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

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The SECOND preliminary Fire in the Triad dinner took place Wednesday night. Chef Gregory John of Greensboro Country Club in Greensboro versus Chef Jared Keiper of The Tavern in Old Salem in Winston-Salem whipped it up and banged it out at The Empire Room in Downtown Greensboro. Meet the chefs below:
(left) Chef Gregory John, (right) Chef Jared Keiper
While both chefs are new to Competition Dining and fairly new to the dining venues they represent, neither chef is new to the game of cooking.
*See Chef Gregory talk about his job and influences here.
*See Chef Jared talk about his humble beginnings and inspiration here

Professional judges for the evening: Betty Morton, cooking instructor and cookbook author of Reynolds Wrap Foil commercial fame, Carl Wilson of the Short Orders column in the Greensboro News & Record and Chris Demm of Rock 92's show Two Guys Named Chris.

It's important to note that Competition Dining sponsors and the Office of State Fire Marshal want to remind you that the NUMBER ONE cause of home fires and burn injuries is cooking. The only way to prevent those things is to not make risotto, but to MAKE RESERVATIONS.

Tonight's secret ingredient(s): Grits from from Old Mill of Guilford AND Lusty Monk Mustard in Asheville.
In any competition, there are always rules. When multiple ingredients are presented, there are additional parameters. This time: Two courses MUST use grits AND mustard, one course can feature one or the other. Competition Dining reserves the right to change the rules at any time during the course of the competition, but to my knowledge, nothing major has been amended.

Scoring rubric via Competition Dining app

In the past, diners' scores were converted to a 100-point scale and whole percentages (with confusing decimals at the end) were presented at the end of each dinner. We just want to eat and not do math, right? Competition Dining feels the same way. The scoring rubric has not changed, but the percentage chart has. Each dish is scored on a scale from 0 to 30, with 30 being the highest. Each dish's cumulative points are presented at the end of the night.

Enough shop talk, let's talk about the food!

Herb Roasted Quail Medallions, Old Mill of Guilford Pancetta Brie Grits, Marinated Pepper Salad, Fried Parsnip Tuiles, Lusty Monk Mustard Jus
You know how food commercials and competitions on TV have a glamour shot of the food? There is always an up-the-skirt shot of the dish or food product that makes you feel, let's use euphemisms and say, "hungry". You may feel a little uncomfortable with gawking at the food p0rn and then after you've stopped drooling and come back to your senses, you remember that it's just food and then you eat it. Well, the above photo is definitely a glamour shot. And I ate it.

I'm glad the lights were dim when this came to the table. It seemed more intimate this way
In other news, this quail was the best quail I've had. Ever. Quails are usually tiny, meek and sometimes a little tough, but these medallions were plump, juicy and perfectly cooked. I think they were finished on the grill to achieve those grill marks as seen in the first photo, but I didn't mind. This was the best part of the dish. The accompaniments were tiny just like the quail. The grits were hidden underneath the meat and amounted to just one forkful with invisible pancetta and undetectable brie. The marinated pepper salad amounted to three thread-like strands of red pepper. I did like the crispy parsnips though...

Pomegranate Lacquered Duck Breast, Roasted Jalapeno Grits, Spring Vegetables, Original Sin Broth
Let's talk about a duck face for a second here. I had a smile plastered on my face the entire time I was eating this duck. That's my only duck face and I'm sticking to it. I didn't taste any pomegranate on the duck, but it was sliced perfectly. Everyone wants crispy duck skin and looks forward to it when they see "duck" on a menu, but this was forgiven: the juicy petals melted into the spiced grits. The roasted jalapenos in the grits mellowed the spice and made them a little sweeter. The broth made the texture of the grits soggy and unpleasant, but the spiciness of that Original Sin broth had me hoping and praying for more good dishes like this the rest of the night.


Bacon Wrapped Mustard Marinated Rabbit Loin, Panko Crusted Grit Cake, Herbed Polenta, Grilled Asparagus, Lusty Monk Mustard Beurre Blanc, Red Onion Jam
"How dry I am, how dry I am. Nobody knows how dry I am..." Those lyrics were the only thing in my head while eating this dish. The only oasis of moisture was from the mustard beurre blanc and there wasn't nearly enough of it. It was as if it was painted on the plate with one brush stroke; The rabbit was dry, but was saved by the thick piece of bacon wrapped around it; Not only was the panko crusted grit cake dry, it lacked any flavor and if there were any grits-haters in the crowd, this piece of cake was the billboard and PSA for them; The herbed polenta (yellow grits), would have made better use as mortar to line the Yellow Brick Road; The asparagus: dry; The red onion jam must have been jammed up in the kitchen, because it was dry too.
Heritage Farms Cocoa Crusted Pork Shoulder, Lobster Andouille Spoon Bread, Burn In Hell Red Eye Gravy, White Truffle-Shiitake Bacon,
Arugula Salad
Well, kiss my grits! One of the more creative uses of grits during the night, I'd eat this dish again if the portion were larger. The shreds of pork were dark and pleasantly bitter, from the cocoa crust and when paired with the abundant pile of spicy, bitter arugula, it made for an adventurous dish. My only complaint: my lobster andouille bread kept falling apart and there wasn't enough red eye gravy to help me pick up the pieces with my fork. More sauce next time, chef! Please. Fortunately, I got one bite of truffled-scented shiitakes amid the slivers of ersatz bacon. People are very serious about their bacon. Please do not play with their emotions. Fake bacon doesn't make anyone happy.

(left) Frangipane Almond Cake, Mascarpone Sweet Grits, Caramel Asian Pears (right) my personal dish
I am allergic to almonds, so I had a modified dessert with no frangipane almond cake. Frangipane (pronounced fran-ji-pan) is a filling made with almond flour, butter, eggs and sugar. From other diners' accounts, the only thing I missed by not having cake was eating it (too). The grits were sweet, but I could feel and taste every grain of grit on my tongue. It also didn't help that the caramel sauce was burnt and sitting next to over-whipped chantilly cream. The thin, crispy Asian pear was delicious. It's too bad that was not the secret ingredient.
Old Mill of Guilford Molasses Bourbon Grit Cake, Fresh Berry Compote, Mascarpone Crema, Candied Bacon
You can't get more Southern than this dish: molasses, bourbon, grits and cured bacon. All in one dish. You could have told me the grit cake was made with wheat flour and I would be none the wiser. The highest scoring dish of the night, it was warm, soft from the molasses-bourbon glaze on top of it and then there was bacon. Candied bacon. Large bits of bacon. Crispy and sweet. Salty morsels of righteousness right up against the fresh berry compote. I normally don't like whole berries because they are squidgy but I ate all of these berries AND the pleasantly sweet sauce.

After each chef and their teams presented themselves, the scores were tallied and the thundering applause subsided, it was Chef Gregory John of Greensboro Country Club who prevailed over Chef Jared Keiper of The Tavern at Old Salem.

A congratulatory handshake

"Like" Nik Snacks on Facebook to stay tuned for nightly recaps of Fire in the Triad. You can also follow me on twitter @niksnacks and the hashtag #CompDiningNC for live updates during each battle (dinner begins at 7pm). Please also "like" Competition Dining on Facebook or the web

Below: See Chef Gregory John make final remarks regarding last night's battle and his hopes for his next battle against Southern Roots' chef, Wes Patterson on June 3.


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