Stuffed Squash Blossoms: A New Take on Ham and Cheese

img_5252I’ve been doing a lot of cooking this month on television and for catering jobs and cooking classes. As my regular readers know, I am all about local and cooking in the season, so this month, in particular, I have celebrated the end of the squash season with  several recipes for stuffed squash blossoms. Recently I made a delicious (if I do say so myself) ham and cheese stuffed version of my baked stuffed squash blossoms, originally for a brunch I catered for the Charlotte Food Bloggers.

img_2985

Earlier this week, I shared the recipe on WBTV’s new program, Morning Break, in the television kitchen with my friend Kristen Miranda  and you’ll find the video of this recipe prep is at the end of this post, as well as a special bonus recipe from the Charlotte Food Bloggers’ Brunch.

My friends from Goodnight Brothers Country Ham were good enough to help sponsor the brunch I prepared for the Charlotte Food Bloggers and so as a way of saying thanks I wanted to come up with several new and interesting ways to serve Goodnights thin sliced dry cured country ham. You might consider it North Carolina’s answer to Italian prosciutto. This thin sliced ham is locally available in Charlotte at Earthfare and Whole Foods.

dsc_0734What I love about the ham is first is all its a local North Carolina product all the way around. Goodnight Brothers, based in Boone, NC,  doesn’t raise the pigs – they just cure the meat, but they are selective in the meat they use.  The Goodnight products are produced from pigs pasture-raised on North Carolina family farms. These animals were raised in an antibiotic-free environment and when the meat was cured it was done so without the use of added nitrates or nitrites except for those naturally occurring in sea salt and celery. The ham comes thin sliced in 4 oz packages and slices are separated with parchment paper to make using the ham even easier.

 

img_5005

Heidi’s Ham and Cheese salad with Goodnight Brothers Thin sliced ham, grilled Bosc Pears, boiled quail eggs, Tega Hill Farm Lettuce and Uno Alla Volta cottage cheese, dressed with Blackberry Ginger Balsamic from Pour Olive in Charlotte

I’ve seen chefs across the state use this tasty ham in multitudes of recipes as Goodnight Brothers products have been featured in many of the GotToBeNc Competition Dining  series battles I have worked; and inspired, I have used it myself to make ham-wrapped everything from shrimp to pretzels, in salads, on biscuits and in combination with another local favorite of mine, Uno Alla Volta feta cheese to stuff local squash blossoms, available from Tega Hill Farms.

As I write this, it is the middle of October, and by the end of the month, squash season will be over in the Tega Hill Farm greenhouses and the vines of beautiful yellow blossoms will make way for pea tendrils and other seasonal greens. But don’t you fret, this wonderful ham and cheese stuffing can still be made and used in many ways – here are just a few suggestions before we get to the squash blossom recipe.

img_4985Cut jalapenos or small sweet peppers in half, scrape out the seeds, fill the pepper halves with the ham and cheese filling, top with a sprinkling of panko crumbs and grated Parmesan and bake at 375 for about 20 minutes or until brown for a great spicy or not ham and cheese popper.

The stuffing can also be piped onto toasts or into small savory pastry shells and baked as you would the peppers, or mix the stuffing recipe here in its entirety with 2 ( 8oz) blocks of cream cheese and then baked in small well greased muffin tins at 375 for about 30 mins to make bite-sized ham and cheese cheesecakes!

img_5156

You can also use the ham all by itself to make a mean mini ham biscuit – I particularly like these dressed with a new mustard I just discovered. Its Korean Mustard, produced by a South Carolina based company called Burnt and Salty and is available in Charlotte at the Savory Spice Shop in Southend. The sweet salty taste of the dry cured ham and the sweet spicy taste of the mustard are a match made in heaven and perfect on a one or two bite fresh baked biscuit!

 

 

So many variations -hope you have fun trying them all, but first back to the matters at hand. The Squash Blossoms and the master recipe for my local Ham and Cheese  stuffing.

Heidi’s Ham and Cheese Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Honey and Bechamel 

img_5267For the Squash Blossoms:

1 cup Uno Alla Volta feta cheese

3 local eggs, divided

1/2 cup chopped local parsley or spinach

½ cup shredded Goodnight Brothers Thin Sliced Dry Cured Country Ham

orange zest

12 squash blossoms from Tega Hill Farm

Flour

¾ cup breadcrumbs

For the béchamel

¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter

¼ cup all-purpose flour

img_52571½ cups whole local milk ( I used Hickory Hill Milk produced just outside of Greenville SC and available in Charlotte at Earthfare – its a wonderful cream top milk and – fun fact – is the milk from which Clemson Blue Cheese is made!)

2 tablespoons whole grain mustard ( or you can use the Burnt and Salty Korean Mustard for a nice kick!

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste

Directions for the blossoms:

Mix together feta, 1 lightly beaten egg, shredded ham and  parsley or spinach and orange zest. Season to taste.

Put the remaining 2 eggs in a bowl and whisk. Put the breadcrumbs in another bowl.

Carefully remove the stamen of each blossom and then pipe the  filling into each squash blossom and twist loosely at the end to close.

img_4991Dust the stuffed blossoms lightly with flour. And then dip each stuffed squash blossom in egg, then breadcrumbs, and transfer to a wire cake rack. This is the secret – allow the breading and egg to rest for about 5 minutes before placing the breaded blossoms on a parchment paper or silpat lined baking sheet.

Bake for 10 minutes, in a preheated 400 degree oven until the blossoms are lightly browned.

Remove from the oven. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.

For a savory dish, top the blossoms with the béchamel. For a sweeter note, drizzle them with local honey from Dancing Bees Honey before serving.

Directions for the béchamel:

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until foamy. Add flour and stir cook, until mixture is pale and foamy, about 3 minutes.

Gradually add milk, stirring until mixture is smooth.

Cook, stirring, until sauce is thick and coats the back of a wooden spoon.

Remove the bechamel from heat and whisk in mustard and nutmeg; season to taste with salt.

video graphic

And now click here to link to the video from my WBTV Morning Break cooking segment earlier this week. As I mentioned on air, the cheese from Uno Alla Volta and the squash blossoms from Tega Hill Farm and the honey from Dancing Bees Honey will all be available at the Matthews Community Farmers Market on Saturdays. The blossoms will only be available through the end of October, so get cooking and enjoy this special taste of the season.

img_5244

Chef Wolfgang Puck and Charlotte Based food & restaurant writer Heidi Billotto

Just as a reference, you will hear Kristen and me talking about chef Wolfgang Puck. The evening before my cooking segment, WP Kitchen & Bar restaurant in Charlotte had an event to raise funds and awareness for the Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina. The restaurant used the occasion to kick off the new fall menu and Wolfgang Puck and his brother Klaus were in town to help celebrate. This was the second time I had the pleasure of meeting Puck – he’s a great guy with tons of contagious energy and enthusiasm and is a huge supporter of the Food Bank. “If all of us just do a little,”,he said.” It makes a huge difference.”

img_5020

Bonus Recipe… In addition to make the ham and cheese salad and the stuffed squash Blossoms for the Charlotte Food Bloggers brunch, I also made homemade fresh baked Cheese Danish and Sticky Cinnamon Rolls. I promised the recipe and so here tis – enjoy!

Heidi’s Homemade Danish or Cinnamon Rolls

1 cup sour cream

½ cup organic sugar

1 tsp. salt

½ cup melted butter

½ cup warm water

2 Tbsp. yeast

2 local eggs

4 cups organic unbleached flour

For the cinnamon roll filling:

melted butter
, cinnamon, sugar, brown sugar

For the Danish filling:
 1 (6 oz) block cream cheese
, ¼ cup sugar
, 1 egg
 Your favorite jam or fruit spread

For the dough: Dissolve yeast in warm water with one teaspoon of the sugar. Stir and when a foam forms on the surface it is ready. If no foam appears within five minutes, then either your water was too hat or your yeast was old. Start again with cooler water and another package of yeast. 
Once the yeast starts to foam or proof, combine it with the other dough ingredients to form a soft but sticky dough.
Let rise 1 hour. Turn out onto a floured worksurface. Knead until smooth then roll dough out into a large rectangle about ¼ inch thick.

For cinnamon rolls: generously spread the dough with melted butter. Sprinkle with sugars and cinnamon. Roll up like a jelly roll. Cut the log of dough into 1 ½ inch thick slices. Place the slices in a buttered pan, cut side up. Drizzle with additional melted butter
Cover with a dish towel and let rise an additional 20 minutes. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 23-30 minutes.

For the Danish: combine cream cheese, egg and ugar and beat until smooth. Spread the filling down the center of the dough rectangle. Top with your favorite jam or fruit spread. Cut small slits along either side of the dough so that the dough on either side of the filling will resemble fringe. Starting from one end, fold the “fringe” pieces up and over the filling to encase the cream cheese and jam.
Place the finished Danish on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with a dish towel and let rise an additional 20 minutes. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 23-30 minutes.

 

 

 

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

DSC_0594

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.

 

GotTobeNC Competition Dining is in Greensboro

comp dining promoPutting my Competition Dining hat  on this week for the second Triad event of 2016 GotToBeNC Competition Dining series.

Last month we competed in a very successful series Winston-Salem and this week we are in Greensboro, NC.  One preliminary battle under our belts and a second scheduled for this evening with the regional finale on Thursday of this week, its fast and furious, but its been exciting as we have gotten the week in Greensboro underway.

 

Proximity Hotel photoWorking with our area lodging partner Proximity Hotel in GSO has afforded me the opportunity to experience all that America’s first Green Hotel has to offer.Proximity Hotel is the first hotel in America to receive the LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Its really quite a feat, hot water heated by solar panels, energy created my the motion of the elevators, well groomed plants and gardens all around – this is environmentally friendly done right in a luxurious setting that is down to the last detail – next time you visit Greensboro it is definitely one of the places you should stay!

chefs breakfast hobnob undercurrents best

Chefs from Undercurrent and The Hobnob with Competition Dining founder and host Jimmy Crippen and Jamie Hinson from 2016 sponsor Goodnight Brothers Country Hams

A trio of our sponsors, Goodnight Brothers Country Hams, the Greensboro CVB, and Joyce Farms, hosts our chefs to pre-battle breakfasts this week all at the Proximity’s Print Works Bistro – a charming cafe located on the lower level of the hotel. The restaurant is surrounded by gardens, the interiors are understated yet elegantly comfortable and the food is excellent. the green concept goes to the restaurant and kitchen as well with water cooled refrigeration and more. 

IMG_1624My first night in town I opted for a simple dinner at the Print Works bar –  I started with what may well be my new summer cocktail for the 2016 season -a French 702- a refreshingly delicious sip of gin, St Germain, lemony simple syrup and sparkling wine, oh my!  as I was in the mood  for just a bite or too – Printworks tomato and arugula flatbread,  and a bowl of incredible chilled cucumber soup  made for the  perfect “wind down meal after a busy day of traveling” repast and just another reason to visit Greensboro!

Competition Dining Greensboro Preliminaries

Four very talented teams will compete in the course of the trio of Competition Dining dinners in Greensboro.

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 10.03.28 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-20 at 10.02.56 PMLast night, the first night of the competition, hometown  chefs Michael Harkenreader, Noah Sheets & Chris Rosato , “Team Wiley Pickle Weasels” from Undercurrent Restaurant in Greensboro took on a trio of talent  found in chefs Matt Montandon, Donald Francis and Justin Neal all a part of “Team Hobnob”, the dream team from The Hobnob Restaurant  and Jordan Street Cafe, both in Brevard NC. It was battle Miso and Mushrooms – an evening of umami!

misoThe two  featured “Secret Ingredients ” for this flavorful evening both have North Carolina roots. The first a product one might be surprised to be a locally produced ingredient – traditional Japanese miso! Got To Be NC  organic, GMO and gluten free misos from Miso Masters Miso,  produced by North Carolina’s own The American Miso Company located in the foothills of Western North Carolina in the town Rutherfordton, NC. Who’d of thunk it?  But its true, in fact, for more culinary offings from Rutherfordton – check out the link at the end of this post; but, in the meantime, make no mistake, this miso is indeed the real thing, produced with care and quality beyond reproach. The American Miso Company is the largest producer of  traditional miso in the world and is proud to  produce high quality traditional misos, aged naturally ( sometimes for years) using traditional ingredients. Miso Masters makes 7 different varieties of traditional miso ( available to consumers  – as well as chefs – at area EarthFare and Whole Foods stores.

correct mushroom photoAlong with the Miso, the Undercurrent and Hobnob Competition Dining chefs also had six different varieties of locally grown wild mushrooms all from a relatively new Charlotte-based mushroom farm called Urban Gourmet Farms based in Charlotte NC.  I’ve written an article on this mushrooming operation for the Summer issue of Charlotte Living Magazine, on Charlotte area newsstands  and online soon, so look for more to come, but suffice to say that these mushrooms are some of the best locally grown product I have ever seen and many Charlotte area chefs agree. I was personally thrilled to be able to bring Urban Gourmet Farms into the Competition Dining series in hope that chefs across the state would be exposed to the quality and the flavor of this wonderful product.

Six Miso and Mushrooms plates later the first evening of Competition Dining ended with the win  going to long time competitor chef Michael Harkenreader and Team Wiley Pickle Weasels from Undercurrents restaurant in Greensboro. After having tasted Michaels talent for several years of Competition Dining I am excited to eat at Undercurrents soon; but  will also be planning a trip to Brevard as I was so impressed with the skill and talent of the team from The Hobnob.

That’s the thing about these Competition Dining dinners held across the state and why I love being on the core team that plans, promotes and executes these regional series. Not only does each series -held this year in Durham, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Raleigh, Charlotte and Wilmington – expose diners to a tremendous amount of locally grown, raised, caught and made local product, produce and protein; but it also exposes Competition Dining guests – and our thousands of followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – to a vast array of culinary talent in our state.

DSC_0104

I Love bringing together farmers at all of our Competition Dining events, here we have Michelle Smith and Hiram Ramirez from Urban Gourmet Farms with Randy Lewis from Ran-Lew Dairy

I always look for every opportunity to incorporate local farms into the mix and the Competition Dining pantry provided by our sponsors at Pate Dawson Southern Foods. This week in Greensboro I am proud to have worked with Competition Dining Chef Ref Chad Blackwelder to have brought produce from The Specialty Farmer, from the Waxhaw Farmers Market in Waxhaw NC; Rabbit from Clearview Farms from Lincolnton, NC and squash blossoms from Tega Hill Farms in Tega Hill, SC and of course Urban Gourmet Farms mushrooms into the Competition Dining pantry. In addition I have loved working with dairy farmer Randy Lewis from Ran -Lew Dairy to provide pint sized packages of his exquisite cream top whole and chocolate milk for our birthday gifts for this week!

Looking for your next new place for a spectacular meal, I encourage you to visit the Competition Dining website at CompetitionDining.com  and take a look at all of this year competitors for a list of some of the best restaurants in North Carolina.

In addition to my work with Competition Dining, this year I am working on a series of 3Day Weekend articles, taking in all the sites in each region as we compete  and will be sure to include all of these chefs and restaurant details in each article or post.

More Competition Dining Greensboro to come

comp dining promoBut last night was just the beginning in Greensboro. The second preliminary battle takes place this evening – Tuesday June 21 – and tickets are still available. Another team of Greensboro locals -chefs from Sedgefield Country Club, “Team Culinary Crushers” will take on “Team The Natives” from Native Kitchen and Social Pub from Swannanoa, North Carolina. Tickets for this second preliminary battle are still available – just click here to go directly to the reservation page

But wait, there’s more….If you would like to attend the Greensboro Finale on Thursday June 23, to see who takes it all and who gets to wear the coveted red chefs jacket, those tickets may still be purchased here

For the Rest of the Story, subscribe to this blog and follow me at HeidiBillottoFood.com. Heidi Billotto or Heidi Billotto Cooks on Facebook, @HeidiCooks on Twitter and @HeidiBillotto on Instagram

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOOD

For more about attending a Got to Be Nc Competition Dining event, in Greensboro this week, In Raleigh next month, in Charlotte in August or in Wilmington in September, simply visit CompetitionDining.com and click on the icon for each city – competing chefs and brackets are announced about a month out of each series.

If you would be interested in being a sponsor for the 2016 season of Competition Dining its still not too late to use this fun and exciting format to connect with North Carolina chefs and guests alike, and it just so happens that I am the person to talk to abut setting up a sponsorship for you your product or your company – just give me a shout at Heidi@CompetitionDining.com

For more on great eats  in Rutherfordton NC , check out an article I wrote for the Lake lure and Blue Ridge Foothills website and find out why I think the best burger may be found at the Rutherfordton County Airport! Here you go…

For more on Undercurrent Restaurant in Greensboro, visit Undercurrent.com Undercurrent Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

For more on The Hobnob in Brevard, NC, visit HobnobBrevard.com Hobnob Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato ; For more on Jordan Street Cafe in Brevard, NC, visit TheJordanStreetCafe.com Jordan Street Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

For more on Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, visit Sedgefieldcc.com

For more on Native Kitchen and Social Pub in Swannanoa, NC, visit NativeSocialPub.com Native Kitchen & Social Pub Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

For more on The Proximity Hotel and Printworks Bistro, visit  ProximityHotel.com Print Works Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

To see how Miso Master Miso is made, watch this informative video to get the whole story – great stuff!

For more info on Urban Gourmet Farms mushrooms, visit UrbanGourmetFarms.com – check out the story I wrote for Charlotte Living Magazine online at CharlotteLivingMagazine.com in the next couple of weeks!

For more info on Ran-Lew Dairy, visit  Ranlewdairymilkco.webstarts.com

And stay tuned for more about planning a Three Day Weekend in Greensboro, but if you just can’t wait, check out the website at Visit Greensboro – lots of great ideas for places to stay, places to visit and places to eat!

 

 

The 2015 GotToBeNc Competition Dining Series Springs into High Gear in the Queen City

BlackCompDiningLogoGet ready to enjoy North Carolina’s favorite Culinary Sport – tickets on sale NOW

If you thought you had to wait until late summer to enjoy North Carolina’s favorite culinary sport in the Queen City – think again. This year the GotToBeNc Competition Dining series kicks off the first weekend of Spring with a record breaking 24 chef line up! Charlotte can be proud to celebrate the fact that this, the largest Competition Dining series in history, will take place here from March 22 – May 19 with competitions on most Sundays and every Monday and Tuesday evening. Each of the dinners in Charlotte will take place at Bonterra Dining and Wine Room.

The fun each night starts as guests gather for libations starting around at 6 pm and each dinner kicks off promptly with a dramatically fun video presentation at 6:45.

jimmycrippenAs in years past here in Charlotte and at other series across the state, Competition Dining operates with a focus of bringing the chef, the farmer and the diner together.

Competition Dining creator Jimmy Crippen personally hosts each event with a genuine enthusiasm for what he does. from handling the introduction of chefs, judges and media  to personally walking dinner guests to their seat. His number one rule is to have fun; and that means everyone, from the chefs in the kitchen to the guest in the dining room.

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODIt has been my great pleasure to have gone from the official blogger of the Charlotte series to working as a part of the Competition Dining team.  At dinners across the state, my role is not only blogging the play by play after the fact; but also reporting it to you and the wining and dining public live as it happens via the Competition Dining social media on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Between dinners when I am not teaching cooking classes, catering or otherwise writing from my home base in Charlotte, I am the Competition Dining Sponsor Ambassador, garnering supportive companies, commodities, farms and individuals anxious to be a part of this state’s favorite culinary sport; and I assist chef Ref Bobby Zimmerman in the finding and selection of the much anticipated secret featured ingredients for each night’s battle – needless to say I am in my element and having a blast!

Ironman Forge knife by Charlotte Bladesmith Steve Watkins

Ironman Forge knife by Charlotte Bladesmith Steve Watkins

But enough about my role at Competition Dining dinners each night  – let’s turn the guys and gals that make this competition what it is – twenty four of this area’s most competitive chefs, each leading a team of three, vying for the bragging rites to the title, the coveted red chefs jacket from ALSCO, a custom made knife from Charlotte’s own Bladesmith Steve Watkins of Ironman Forge, and a check for $2000 plus entree into the Final Fire to be held this year in Raleigh on Halloween weekend!

 

Now that you know the what, when and where, here is the who and the how – the Charlotte line up of competing chefs with links to buy tickets for each individual battle! Come to one or come to them all – but whatever you do, don’t miss out – its so much fun – like eating at two of your favorite restaurants at the same time and enjoying a ton of North Carolina produce and product in the process. Can’t wait to see you there!

The Preliminary Round Battles

Battle March 22

 

On Sunday March 22, the Competition Dining Battle field finds Chef Miles Payne of littlespoon in Charlotte up against Chef Ryan Forte of Southminster Retirement Community in Charlotte. For Tickets visit http://tinyurl.com/lg7lvbb

Battle March 23

On Monday March 23 its Chef Paul Verica of Heritage Food and Drink in Waxhaw battling it out with Chef Vincent Giancarlo of Cantina 1511 in Charlotte For tickets visit http://tinyurl.com/k7m9jub

Battle March 24

 

On Tuesday March 24 the action heats up between Chef Tom Marlow of Mimosa Grill in Charlotte and Chef Ben Miles of BLT Steak in Charlotte. For tickets visit http://tinyurl.com/nlqpefqBattle March 29

 

The Competition Dining battle on Sunday March 29 finds Chef Joseph Cornett of The Flipside Cafe in Ft. Mill, SC up against Chef Jon Ernst of Cafe Monte French Bakery and Cafe in Charlotte. For tickets visit http://tinyurl.com/oq6alxv

Battle March 30

 

On Monday March 30 Chef Mike Suppa of Vivace Charlotte goes head to head against Chef Melissa Joy Claude of Joy’s Bistro in Boone NC For tickets visit http://tinyurl.com/mnpwp4j

 

Battle March 31The first two weeks of the Charlotte prelims end on Tuesday March 31 with Chef Aaron Rivera of the soon-to-be-open Tapas 51 in Ft. Mill up against another South Carolina culinarian Chef Neil Bratton of Local Dish also in Ft. Mill. For Tickets visit http://tinyurl.com/o9ax8u5

Slide84The preliminary rounds continue in April just after the Easter holiday with a battle on Monday April 6 in a battle that finds two non-traditional restaurants up against each other. Chef John Morey of Delaware North exec chef for the Bank of America Stadium vs Chef Brady Lutz, exec chef at the Cypress of Charlotte retirement community.  For tickets visit http://tinyurl.com/nclk8cm

 

On Tuesday April 7 its Chefs Ryan Daugherty & Eric Litaker co-exec chefs of Dogwood Battle April 7 Southern Table and Bar take on Chef Travis Garrett of The Mandrake Small Plates and Wine. For Tickets visit http://tinyurl.com/l297spq

The Quarter Finals

With this new 24-chef Competition format, the brackets have been set as one would for two 12-chef brackets – In the end there will be two championship rounds and eventually two Charlotte series champions will go to the Final Fire to compete for statewide bragging rites and the big prize package.

To keep things fair and the brackets in place, 8 returning Competition Dining chefs drew byes and automatically go on the compete in the series quarter finals against winners of the eight preliminary rounds. These are chefs who have competed in Competition Dining series in Charlotte and Asheville in years past.

Here are ticket links and competitors for the quarter final rounds:

Slide86Returning on Sunday April 12 is the 2014 Competition Dining City Finalist Chef Tom Dyrness of Mama Ricottas Restaurant. he will go up against the winner of the March 22 battle. For tickets to the April 12 event visit http://tinyurl.com/lxw82ov

 

Slide87Returning on Monday April 13 is  2014 Fire on the Rock semi finalist, Chef Steven Goff of the King James Public House in Asheville, NC. Steven will battle the winner of the March 23 battle. For tickets to the April 13 event visit http://tinyurl.com/ofk8649

Slide88Returning on Tuesday April 14 is 2014 Fire in the City Quarter Finalist Chef David Moore from Gallery Restaurant in Charlotte David faces the winner of the March 24 battle. For tickets to the April 14 event visit http://tinyurl.com/o9tmvy2

 

Slide89Returning on Sunday April 19 is 2014 Fire in the City Quarter Finalist Chef Chris Coleman from The Asbury in Charlotte. Chris goes up against the winner of the March 29 battle. For tickets to the April 19 event visit http://tinyurl.com/m7qszb6  

 

Slide90Returning on Monday April 20 is 2014 Fire in the City competitor Chef Clark Barlowe of Heirloom Restaurant in Charlotte. Clark will battle the winner of the March 30 battle. For tickets to the April 20 event visit http://tinyurl.com/pt2d7es

Slide91Returning to the Competition Dining ring on Tuesday April 21 is 2014 Fire in the City competitor Chef Ben Phillpott of Block & Grinder in Charlotte. Ben will take on the winner of the March 31 battle. For tickets to the April 21 event visit http://tinyurl.com/q6wyepe

Slide92Returning to the Competition Dining battle on Monday Tuesday April 27 is 2014 Fire in the City competitor Chef Brent Martin of The Summit in Charlotte. Brent will face the winner of the April 6 battle. For tickets to the April 27 event visit http://tinyurl.com/p9o64lt

 

Slide93Returning to battle in the last quarter final battle of 2015  on Tuesday April 28 is 2014 Fire on the Rock competitor Chef Michael Fisera of Lexington Avenue Brewery in Asheville. Michael will battle the winner of the April  7 event. For tickets to the April 28 event http://tinyurl.com/qzdlbja

comp dining promo

Semi Final and Grand Finale Rounds

After the 8 quarter final battles the chefs still standing will go into the semi final and final rounds  – tickets for those events are still available, but moving fast and will most certainly be sold out by the time those battles come around -so You Be The Judge -pick your battles and  purchase your tickets now at http://tinyurl.com/pznf8aj

I’ll be looking to see you there – Cheers!

 

 

 

Fire in the City Competition Dining 2014 | Charlotte Chefs are Hot to Get This Party Started

The GotToBeNC Competition Dining Series, a single-elimination culinary tournament of chefs, highlights the best of the state’s food, agriculture and culinary talent. North Carolina’s favorite culinary sport starts in Charlotte on August 18, 2014 when sixteen local chefs will go up one against the other, head to head, battle by battle in Charlotte’s own Fire in the City culinary competition.Each Fire in the City dinner takes place at the beautiful Bonterra Dining and Wine Room located at 1829 Cleveland Ave in historic SouthEnd. The  Bonterra kitchen provides a neutral battle field for these chefs from restaurants all around the city. The chefs come in around 11 or so, and following the lead of Chef Refs Laurence Willard and Billy Seay, take stock of what foodstuffs are available to them to use from the mobile pantry and then sit down for a presentation from Competition Dining host and creator, Jimmy Crippen, to learn the details on the secret ingredient for the evening. Then they get cooking till its time to plate and serve upwards of 150 guests each evening of the competition  – the fun and festivities each evening kick off at 7 pm.

There is nothing else like it any place else, you could say its the Sweet Sixteen of Charlotte’s culinary community.  To paraphrase Oprah, what I know for sure is, YOU DO NOT WANT TO MISS IT!  To make it even more fun, at each Competition Dining dinner two teams of talented chefs must each prepare their three courses using a secret or featured ingredient that comes from a North Carolina farmer or artisan producer. Award winning NC wines and local NC craft beers are also featured at each dinner.  Competition Dining is all about things Grown, Raised, Caught and Made in the great state of North Carolina.

Heidi with the city crew

Heidi Billotto with all of the 2014 Fire in the City chefs standing in front of the mobile pantry

 

And the best part is, you get the be the judge! At each dinner – or culinary battle – you, the diner, will delight in savoring six courses without knowing which chef prepared each dish. Its a blind tasting of sorts and as you eat, you’ll rate each plate using a specially designed interactive app which you will download on your smart phone. No smartphone, you say? No worries! The tech talented team at HitsTech, Competition Dining’s NC based tech support team, are on site and have smart phones you can borrow for the evening.

At meals end, final scores are revealed and just like you see on Iron Chef or Chopped, one team moves on to the next round and one team goes home.

And for the winner…

At stake for the series winner. along with the all important braggin rites, is a grand prize of $2,000, a handmade chef knife by Charlotte’s Own, Steve Watkins of Ironman Forge and the coveted “Red Chef Jacket.”

Additionally, the Fire In The City winning team moves on to the Final Fire Battle of Champions.
Hosted in Raleigh this November, the Final Fire will pit the Fire in the City winner up against other regional winners from 2014 competition dining series in the mountains (Fire on the Rock), the coast (Fire on the Dock), Fire in the Triad (Winston Salem Greensboro and High Point) and Fire in the Triangle (Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill) to crown a statewide winner.

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODThe Fire in the City Official Blog

As the official blogger of Fire in the City series and now the social media maven for Competition Dining across the state ( that’s me behind all of the Competition Dining Tweets and Facebook post) I’ll be there at every battle.  covering all the action, tweeting and facebooking along  the way and then posting the recap with notes on my favorite dishes and details on the  secret ingredients here on these blog pages each morning after.

If you want to follow along during each battle, periodically check  the Competition Dining Facebook page through the evening or follow along on Twitter by searching #CompDiningNC. Feel free to post your own ooohs and aaaahs as the food photos and course descriptives are posted and by all means, don’t hesitate to post your own comments on the action or in support of your favorite chefs along the way.

I can tell you from experience, that one or two nights of following along on the social media and you’re going to wish you were there in person. These dinners are like eating dinner at TWO of your favorite Charlotte restaurants at the same time and I can promise, its the most fun you’ll ever have on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday evening! So, Don’t Miss Out on this incredible culinary experience.

Make your reservations now, simply click here and then select each individual battle to link to that specific reservation page.

For more information about where you will find these chefs and their restaurants, outside of Competition Dining, follow the links to restaurant websites at the bottom of this page

as a PNG - charlotte living peice

I encourage you to go and dine with each of the Got To Be NC  Fire In The City chefs at their own individual restaurants, outside of all the Competition Dining fun, as well –

Here they are with links to their websites: 

Chef Luca Annunziate – Passion 8 – http://www.passion8bistro.com/ Passion8 Bistro on Urbanspoon

Chef Clark Barlowe – Heirloom Restaurant – http://www.heirloomrestaurantnc.com/ Heirloom Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Chef Tom Dyrness – Mama Ricotta’s – http://mamaricottasrestaurant.com/home/ Mama Ricotta's on Urbanspoon

Chef Brian Mottola  – e2 Emeril’s Eatery- http://www.emerilsrestaurants.com/e2-emerils-eatery E2 Emeril's Eatery on Urbanspoon

Chef David Feimster – Fahrenheit – http://www.chefroccowhalen.com/fahrenheit-charlotte/ Fahrenheit on Urbanspoon

Chef David Quintana – Southminster- http://www.southminster.org/exquisite-dining/

Chef David Moore – Gallery Restaurant – http://www.gallery-restaurant.com/ Gallery Restaurant at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge on Urbanspoon

Chef Ben Phillpott – Block and Grinder –http://blockandgrinder.com/ Block & Grinder on Urbanspoon

Chef Brent Martin – The Summit Room- http://www.thesummitrm.com/ The Summit Room on Urbanspoon

Chef Jon Spencer – Epic Chophouse and Chillfire Bar and Grill- http://www.epicchophouse.com/ Epic Chophouse on Urbanspoon

Chef Chris Coleman – The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel – http://www.theasbury.com/ The Asbury on Urbanspoon

Chef Brian Williams – Upstream – http://www.harpersgroup.com/upstream.asp Upstream on Urbanspoon

Chef Nicholas Daniels – The Wooden Vine – http://thewoodenvine.com/ The Wooden Vine Wine Bar and Bistro on Urbanspoon

Chef  Paul Ketterhagen – Carpe Diem – http://www.carpediemrestaurant.com/ Carpe Diem Restaurant and Caterers on Urbanspoon

Chef Jon Fortes – Mimosa Grill – http://www.harpersgroup.com/mimosa.asp Mimosa Grill on Urbanspoon

Chef David “Sully” Sullivan – The Fish Market – http://www.fishmarketbarandgrill.com/ Fish Market Seafood Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

 

 

 

The heat is on and headed your way – Competition Dining cruises the state of North Carolina Preaching the Gospel of Eating and Drinking Local

BlackCompDiningLogoThe competition is heating up – that’s the Got To Be NC Competition Dining, of course, and as of this spring time post, NC favorite culinary sport is well on it way into is 2014 season. With Fire on the Dock on the NC coast and Fire in the Rock in the Boone, Blowing Rock, Asheville area now over and decided, the Fire in the Triad series is now in the semi final stage. Next up, Fire in the Triangle and then  its Charlotte’s turn at Fire in the  City.

I've cooked up a special deal on tickets to Charlotte's Fire in the City preliminary rounds - check it out at the end of this blog!

I’ve cooked up a special deal on tickets to Charlotte’s Fire in the City preliminary rounds – check it out at the end of this blog!

If you have followed this blog from its inception, you will know that in 2013 I was named the Official Blogger for the  2013 Fire in the City Competition Dining series. This year the competition comes to Charlotte for another much anticipated season; so anticipated, in fact, that even though the competing chefs and brackets have yet to be named, ticket sales are already brisk.

Charlotte’s Fire in the City takes place starting August 18 – Sept 29,  and I have a special deal for you at the end of this post for $10 off each ticket, so you’ll have to act quickly – but more about that later – for now you don’t have to wait to join in all the fun.

As many of you know since the beginning of the  Greensboro – Winston-Salem – High Point, Fire in the Triad series, I have been working for my friend Jimmy Crippen and Competition Dining, handling social media, coming up with fun promotions and helping to be a liason between the competition, chefs, diners, local ingredients and more telling the story all along the way. In the Triad I have had the pleasure of meeting many talented chefs and their families, and have been happy to tell their stories.

The Sixteen triad chefs who have competed in the Got to be NC Competition Dining Fire in the Triad series

The Sixteen Triad chefs who have competed in the Got to be NC Competition Dining Fire in the Triad series

This week marks the semi finals of the Triad Fire, down to the wire, last night and tonight   May 27 and 28 will determine which two triad chefs go to the final battle on Monday June 2 which will determine the Fire in the Triad champion.

Ready, set, cook... Competition Dining host Jimmy Crippen poses with Fire in the Triad semi finalists Chef Tim Thompson and Chef Mark Grohman as the day kicks off.

Ready, set, cook… Competition Dining host Jimmy Crippen poses with Fire in the Triad semi finalists Chef Tim Thompson and Chef Mark Grohman as the day kicks off.

Last night the heat was on in the first semi final battle between two culinary talents found in Chef Tim Thompson from Marisol Restaurant in Greensboro and Chef Mark Grohman from Meridian Restaurant in Winston-Salem. These two stand up guys and their teams had great fun during the day but all the while took the task of preparing six courses for 140+ guests quite seriously.

 

pepsi and peanuts

 

 

 

As with all Competition Dining battles, this one revolved around two signature North Carolina ingredients – Pepsi and peanuts!  The tradition, now a fun bar trick, of putting peanuts in a bottle of glass of Pepsi started on local NC farms – the farm help couldn’t carry a glass or bottle and a bite to eat and still have all hands on deck to do the work; so they combined the snack and beverage and at the end of each row, took a swig to get a drink and something to munch on at the same time. Today its a fun combination of sweet and salty that remains a crowd pleaser!

The evening was full of excitement and in the end it was chef Tim Thompson  and his team from Greensboro’s Marisol Restaurant that took the win. Chefs each had a large box of shelled peanuts from the American Peanut Co. in North Carolina and 2 1/2 gallons of Pepsi syrup with which to work.

To my mind, the most successful savory  courses this evening, I thought, cleverly added spice of Sambal and a local NC Sriracha called Cha! produced by the makers of Texas Pete. The hot and spice counteracted the sweet in the savory courses and then chefs played up the peanut and Pepsi combo in dessert. Here are some shots of the behind the scene action during the day, the final dishes with a bit of my editorial in the descriptives and more…

Course One - Chef Tim Thompson and team Marisol

Course One – Chef Tim Thompson and team Marisol

COURSE 1 by Chef Tim Thompson and team Marisol was one of Marisol’s highest scoring plates of the evening right out of the shoot. It was comprised of a Heritage Farms Pork tenderloin, rubbed with Lusty Monk mustard, local honey, roasted garlic fresh rosemary and Dijon mustard; then served with a wasabi aioli,  a ginger-Pepsi red cabbage slaw, a peanut-sambal Puree,  and a swirl of Pepsi “Liquer”

 

Course 2 - Chef Mark Grohman and Team Meridian

Course 2 – Chef Mark Grohman and Team Meridian

Chef Mark Grohman and the team from Meridian offered COURSE 2 a Pepsi braised  Cheshire Farm pork butt, wrapped in Swiss chard and served with a, Potato- Peanut Gratin, Grilled Brocollini,  and Texas Pete Cha!-Pepsi Reduction

 

Course 3 - Chef Tim Thompson and Team Marisol

Course 3 – Chef Tim Thompson and Team Marisol

COURSE 3 went back the Chef Tim Thompson and team Marisol. the focus on the plate was a very successful peanut – panko crusted Veal Milanese with a Coffee-Bacon-Brown Sugar-Pepsi Veal Stock Reduction and a side of Dijon Garlic Mash potatoes, and Micro Greens dressed with a honey sherry vinegar and a whole grain mustard emulsion

 

Course 4 - Chef Mark Grohman and Team Meridian

Course 4 – Chef Mark Grohman and Team Meridian

COURSE 4 from Chef Mark Grohman and team Meridian cam as a Bacon Wrapped  roulade of veal stuffed with a clever shiitake and peanut Duxelle and served with a sweet potato apple puree, delicious caramelized onion Brussels sprouts,  and a blueberry Pepsi® reduction

And then the chefs wowed the crowd’s collective sweet tooth with  desserts….

 

Course 5 dessert from Chef Tim Thompson and Team Marisol

Course 5 dessert from Chef Tim Thompson and Team Marisol

In COURSE 5, team Marisol offered Pepsi Cheesecake, with a peanut graham cracker crust,  a side of salted caramel ice cream, and a Pepsi infused chocolate sauce

 

 

Course 6 - from Chef mark Grohman and Team Meridian

Course 6 – from Chef mark Grohman and Team Meridian

And finally in COURSE 6 every enjoyed a step back to their childhood – or perhaps their last camping trip – with Meridian’s take on the classic S’more… this time made with roasted peanuts, a Bruleed Pepsi Marshmallow, Dark Chocolate,  and hand crafted peanut brittle

If you are in the Winston-Salem or Greensboro area you should definitely make reservations at both Meridian and Marisol and see just what Chefs Mark Grohman and Tim Thompson and their talented teams do on a regular basis when they are not in the throws of competition.

For more info on Mark Grohman’s Meridian, visit  Meridianws.com, or LIKE them on Facebook by clicking here  Meridian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

For more info on Tim Thompson and Marisol, TheMarisol.com  or LIKE them on Facebook by clicking here

Marisol on Urbanspoon

Meanwhile – here are some backstage shots of Marisol and Meridian chefs at work enjoying North Carolina’s newest culinary sport of Competition Dining…

 

DSC_1056Chef Mark Grohman in the thick of things and then with his team, chefs Levi Harris and Vernon James Ealey

 

 

 

 

Tim Thompson

Finally got Chef Tim Thompson to  look up from peeling potatoes and give the camera a smile!

team marisol in action

           

Team Marisol in action during prep – Wayne Atkins in the back making the cheesecake, Tim Thompson center and Marvin Merida making strawberry flowers

all the May 27 chefsAll of the chefs  from semi final teams Marisol and Meridian after the battle with Pate Dawson – Southern Foods chef refs, Laurence Willard and Billy Seay, center and Chef Laura from The Elm Center, Painted Plate Catering

and now for the special offer for Fire in the City Tickets….

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODAs A Thank You for reading this blog post by Charlotte Culinary Expert Heidi Billotto, we would like to offer you the unique opportunity to purchase discounted tickets to a dinner or dinners at North Carolina’s newest Culinary Sport

Competition Dining’s Fire in the City

Preliminary Dinners take place August 18 – September 3

Quarter Finals Semi Finals and Final Fire held September 8 – 29

All dinners will take place at Bonterra Restaurant on Worthington Ave. in Charlotte, but reservations must be made online

Competing chefs will be announced in early August – check this link for details – http://www.competitiondining.com/events/fire-in-the-city or follow Heidi on Facebook at Heidi Billotto or Heidi Billotto Cooks or on Twitter at @HeidiCooks or subscribe to this blog.

In the meantime, to receive $10 off the purchase of any preliminary round ticket, make your purchases before midnight on May 31 using the following links

Aug 18 – https://cityprelim1.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

 Aug 19 – https://cityprelim2.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

 Aug 20 – https://cityprelim3.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

 Aug 25 – https://cityprelim4.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

 Aug 26 – https://cityprelim5.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

 Aug 27 – https://cityprelim6.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

 Sep 2 – https://cityprelim7.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

 Sep 3 – https://cityprelim8.eventbrite.com/?discount=HBcc

To make reservations for any of the Fire in the Triangle Competition  Dining battles in Raleigh visit, the Fire in the Triangle page of the Competition Dining website

To make reservations for any of Charlotte’s Fire in the City in Charlotte quarter finals, semi finals or Final Fire visit, the Fire in the City page of the Competition Dining website

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

North Carolina's own High Rock Farm Pecans

North Carolina’s own High Rock Farm Pecans

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

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

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

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

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

The historic home at High Rock Farm in Gibsonvie, NC

The historic home at High Rock Farm in Gibsonville, NC

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

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

Brianne McAlister and Richard Teague from High Rock Farm

Brianne McAlister and Richard Teague from High Rock Farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chefs  John and Lucia Bobby

Chefs John and Lucia Bobby

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

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

Chef Anthony Zinani - Fights Restaurant

Chef Anthony Zinani – Fights Restaurant

 

North Carolina Sweet Potato – High Rock Farms Pecan Grits

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

6 cups roasted High Rock Farms Pecans, roughly chopped

4 cups Gilford Stone Ground Grits

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

1 lb. mascarpone cheese

2 qts chicken stock

1 qt. heavy cream

1 Tbsp,. ground cumin

3 cups brown sugar

salt and pepper to taste

2 Tbsp. powdered ginger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battle cheerwine and cackalacky 036

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

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

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

Final Fire's November 20 Sweet Secret

Final Fire’s November 20 Sweet Secret

A Clandestine Combo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 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 A. B. Vannoy Hams with Chef Brent Martin from The Peculiar Rabbit and Chef Tom Dyrness from Upstream Seafood. Martin edged Dyrness by just over 1 point!

Last night’s Battle A. B. Vannoy Country Hams was a close one.  It came down to the scoring of the last dish before it was clear that Chef Brent Martin from The Peculiar Rabbit would take this win.

The team from The Peculiar Rabbitt

The team from The Peculiar Rabbit

Cooking for team Peculiar Rabbit along with Chef Martin, were Chefs Geoff Bragg and Andrew Melton; cooking for team Upstream Seafood was Chef Tom Dyrness with Chefs Sean Anderson and Brian Williams. 

The team from Upstream Seafood

The team from Upstream Seafood

I was there for the noon welcome to the chefs and the presentation of the  secret ingredient.

Prior to that, chefs had already some time to look around the kitchen at Bonterra Dining and Wine Room, a neutral ground and beautiful “battlefield” for each of these Fire in the City Competition Dining dinners.  The chefs were given time to explore the mobile pantry, provided by the Competition’s title sponsor Pate Dawson – Southern Foods and  stocked full of fresh and shelf stable items with which to cook. They also were encouraged to  take inventory of ingredients and equipment and get a feel for the set up.

I asked chefs for any first impressions of the day – they were all excited, ready to begin and eagerly anticipating the presentation of the secret ingredient. ” It will either be pure joy or shear terror,” said Chef Williams from team Upstream Seafood.

As Competition Dining creator, Jimmy Crippen announced that the secret ingredient this day was Country Ham, all six chefs on both of the teams  looked  pleased. Chef Brent Martin from Peculiar Rabbit told me he was happy, but that the idea of including  country ham in each dish, had thrown his dessert idea out the window – “But, we’ll regroup,” he told me. And regroup they did – more about that in a bit.

Nancy Jordon in t he Curing room with country hams from A.B. Vannoy Hams

Nancy Jordon in t he Curing room with country hams from A.B. Vannoy Hams

from left - Byron Jordon, Tom Dyrness, Nancy Jordon and Brent Martin

from left – Byron Jordon, Tom Dyrness, Nancy Jordon and Brent Martin

A Ham so good, it’ll….

It is no wonder that the chefs were pleased with the secret ingredient. Cured and distributed from A.B. Vannoy in West Jefferson, NC, these hams are slow-cured to insure a quality product. Each ham is hand rubbed with what owners Byron and Nancy Jordon deem to be just the right blend of salt and  brown sugar  then  are hung on racks to complete a 9-month curing process.   Unlike other country hams  there are no chemicals, preservatives, nitrates, or nitrites involved in the process at all. Just salt, brown sugar, fresh mountain air and time.

Gotta love it!  And Rick Stapleton, VP and General Manager – Greensboro for Pate Dawson – Southern Foods does! What does Rick think of this particular Secret Ingredient?

Heidi Billotto, official blogger for Fire in the City, with Pate Dawson-Southern Foods' Rick Stapleton and Bryon and Nancy Jordon ( seated.

Heidi Billotto, official blogger for Fire in the City, with Pate Dawson-Southern Foods’ Rick Stapleton and Bryon and Nancy Jordon ( seated)

I tweeted this quote  out last night during dinner, but in case you missed it, Rick says, ” This country ham is so good, it’ll make your tongue slap your brains out!”

Maybe, Rick; but as good as each individual NC grown product turned secret ingredient is – it is what the competing chefs do with the product that matters in these culinary battles.

Each of the six chefs from The Peculiar Rabbit and Upstream seafood worked the line to get everything plated and out to 120 hungry diners.

Each of the six chefs from The Peculiar Rabbit and Upstream seafood worked the line to get everything plated and out to 120 hungry diners.

This group of six chefs worked hard to bring out the nuances of the ham and make it work with a combination of good-tasting ingredients.

If your singular country ham experience has been on a biscuit for breakfast – you are in for a wild ride as you read the descriptives below. Each bite of each dish was full of flavor and while some dishes highlighted the ham more than others, each dish enjoyed high scores.

While chef teams prepped and cooked individually during the fast moving 6 hours prior to the dinner, they all helped each other plate and serve 120 hungry diners who enjoyed each innovative course.

While it is a competition, its also a time for chefs to work together and get to know each other. Of course, everyone wants the win, but  it’s nice to know that these chefs do have fun in the process.

Davyee Sutton from WCNC-TV covering all the action

Dayvee Sutton from WCNC-TV covering all the action

And the crowd had fun too – while everyone in attendance get to vote, there are a group of three professional judges invited each evening  and  their vote is slightly weighted. Among the “Pro” judges this night were Owner and Executive Chef of Zebra Restaurant, Chef Jim Alexander;  Linda Seligman of Charlotte Epicurean Magazine and Craig Utt of Axis Marketing. All were impressed with the venue, the concept and the culinary results.

WCNC-TV’s Dayvee Sutton was also on hand with photographer Matt taping all the action for a spot to run later this week or next on WCNC’s midday program, Charlotte Today.

Plates Please Collective Palates

Tom Dyrness' Low Country Ham Boil, Corn-Andouille-Shrimp & Country Ham Broth

Tom Dyrness’ Low Country Ham Boil, Corn-Andouille-Shrimp & Country Ham Broth

The evening started with a light and delicious plate from Team Upstream seafood and chef Tom Dyrness –  the broth was quite flavorful and while it was a simple presentation, the ham wrapped shrimp sealed the flavor deal for me.

Course 1 Low Country Ham Boil, Corn-Andouille-Shrimp & Country Ham Broth

Hoppyum BBQ Shrimp, Country Ham Corn Pudding, Chili Oil, Curled Chives from Chef Brent Martin

Hoppyum BBQ Shrimp, Country Ham Corn Pudding, Chili Oil, Curled Chives from Chef Brent Martin

Course 2 – Interestingly this was also a shrimp and corn creation but this time by Chef Brent Martin and the Peculiar Rabbit team, The dish was comprised of  Hoppyum BBQ Shrimp atop Country Ham Corn Pudding with  Chili Oil and fun Curled Chives. This dish garnered high marks from the judges and the crowd both in taste and presentation and with that melt-in-your-mouth Country Ham Corn Pudding its no wonder – more please!

Palmetto Quail & Country Ham Roulade  with a NC White BBQ Sauce and a puree of Apple & Rutabaga

Palmetto Quail & Country Ham Roulade with a NC White BBQ Sauce and a puree of Apple & Rutabaga

Course 3 was from Chef Tom Dyrness and was the other high scoring plate of the evening  and another of this food writer’s faves-  a clever Palmetto Quail and  Country Ham Roulade sat front and center on the plate atop of round of braised leek. The roulade was finished with a NC White BBQ Sauce alongside a puree of Apple & Rutabaga – intricate, innovative and delicious, too!

Lusty Monk Cheshire Pork Belly, Country Ham-Fig-Walnut Crust,  Golden Tomato Relish, Beet Broth, Chive Oil, Rutabaga Puree

Lusty Monk Cheshire Pork Belly, Country Ham-Fig-Walnut Crust, Golden Tomato Relish, Beet Broth, Chive Oil, Rutabaga Puree

Course 4 from Chef Brent Martin – A Lusty Monk Cheshire Pork Belly, Country Ham-Fig-Walnut Crust,  Golden Tomato Relish, Beet Broth, Chive Oil, Rutabaga Puree. Honestly, too much on this plate for me and the tang of the mustard overpowered the taste of the country ham.  While the dish scored well, it was Martin’s lowest scoring plate of the evening.

.

…And then there were desserts! Yes desserts, each made with  the A.B. Vannoy Country Ham. Nancy and Bryon Jordon were blown away  with these two incarnations of their hand rubbed and slow cured pork and so was  everyone else! 

Salty Chocolate Pavè, Oatmeal Biscuit, Brown Sugar & Country Ham Ice Cream

Salty Chocolate Pavè, Oatmeal Biscuit, Brown Sugar & Country Ham Ice Cream

Course 5 – From Tom Dyrness of Upstream Seafood –  Salty Chocolate Pavè, Oatmeal Biscuit, Brown Sugar & Country Ham Ice Cream –  Yes country ham ice cream…for me it was the mix of sweet and salty that made it all work

 

Apple Mascarpone Semifreddo, Cider Reduction, Blueberry Coulis, Sparkling Cider Jell-O Shot, Candied Country Ham

Apple Mascarpone Semifreddo, Cider Reduction, Blueberry Coulis, Sparkling Cider Jell-O Shot, Candied Country Ham

In Course 6 from Chef Brent Martin – an Apple Mascarpone Semifreddo, Cider Reduction, Blueberry Coulis, Sparkling Cider Jell-O Shot, Candied Country Ham scored just point higher than Dyrness’ dessert and helped him capture the win.  If  you are asking, I think it was the oh, so, clever sparkling cider Jell-O shots that nailed it.

At Evening’s end the win went to Chef Brent Martin  and the team from Peculiar Rabbit. Congrats, Brent!!    They will go on to compete in the quarter finals on October 5 against the team from Wooden Vine.

Ticket Sales and T-Shirts

the Official Competition Dining T-Shirt - get yours today!

The Official Competition Dining T-Shirt – get yours today!

As the word is spreading, the tickets for each night are selling fast. Tickets are still available for most of the quarter final rounds and a few other nights as well. To make your reservations and secure a place at the table for more good things to come – visit the NC Competition Dining – Fire in the City page on this blog and click the links to reserve your space. Do it now – you don’t want to miss out!

And in support of the competition by sure to order your own official Competition Dining T-Shirt! These made in NC tees come in two colors and a variety of men’s and women’s sizes.

The Got To Be NC Competition Dining Series is teaming up with TS Designs in Burlington, NC to bring you our 100% North Carolina-born-and-raised apparel. Our shirts are made with TS Designs’ “Cotton of the Carolinas.” The cotton is produced “dirt-to-shirt” right here in the state, and the company supports 500 jobs within a 600-mile radius.

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!

Visit cottonofthecarolinas.com to trace the supply chain and meet fellow North Carolinians behind all nine steps of the manufacturing process, from growing to ginning to dying.

We are all a community of chefs, farmers, or diners. Support your neighbors and wear the shirt!

For more information on The Peculiar Rabbit located at 1212 Pecan Ave in the Plaza Midwood neighborhood, 704.333.9197, visit www.ThePeculiarRabbit.com

For more information on Upstream Seafood located at 6902 Phillips Pl Ct., 704.556.7730, visit http://www.harpersgroup.com/upstream.asp

For more information on those delicious slow cured country hams – visit www.abvannoyhams.com

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

Fire in the City – The Heat is On, Charlotte!!!

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODFor information on how to book your reservations for Charlotte’s Fire in the city Competition Dining series – click here to the NC Competition Dining page on this blog

For the story on how Competition Dining in Charlotte came to be, read on…..

Several years ago I had the distinct pleasure of being a judge for one of the Fire on the Rock culinary competitions at Crippen’s Country Inn and Restaurant  in Blowing Rock.

The idea for a competiton between the  talented  chefs in the Boone and Blowing Rock region  was the brainchild of restaurateur Jimmy Crippen. He saw it as a way to create some culinary excitement in the area during the off-season. The chefs came to compete on neutral ground ( Crippen’s ) and to make it fun,  Jimmy followed the Iron Chef/Chopped idea of featuring a secret ingredient; but made it his own with the help of food distributors from Pate Dawson/Southern Foods.

At competition dining dinners, you see, the secret ingredient is homegrown – Good to Be In NC products are featured at each and every dinner and the chefs must incorporate them in each course.  That first  dinner I attended was delicious and tons of fun – three courses, two plate for each course and not only did the invited professional judges vote, but everyone at the dinner  voted ( via a Smart phone app) for their favorite dish from each course in an effort to come up with the champion of the culinary battle.

I spoke with Jimmy then about how he wanted to develop the concept. It wasn’t long before Fire on the Rock , opened way to Fire on the Dock in the Wilmington area; and then to Fire in the Triad, in the Raleigh , Durham and Greensboro region.  The Competiton Dining concept has been such a success that Jimmy has since sold the old Crippen’s and is now working exclusively on developing Competition Dining.

Jimmy Crippen and his Competition Dining team don’t do anything in a small way – these dinner are top notch culinary events where everyone enjoys the food and the frivolity – while its a serious competition with high stakes on the line, and  the chefs are very intent on their part of the evening;  Crippen makes it all entertaining – never a dull moment from the start to finish of each dinner.

Jimmy Crippen Your host for each evening of the Fire in the City Competition Dining

Jimmy Crippen
Your host for each evening of the Fire in the City Competition Dining

After much anticipation,  starting next week, September 3,  Crippen’s NC Competition Dining now comes to Charlotte as Fire in the City – a bracketed culinary competition between 16 of the Queen City’s most talented chefs, each bringing their A game to the culinary battlefield and having a great time all along the way – don’t miss out on all the fun-filled action.

At each dinner,  two restaurants battle it out side by side in a single elimination,  using a blind dinner format and you can be a part of it all!

The dinners start on September 3 and run though Oct 22. Tickets are on sale now for each individual dinner  at www.competitiondining.com. Don’t miss out – make your reservations now!!

I am very proud to say that HeidiBillottoFood.com is the official blog of the Fire in the City competition!

Experience the dinners you can’t attend vicariously, by following me via this blog as I savor my way through each of the 15 evenings of the competition. Check back after each individual dinner to get  front row seat on what went on behind the scenes on the kitchen line, what  the chefs first impressions were, photos of all the dishes, what the secret ingredient was,   what diners thought , and most importantly which chef moved up a bracket to compete another day, one step closer to the prize of being Charlotte’s first Fire in the City champion.

Each of the Fire in the City Competition Dining dinners will take place at Bonterra Dining & Wine Room, a fabulous Charlotte dining spot  in  a  110 year old historic church building  at 1829 Cleveland Ave, Charlotte, NC.    Arrive early if you like and  kick off the evening with a cocktail hour in Bonterra’s award-winning bar. Guests are invited to purchase wine, beer or mixed drinks and enjoy;  then the Dinners begin at 7 pm sharp.

As  a participant , you get to savor a six-course menu (three courses from each chef without knowing whose food you’re tasting) created around a “Mystery” North Carolina ingredient. The ingredient is revealed to the chefs at noon the day of their battle and it must be used in each of their three courses.

Check out my Fire in the City – NC Competition Dining page on this blog to see who the culinary contenders are, check out each of the brackets and decided which dinners you’d like to attend.

Reservations are a must  and tickets are selling like wild fire ( pun intended), so call your friends and make your reservations now!

HOW IT WORKS: Paying guests will savor each course in a blind tasting alongside a panel of culinary and celebrity judges in a series of 15 dinner competitions. Each evening, two restaurants “battle” it out side-by-side in a single elimination format. Guests savor a six-course menu (three dishes from each chef without knowing whose food they’re tasting) created around a “featured” ingredient. For each dinner, the ingredient will come from a North Carolina farmer or artisan producer. The featured ingredient is revealed to the chefs only an hour before they start cooking, and it must be used in each of the three courses. It’s going to be great fun to see what our Charlotte chefs do to creatively and deliciously present this local and regional product.

Diners, alongside culinary and guest judges, will rate each dish and determine who moves on to the next round and who goes home. At stake in each series is a grand prize of $2,000, a handmade chef knife by Ironman Forge in Charlotte, and the coveted “Red Chef Jacket.” The runner-up receives $500. Reservations for dinners cost $59 excluding beverage, tax and tip. Reservations for the semi-final and final are $69. Diners can attend as many dinners as they like.

Don’t wait to make your reservations, I’ll count on seeing you there!   Tickets are on sale now at www.competitiondining.com.