Fire in the Triad: Green Valley Grill Vs Emerywood Fine Foods

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

Last night was the FIFTH competition dinner of the Fire in the Triad Competition Dining Series. It was truly a Family Affair between Chef Leigh Hesling of Green Valley Grill (and Printworks Bistro) in Greensboro and Chef John Willis of Emerywood Fine Foods in High Point. If you're not familiar, meet them below:

Chef Leigh Hesling of Green Valley Grill

Chef John Willis of Emerywood Fine Foods

Now that you've met the chefs, it's time to meet their families.

I had the fortunate opportunity to dine with Chef John's family last night. We had a lively discussion about food: likes, dislikes, favorite preparations and Chef John, of course! He really has a wonderful family who raised a funny, jovial, talented and well-traveled man. A special shout-out goes to his niece, Grace: Remember--3rd grade is the best ever, in the history of all grades! Have a great school year, sweetie!

Pictured (left to right): Chef John's sister, niece, mother, father Photo courtesy:
Each competition day at noon, the competing chefs surrender their phones and have no communication with the outside world until after dinner is complete. Lots of the chefs have families and adoring fans waiting at home to hear the results. Chef Hesling's wife, Lori, and their two sons were doing just that last evening. I was able to tweet to her (and the rest of the Twitterverse) to update her on the night's secret ingredient and the subsequent courses.

Conversational piece from the Twitterverse
The night's secret ingredient...


The honey was provided by St. Dominic's Honey of Mayodan, NC. 
The family of St. Dominic's Honey is pictured below (I told you it was a family affair...)

First course: Honey Glazed Roasted Shrimp, Pancetta Risotto, Roasted Shrimp Bechamel, Fennel Dust
Full of flavor and familiar ingredients, this dish was simple and well-executed. The shrimp were cooked well; dice of pancetta were hidden within forkfuls of al dente risotto; the bechamel was thick and creamy, albeit very salty; the fennel dust (a nice way of saying fennel pollen) left a pleasant licorice and anise trail of flavor with sweet undertones. The jury is still out on the fennel in this dish. Used correctly, fennel uplifts a dish and makes it seem more savory when sweet applications apply. Here, it was an unexpected layer of flavor that provided unpredictable results. In my opinion, the results were successful. The only thing that was not successful: the featured ingredient of honey was not detectable at all.

In my personal opinion, honey doesn't have much of a discernible flavor unless it's clover honey. My summation: The only way to tell if any of the dishes used the secret ingredient wisely was to taste sweetness or smell the aroma of honey.

Second course: Pan Seared Breast of Quail, Honey Poached Cherries, Honey-Ginger-Lime Vinaigrette, Fennel-Orange Slaw
I could taste the honey in every component of this dish. The aroma of honey was definitely present here. The quail was tender, well prepared and a little salty but once I took a bite of a honey-poached cherry, all was right with the world and balance was restored. Once again, fennel was used, but just the fronds and slices of the bulb. Fennel-orange salad is one of my favorite salads in the world. The honey-ginger-lime vinaigrette was light, refreshing and complemented each segment (oranges included) of this dish.

Third course: Confit Breast of Chicken, Honey-Bacon Braised Collard Greens, Smoked White Cheddar Polenta, Honey Balsamic Gastrique, Bing Cherry Chutney
When I saw "confit" on the menu, I instantly got excited. Confit (pronounced something like "coffee" with the emphasis on the 2nd syllable) usually means the cut of meat is cooked in its own rendered fat and this helps it retain moisture. The texture of the meat is succulent and silken. This confit breast of chicken was neither. My piece was small and dry. Very dry. Did I mention small? The balsamic gastrique and Bing cherry chutney made the dry piece of chicken, the greens and the polenta all too sweet. There was no relief from the honeyed food items. The dish components were all delicious, but I was reaching for bread and water to give my taste buds a break.

Time to plate the food: it's a family affair in the kitchen, too. The Kitchen/Chef Family.

Fourth course: Honey Mocha Glazed Breast of Duck, Honey-Blackberry Duck Jus, Smoked Mushroom Farro, Beet Cappelini with Crumbled Chevre
I was afraid of this course. I saw BEETS and all I could think about was how beets tend to cover and soak into everything it touches and doesn't touch. Beets are #1 on my DO NOT EAT LIST. I tried watermelon last week but it's farther down on the list, so I was willing to capitulate. That was not an option in this case. I gingerly poked around the plate, thinking that the whole dish would reek of beets. I pulled off the cappelini of beet, took a deep breath and dove in...
And magic happened. The duck was so beautiful and tender. I couldn't taste any mocha, but I didn't care. The honey transferred expertly to this dish. Perfectly pink and not an inedible layer of fat to be found. The duck jus mixed with the mushroom farro and the crumbled chevre (goat cheese) in a true symphony of good flavor. I didn't want this course to end. I ate it as slowly as possible, almost making the waiter clank this dish's bowl with the next, because I wasn't fast enough.

The fifth and sixth courses are the ones that either put a chef over the top or make him/her barely squeak by. There was barely a ONE point difference between the overall score of both dishes. The night's judges (providing 30% of overall score):  John Batchelor, food critic of Greensboro News & Record and blogger Amanda Clark of Cuisine & Seen.

John Batchelor... or is it?

Fifth course: Lemon Basil Honey Sorbet Intermezzo with Crystallized Mint, Blackberry Honey Couverture Chocolate Truffles
Intermezzos are usually served between courses to refresh your palate, in preparation for the next. This course was perfect for that purpose. The cute frozen lemon half was filled with smooth, bright, creamy sorbet. The bottom of the bowl was decorated with a chiffonade of basil and not in the sorbet.
Good note: This was the first time during the competition that mint was used as a edible garnish and not just for color.
Bad note: this mint was dry and like crunching on a fall leaf from a tree.
Lastly, I had issue with the chocolate truffles: two of the three were rolled in nuts (I believe crushed walnuts) and that ingredient wasn't listed and I am allergic to nuts (tree and ground). The one truffle I was able to eat was smooth and creamy (as couverture chocolate is supposed to be, due to a high ratio of cocoa butter), but it didn't look very appetizing. It was not uniform in shape and reminded me of brown Play-Doh.

Sixth course: Petite Honey Butter Cakes, Vanilla Honey Mousse, Honey-Pomegranate Butter Cream, Pinenut Brittle, Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce
This final course came to the table with an impressive display of caramel sugar a top a beautiful cupcake and smear of chocolate sauce across the plate. I was excited to dig in! I wasn't sure to go fork or face first. It was so pretty, I didn't mind the garnish of mint. I decided to go fork first, but not before munching on my caramel garnish and explaining to my table how hard crack caramel is made.
A word about buttercream: it's made of butter (obviously) and sometimes stabilized with margarine, shortening, or lard. The latter three ingredients don't melt in your mouth like butter does and for that reason, I don't care for creams made with them.
I understand that restaurant kitchens are hot and butter melts, but the buttercream here didn't have much flavor. The mousse on the inside of the cake was more like buttercream and not very flavorful either. The cake looked moist, but it was dry and a little heavy. The sweetness of the honey was pronounced in every element presented, but this dessert was not my favorite. The judges enjoyed this dessert better the the last (scoring: 66% vs 56%) but diners enjoyed Course 5 more (scoring: 72%).

When all was said and done and the winner of Battle Honey was Chef Leigh Hesling of Green Valley Grill! Congratulations, Chef! For a breakdown of scores and dishes, please visit Competition Dining.

All food photos courtesy of on each to enlarge

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About the author

Nikki Miller-Ka

Nikki Miller-Ka

Ms. Miller-Ka is a classically trained chef with a BA in English from East Carolina University and a Culinary Arts Associate Degree from Le Cordon Bleu-Miami.

Formerly, she’s worked as a researcher, an editorial assistant, reporter and guest blogger for various publications and outlets in the Southeast. She has also worked as a catering chef, a pastry chef, a butcher, a baker, and a biscuit-maker. Presently, she is a food editor, freelance food writer, and a tour guide for Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours.

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