Fire in the Triad: Undercurrent Vs Mozelle's Bistro

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

Wednesday night brought the SIXTH preliminary Fire in the Triad dinner of the Competition Dining Series. The penultimate Greensboro Vs Winston-Salem chef battle took place between Chef Michael Harkenreader of Undercurrent in Greensboro versus Chef Janis Karathanas of Mozelle's Bistro in Winston-Salem. Meet them below:

 Chef Michael Harkenreader of Undercurrent

Chef Janis Karathanas of Mozelle's Bistro

Not only was the night full of six languorous courses, it was full of firsts: Fire in the Triad's first female chef competed AND the first dinner of the competition without dessert courses! Why no dessert, you ask? The night's secret ingredient...


Provided by Carolina Bison of Asheville, the flank and ribeye were the cuts available. The flank had to be used in all 3 courses & the ribeye required only in one.

Since I am not a voting diner or judge, I went back to the kitchen before service to get a few shots in.

Plating in the kitchen, moments before the 1st course went out to the dining room!

I wish I hadn't because seeing the first (2nd and 3rd) course was like finding out about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy all in one fell swoop. I quickly exited the kitchen and tried to forgot what I'd seen.
First course: Bison Carpaccio, Rapini, Roasted Red Peppers, Sopressata, Chevre Mousse, Shallot-Pancetta Vinaigrette
When this course came out, the first thing I noticed was how sparse the plate seemed. A bit here. A bit there. And the bison carpaccio was the smallest part of the dish. It was more of a tartare than carpaccio, I thought. I am not an expert on raw meat preparation, but I didn't like this part very much. Only one bite and that bite was not very flavorful. The chevre mousse was more flavorful than the meat itself and it was gone before I had time to savor it. The rapini was the largest part of the plate. The vinaigrette was delicious and I wished there were more bits of pancetta to eat with the sopressata and roasted pepper (that was yellow and not red).

Bison Flank Roulade, Grilled Asparagus, Green Onion, Goat Cheese, Calamata Olives, Sun-dried Tomato Tapenade, Lemon Balsamic Braised Fennel
Any roulade is usually impressive because it's usually full of colorful vegetables and flavorful sauces. This roulade was run-of-the mill and not hot (in temperature) when it got to the table. I'm not sure if it was meant to be served hot or room temperature. The bison was tender, the accompaniments complimented the dish. There was more tapenade on my plate than roulade, but I didn't mind much. I put the majority of it on a (okay, you got me... it more like like TWO) buttered roll and went to town. The lemon-braised fennel was the best part of the dish.

I complained about the 1st two courses being small, sparse or not the correct temperature but I completely forgot about all of those transgressions at this point. The next course made me want to 'slap my momma'.

Bracioli Bison Stuffed with Panko, Chevre & Parsley, Red Gravy with Rosemary Polenta
One bite of this dish and the only thing I could think to say was: $#@!
This was the most flavorful, aromatic, savory dish of the night, and in my opinion, the whole competition thus far. This piece of flank was expertly rolled and filled with the panko, chevre and parsley. Smothered with the red tomato gravy and garnished with a sprig of rosemary (which I munched on first--I love fresh rosemary), the bracioli (pronounced something like bra-jool-i) was so tender, every bite had me talking to myself. The polenta didn't have much rosemary flavor and the entire dish was a bit salty, but it was still the best dish of the night. Diners must have agreed with me, because they scored this dish higher than any other dish of the evening with 72.9%.

I'm not sure if you're familiar with bison, but they are large, languid, lumbering animals. At this point during the meal, I felt the same. The meat paired with my love of bread tired me. And very quickly. The diners at my table were taking bets on if we were going to have one or two dessert courses featuring bison. Three of my dining companions were the night's judges: Cecelia Thompson of Mod Meals on Mendenhall, John Batchelor, food critic of the Greensboro News & Record and Sasha Travers of Sasha Travers Public Relations in Durham, NC. Thankfully, neither chef attempted dessert, but the courses seemed to get heavier... and heavier...

Herb Crusted Bison Ribeye, Yukon Potato-Mushroom-Bison Ragout, Smoked Corn Cream & Country Ham
I liked this dish, the use of the ribeye mostly. The bison was cooked well; Tender, juicy and the crust was discernible and delicious. The smoked corn cream was the best part of the dish. It's description was exactly what was on the plate. Blending with the ragout, the sliver of country ham added the perfect amount of saltiness and creativeness. No Southerner in his or her right mind can turn down a piece of country ham! This was the highest overall scoring dish of the night with 70% of the vote.

Bison Confit with Orange Crush & Sundrop, Oyster Mushrooms, Potato Gratin, Glazed Bok Choy, Turnip & Carrot Puree
By the fifth course, I was pushing food around on my plate, pretending to dig in with gusto. The promise of Orange Crush and Sundrop flavored bison perked me and my taste buds up. A little. The bison was thin, shredded with a light gravy on top. I couldn't detect any Orange or Sundrop flavors, but the bison was a little sweet. The bok choy was cooked well, but there was no glaze on it. The potato gratin was perfect but it all was too heavy for a fifth or third course. I'd eat this dish again but I wished it was served earlier so I could actually savor it.

RC Cola Marinated Bison Flank, Molasses Stone Ground Grit Cake, Cilantro-Red Onion-Lime Relish, Smoked Chocolate Sauce
The most interesting, creative dish of the competition thus far: It wasn't a dessert course, but we got chocolate anyway! Score! I've never had the fortunate opportunity to taste smoked chocolate before this night and I hope it's not my last. Sitting a top this new ingredient were slices of bison flank, chopped red onion and a slightly sweet molasses grit cake. I didn't dislike this course, but I didn't particularly like it either. The onions with the chocolate were most peculiar for sure. The best part: the grit cake. I'd eat 1000s of those. Even though this course is high on the creativity meter, it was the lowest overall scoring dish of the night with 45%.

Battle Bison's winner: Chef Harkenreader from Undercurrent! This was the tightest margin of Fire in the Triad thus far with a mere ONE point separating Chef Harkenreader from Chef Karathanas. ONE! To see a breakdown of courses and voting results, please visit Competition Dining.

Don't forget to log-on and read about the semifinal battle between Chef Hesling of Green Valley Grill and Chef Harkenreader of Undercurrent on September 12!

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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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