Fire in the Triad: Bin 33 Vs Milner's ~ Nik Snacks

Bite it and write it. That's what I do. Fueled by butterbeans & collard greens.

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Please read my blog for a nightly recap of Fire in the Triad posts to stay in the loop. You can also follow me on twitter @niksnacks and the hashtag #CompDiningNC for live updates during each battle (dinner begins at 7pm). Please also follow Competition Dining on Facebook or the web

Fingers, toes, knives and forks were crossed around the Triad as the final preliminary battle between a Greensboro & Winston-Salem chef went down Tuesday night. Chef Taylor Brett of Bin 33 in Greensboro met up with Chef John Milner of Milner's in Winston-Salem. Meet both chefs below:

Chef Taylor Brett
Chef John Milner
There was electricity in the air during the first Fire in the Triad, but Tuesday night, the electricity was real and apparent. First, there were a few technical difficulties with the ├╝ber-technologically advanced A/V system, but after all of that was taken care of, I noticed all of the famous faces in the room.

The night's judges were Anna Mae Hagewood of Anna Mae Southern Bread Company and Dianne Blancato of 123 Cuisine

Every night, David Stansfield and Rick Stapleton of wholesale food distribution company Pate Dawson Foods--parent company of Southern Foods and William Mutton of Meat and Seafood Solutions, LLC grace us with their presence. The companies are responsible for providing all of the food for the competition. 

Former colleagues of mine, Carla Kucinski and Carl Wilson represented sponsor Go Triad and my friend, Kristi Marion (on behalf of MyWinstonSalem.com and Forsyth Family Magazine), and Robert Johnson of Smith Street Diner joined in on the fun that is Competition Dining, as well.

After the litany of introductions, it was time to eat! The night's secret ingredient...
 
HEIRLOOM TOMATOES & SCUPPERNONG GRAPES

Four types of tomatoes were available to use and did you know that the scuppernong grape is North Carolina's official fruit? You learn something new every day! Now let me tell you about each course:

 
Jalapeno-Citrus Carolina Shrimp, Cucumber Quick Pickle, Gold Tomato-Ginger Sorbet, Celery-Scallion Salad
This first course was absolutely delicious! Fresh, chilled and a nice light course, this was perfect to set off the night. The smooth, creamy gold tomato-ginger sorbet melted over the spicy shrimp. The cucumbers were cool, crisp and had a light pickle that complemented the celery-scallion salad and everything else on the plate. There were no complaints OR comments about this dish from anyone at my table. Everyone was too busy eating!

Alderwood-Smoked Salt and Brown Sugar-Cured Pheasant Breast, Dried Fruit-Farro Salad, Scuppernong Reduction, Honey-Spiced Tomato Jam
I thought it a wise choice to have something heavier after the light first course, but the dried fruit-farro dominated the dish. Mixed in with the farro and drizzled on the plate, was the scuppernong reduction. There was a clove/juniper-like flavor that I detected, but couldn't quite place what it was. The honey-spiced jam was delicious and I wished there was more! The little half-teaspoon of it on the pheasant wasn't nearly enough. It was the best part of the dish.

Smoked, Roasted Ashley Farms Pheasant Breast, Tomato-Feta Bread Pudding, Carrot Puree, Juniper-Scuppernong Pheasant Jus
At this point, I had to be sure this was Battle Tomato and not Battle Pheasant, because both courses were vying for top billing of the night. This portion of pheasant was smoky, succulent and paired with perfectly smooth, savory carrot puree. The best part (and the smallest part) of this dish was the tomato-feta bread pudding. As I stabbed my fork into it and folded it open, a parcel of feta and tomato sat right in the middle of the croquette of pudding. Di. Vine.
Tomato-Gravy Braised Leg of Lamb, Tri-Tomato Sweet Potato Old Mill of Guilford Grits, Tasso Crumble
I love lamb. Leg o' lamb is what my mother cooks every Easter and most Christmases. When I get it any other time of the year, it's a treat. And this was a treat. The tender chunks of lamb couldn't stay away from my fork. Or my spoon. I ate one of my tablemate's portion, because I loved it so much (and she gave it to me. May God bless her vegetarian soul).
The best use of the secret ingredient of the night, the tomato gravy was deep, dark and flavorful but reminded me of what gourmet Campbell's Tomato Soup would taste like. The gravy dominated the dominated the plate and masked the flavor of the sweet potato flavored grits. The tasso crumble was delicious, but I wished there was just a little more of it and less gravy.

Herb-Roasted Lamb Loin, Gold Potato-Goat Cheese Fondue, Pistachio-Mint Pesto, Tomato Tartar, Cherokee Purple Espagnole Sauce
Again... is this Battle Lamb? Two courses back-to-back, using the same protein? Where's the tomato? It was masked as a tomato tartar, which was basically a tomato salsa, sitting astride a flavorful pistachio-mint pesto. Mint + lamb = love. I thought I loved the last course's lamb... this lamb became the others' big brother very quickly. So tender, juicy, perfect medium rare AND burrowed in a cloud of the lightest, fluffiest potato-goat cheese fondue EVER. As I type this, I'm getting hungry again just thinking about and I finished eating a mere hour ago.

As we all waited for the final course, I started praying for a real, honest-to-goodness dessert and not one masked as something else. I also prayed for ice cream. One of my prayers were answered.

Tomato-Green Onion Chevre Tart, Feta Gelato, Blackberry-Balsamic Reduction, Candied Mint
Can someone PLEASE explain to me the purpose of a cheese course at the end of a meal?

I entered this course with trepidation. I was not in the mood for love cheese but I am an adventurous sort (at times), so I went in. The tart was actually delicious! Chilled and full of flavor, the tomato was not the center of this dish. The chevre, followed by the feta gelato (I loved the candied mint, even though it was more sugary than candied), dominated this course. The balsamic reduction was a nice addition, but I didn't favor this course.

The heirloom tomatoes nor the scuppernongs were the center of any dish this evening. It was more like dueling banjos: Who can present the better tasting dish? Neither chef pulled out bags of tricks that let the secret ingredients shine. I was surprised at the lack of creativity, but in my personal opinion--none of that mattered because we were served six solid courses.

In the end, Winston-Salem is now in the running to be considered the best in the Triad: Chef John Milner won Battle Tomato! Congratulations, Chef! I can't wait to see you in the semifinals on September 12!


Fire In The Triad Semifinal Brackets (as of 8/29/12)
September 5

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