. The third evening of Competition Dining in Charlotte  took place at Bonterra Dining and Wine Room located at 1829 Cleveland Avenue @ East Worthington Ave. and played to a sold out crowd. The competitors this evening? Chef Nicolas Daniels from The Wooden Vine Bar & Bistro in Uptown Charlotte and Chef Paul Ketterhagen from Carpe Diem Restaurant and Caterers in the Elizabeth neighborhood.

Chef Paul Ketterhagen from Carpe Diem Restaurant and Caterers

Chef Paul Ketterhagen from Carpe Diem Restaurant and Caterers

Enthusiastic fans of both teams filled the tables and there was a flurry of excitement in the crowd from the start. Fans of each chef said they would know which plates came from each culinary team; but, as is often the case in these blind tastings, people who think they know have been wrong. Wives have been wrong, parents have been wrong and fans have been wrong. It was fun to watch it all unfold.

agriculture%20(stacked)The secret ingredient this night –  Scott Farms Sweet Potatoes. Like each secret ingredient in every Competition Dining dinner, these are NC sweet potatoes distributed by Pate Dawson-Southern Foods, the title sponsor of the Competition Dining Series and the largest independently owned distribution company in the state. Pate Dawson – Southern Foods specializes  in local product and supports the “Goodness Grows in North Carolina” program,  the official marketing program for the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service.

Sweet-Potato-StackScott Farms is a 3rd generation family farm. They have been farming near Lucama in southwestern Wilson County in North Carolina since before the Civil War. Originally a small family farm growing  tobacco; Scott Farms now boasts over 5000 acres with 1,900 acres of  sweet potatoes, 1,100 acres of tobacco, 2,000 acres of soybeans, and a small amount of wheat. The farm grows six different varities of sweet potatoes and has sweet potato curing and processing buildings on site. They distribute North Carolina sweet potatoes across the state, the country, in the UK and throughout Europe!

The chefs seemed excited about the prospect of what they would create with this secret ingredient.  The truth is a starch  gives chefs a lot of leeway and offers the potential for a lot of creative license – indeed,  the food this evening was quite innovative.

The precursor to the first course was the wonderful aroma of rich sweet potatoes that wafted into the dining room from the kitchen as chefs began to plate  – a delightful way to start…

Paul Ketterhagen's Sweet Potato Soup with Cinnamon Brown Sugar Crème Fraiche & Toasted Graham Cracker

Course 1 from Paul Ketterhagen

Sweet Potato Soup from Chef Ketterhagen was the first course. Topped with a  Cinnamon Brown Sugar Crème Fraiche and a sprinkling of Toasted Graham Crackers.  I took the dish as a sophisticated play on sweet potato casserole – only better!

Ketterhagen’s overall score for this dish was 16.5

Course 2 from Chef Daniels

Course 2 from Chef Daniels

Next a  Sweet Potato Dumpling from Chef Daniels stuffed with Roasted Candied Sweet Potato  and a House-made ricotta. The dumpling was served alongside a Papaya Salad and Pickled NC Shrimp all placed atop a vibrant Blood Orange Gel.  I loved all the parts, but for me,  it was a lot going  on for one plate. The gel wasn’t set, so the texture wasn’t what I think the chef had intended. It was actually quite liquid, like a thin under coating of sauce; and my table quipped that  it would also have been great in a shot glass with a bit of vodka!

Daniels’ overall score for this dish was 18.1

Courses three and four were hearty entrée plates and each equally delicious

Course 3 from Chef Ketterhagen

Course 3 from Chef Ketterhagen

From Chef Ketterhagen, the house very much enjoyed a sliced   Porcini Roasted Lamb Loin with Sweet Potato (from Scratch) Cavatelli, Smoked Oyster Mushrooms, Pistachios and  Sweet Potato Broth

Ketterhagen’s overall score for this plate was 22.4

Course 4 from Chef Daniels

Course 4 from Chef Daniels

Braised Cheshire Pork Belly and  Seared Maple Leaf Farms Duck were the proteins on Chef Daniel’s entrée plate; but for me and my table at least, it was the  Sweet Potato & Sage Spaetzle, with Smoked Collards and  Pot Liquor Sauce that caught our collective eye and kept us savoring each and every forkful.  As one of the diners at  my table said, “The spaetzle and greens just light up the plate!”  Agreed. The duck, also excellent,  was of melt in your mouth proportions. Daniels’ lower score here was reflected, I believe, in the fact that the  pork belly was fried not braised, and for most of us, sadly overdone.

Daniels overall score for this plate – an 18.4

And then there were desserts –  one might think sweet potato pie, perhaps; but no, these chefs were much more avant-garde than that….chefs in the competition are certainly not required to make dessert, but speaking for the crowd – we were all glad they did!

Course 5 from Chef Paul Ketterhagen

Course 5 from Chef Paul Ketterhagen

The first of two dessert plates came from Chef Ketterhagen and is team – a rich, creamy Sweet Potato & Ginger Custard,  with crispy Sweet Potato Gaufrettes on top and a delightful Bourbon Anglaise, with a Muscadine Gastrique under it all. While the flavors were top-notch, it appeared that the custard didn’t really have enough time to set.  I suspect the cooler had been open and closed so many times through the day that it may not have been as cool as these guys would have liked –  my guess is, it’s the same reason the blood orange gel in Daniels first plate never set.  It  was that lack of texture in this dessert that may have  taken team Carpe Diem down.

Ketterhagen’s overall score for his last plate was 16.5

 

Course six from Chef Daniels of Wooden Vine bar & Bistro

Course six from Chef Daniels of Wooden Vine bar & Bistro

Our last course of the evening, a  “Country Cobbler” of Sweet Potato Sponge Cake, Pecan Cinnamon Struesel, Muscadine-Summer Berry Cobbler and Triple C Smoked Amber Ice Cream goes to show you the ups and downs in competition-style cooking.

During the “after-the-dinner” interviews, Daniels explained to the crowd that just hours before service began, the original batch of streusel topping had burnt. It was trashed and the team had to start all over again.

Hard to say if it was the streusel, the delicious sweet potato sponge cake, the tart berry cobbler and the smoked Amber ice cream or the well-balanced combination of all of these flavors, but in the end this was the dish that gave Daniels and his team from Wooden Vine the edge and the victory.

Daniels overall score for this dish was  21.9

As this evening’s competition was so close, I thought you’d like to see the scoring breakdown of each dish.. The professional judges ( The Pros) combined score accounts for 30 % of the final total while the rest of us ( the Regular Joes) account for 70%.

Contestant         Voter Avg. Score   Pros Avg. Score   Final Weighted Avg. Score
Nicolas Daniels 21.179 15.667 19.52558140
Paul Ketterhagen 19.432 16.444 18.53571429

Now Daniels and his team from Wooden Vine Bar & Bistro will go on to the semi-final rounds to compete in the  October 1 competition against the winner of Monday night’s Fire in the City.

nc comp diningWith this first week of Competition Dining under our belt, know that ticket sales for the remaining dinners are going fast.  the finale on October 21 is already sold out, as is the dinner  between Chef Bruce Moffett of Barrington’s vs Chef Vincent Giancarlo from Cantina 1511 on Sept 24.   Don’t miss out – make your reservations for next week and the weeks to come by visiting the Fire in the City page on this blog and following the reservation links.

For more information about Wooden Vine Bar & Bistro,  231 N Tryon St.; 704.376.8463 – visit www.thewoodenvine.com

For more information about Carpe Diem Restaurant and Caterers, 1535 Elizabeth Ave., 704.377.7976 – visit www.carpediemrestaurant.com