Fire in the Triad: Lucky 32 vs Bistro B

The first of 16 dinners of the Fire in the Triad series went down last night. This is the first time the Triad has seen a culinary event like this. Chefs go head-to-head in culinary combat beginning at noon the day of each battle, not knowing anything except sheer talent and luck-of-the-draw will help them win each competition.

Each night, in “Iron Chef”-style format, dinner guests are presented with a six-course menu (three courses from each chef) created around a local/North Carolina ingredient. The featured ingredient is revealed to the chefs at noon the day of their battle and it must be used in each of their three courses.

Diners are then asked to vote for their favorite dish based on overall presentation, aroma, flavor, accompaniments AND creativity and execution of the secret ingredient.

The secret ingredient last night: CHEERWINE! You can't call yourself a true North Carolinian without having tried this cherry-flavored carbonated beverage at least once. Much to my surprise, two of my table's diners had never had it! And what a wonderful first time to partake the goodness that is... Cheerwine...

Chef Jay Pierce of Lucky 32 in Greensboro

Chef Timothy Bocholis of Bistro B in Kernersville

The energy in the dining room at Painted Plate was electric. There was a lot going on and everyone was on the edge of their seats in anticipation of what was about to begin.

First,let me tell you--this was the most organized, technologically advanced dinner I have ever had the opportunity to attend. Not only were there TV screens set up around the room to showcase each chef's bio, we were treated to a short videos by the State Fire Marshal's Office and other sponsors, we also had QR codes to scan to access the electronic ballots for voting.
High-tech voting system. I wonder who this "Miller-Ra" person is? :)
At each place setting, we were given samples of wines (shown below). They were available for purchase, as were other beverages.
Pinot Grigio & Pinot Noir from Left Coast Cellars in Oregon

The night's wine selection
After all of the pomp and circumstance, the first course arrived...
First course: Fire roasted corn, field pea salad with canteloupe & Cheerwine gastrique
This was a nice first course. Fresh, not too creative, but it tasted good. I loved the corn. The field peas. The canteloupe (which I thought were yellow tomatoes at first glance). The dish was heavy on bacon, which was not listed as an ingredient, but if it were, it would have won, hands down. But I couldn't taste the Cheerwine. After noshing on the fruits, I took a piece of bread to sop up the gastrique, but I still didn't get that distinct cherry flavor.
Second course: Crab & lobster Cheerwine ceviche with sweet potato crisp
When this dish hit the table, I was off-put by the sprinkling of spice on the rim of the bowl. The first thing they tell you in Plate Presentation Class in culinary school is to not put garnish on the rim. You're not going to eat that. Decoration that is food is fine if it's meant to be eaten. Otherwise--it's a waste. I'll tell you what was NOT a waste: this dish. It was inspired, light, refreshing, and the Cheerwine was easily identifiable. My sweet potato crisp was burnt, but my salad was delicious. I wished that my greens had been cut a little smaller so I could actually eat them without looking uncouth, but other than those things I mentioned, this dish won me over.

Third course: Chipotle Cheerwine braised veal with black beans, cassava & curtido
I really wasn't hungry until this dish was set before me. I ate the first two courses because I was supposed to, but this dish made my mouth water. The aroma brought me back to my days in Miami. I half expected Cuban music to begin to play as we were eating. The veal cheek was sweet and tender; the beans were spiced just right with cumin and coriander, the cassava chip was crispy and gave appropriate texture and the curtido (think of it as a vinegary, cooked cole slaw was right on time). I wished the tiny cilantro sprig had been chopped and used across the dish, but this was my favorite dish of the night. I also wish I could have tasted the Cheerwine more, but in all honesty, I didn't care much. I cleaned my plate. With my fork. And another piece of bread.
Fourth course: Matambre of beef--braised in Cheerwine, stuffed with asparagus, red peppers,
onions, carrots, & purple potato puree
Matambre! Pronounced "ma-tom-bray", it means "To kill the hunger" in Spanish. Matambre is a roulade of beef, stuffed with vegetables and is usually braised and served either hot or cold. My hunger was killed with the last course, but my appetite was killed with this one. I hated the plating of this dish. It was brown, one-note, and not very appetizing. Yes, the roulade was pretty on the plate, but that alone does not an appetizing dish make. The sauces weren't evenly matched and I closed my eyes and hoped for the best on this one. Much to my surprise, the beef (flank steak, I believe) was tender and flavorful. The sauce to the left was a Cheewine-esque reduction and the sauce to the left was a roasted red pepper cream and it was divinely supreme. My purple potatoes were full of grit and sand I couldn't eat them, but no one else seemed to have that problem.

Fifth course: chocolate fudge cake, Cheerwine syrup, chèvre fondue
I knew that one or both competitors would make chocolate cake. Chocolate and cherries go together. And that's just what this cake was. Chocolate. Cherries. And a weird chèvre drizzle. The cake was chalky in some bites, moist in others. The drizzle could have been sweeter, like a flat icing glaze.
Sixth & final course: fig mousse, Cheerwine sorbet, peach bacon jam
As much as I wasn't sure about the previous course, I really didn't like this one. It was an awkward melange of items on the plate. A sweet, crispy (well-executed) tuille filled with a fig mousse (that didn't taste like figs) and an unappetizing grilled peach with a super salty bacon jam. And a mint leaf that had no business there. My least favorite dish of the night.

After much hemming and hawing, I finally got my votes in and waited for the final score...
My votes are locked in! It's like American Idol but better!

And the winner is: Chef Timothy Bocholis of Bistro B! 

Congratulations, Chef! Responsible for courses number two, four and six, Chef Bocholis used the Cheerwine best and presented well. I can't wait to see who he's up against in the semifinals!

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. Please also follow Competition Dining on Facebook or the web.

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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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  1. This is a great event. There are few date nights that can compare to one of these dinners. Wish I could attend more often.

  2. I agree, Jack; Such a great event for all of the regions for the state of NC. Well, when you're able to make it, you know you're in for a treat!


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