Fire in the Triad: Bistro B Vs B. Christopher's // Battle Strawberries #CompDiningNC

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Read this 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 (The next dinner begins May 29 at 7pm). Please also "like" Competition Dining on Facebook and on the web.

The SIXTH preliminary Fire in the Triad dinner took place Wednesday night, between Fire in the Triad veterans, Chef Timothy Bocholis of Bistro B in Kernersville and Chef Chris Russell of B. Christopher's in Burlington. Fans of both restaurants are fiercely loyal and impassioned about the cuisine and service at both establishments. The Empire Room in Downtown Greensboro was the place to be on Wednesday night. Meet the chefs below:
(left) Chef Timothy Bocholis of Bistro B, (right) Chef Chris Russell of B. Christopher's
The whooping and hollering began early, during the cocktail hour before the commencement of this battle.  Patrons were really getting "fired up" with anticipation. The dining room was electric with conversations, photo taking and the pomp and circumstance of this grand event. And the fun didn't stop there.

Guest professional judges were Matt Lardie of Green Eats Blog, Susan Gilmor of the Winston-Salem Journal and Patrick Sanecki, assistant professor of culinary arts at GTCC.

The featured ingredient? Something nearly every chef so far in the competition has been dreaming about: STRAWBERRIES!

The strawberries were just a few hours old, picked fresh Wednesday morning by Chris Murray of Sunset Farms in Snow Camp, NC. A multi-generational farm, The Murrays provided nearly 72 pints of strawberries for the night's featured
Viewing a vignette about themselves on the big screen
ingredient. I had the pleasure of sitting next to these Chris and his wife Jamie Brie and watching them eat the fruits of their labor. Humble and down-to-earth (just like their berries!), I hope to check them out at the Carrboro and/or Durham Farmers Markets during the high season.
Talk about being FRESH TO DEATH!

Roasted Golden & Red Beet Carpaccio with NC Strawberry Crab Melange, Roasted Cippolini Onions, Heirloom Tomato Confit, Shaved Orange-Scented Fennel with Pistachio Dust and Ashe Co. Blue Cheese Crumble
The list of ingredients for this salad was bigger than the salad itself. My plate arrived sans pistachio dust, of course. You know I did not eat the beets, but I do have a bit o' commentary about that: Everything that is raw and sliced paper thin is not carpaccio. It's not a preparation like London broil, it's an actual dish. Also, I believe my refusal to eat beets is not limiting. It's a quirk and if you choose to accept or deny my right to one of my five quirks about food, that is your issue. Not mine. It's something I choose not to do just as I choose not to eat foods to which I am allergic. I'm a food writer, not a food reviewer. Chew on that. Moving on, the crab tasted fishy, canned and even though I'm sure the chef took great care to search for pieces of shell, I still had bits of shell in my portion. The strawberries, in their natural state, were juicy, sweet and the perfect companions to the tomato confit, roasted cippolinis and tame licorice notes of the fennel. The blue cheese added the tiniest bit of tang. No need for dressing on this salad. The juicy fruits and vegetables took care of that.

Pan-Seared Lump Crab Cake, Strawberry Pico De Gallo, Chipotle-Lime Crème Fraiche, Basil-Chive Oil
My favorite and the highest scoring dish of the night, I could have eaten fifteen of these, easy. The small dice of strawberry was sweet and spicy. This sassy pico de gallo matched perfectly with the chipotle-lime creme fraiche. The subtle notes of lime in the crema were pronounced by the garnish of cilantro. Many times a garnish is placed just for color. This was a perfect example of a garnish uplifting and enhancing a dish.

Duck Magret with Roasted Parsnip Puree, Black Rice-Scallion-Ginger Cake, Pinot Noir-Strawberry-Fig Gastrique
This duck was made for that pinot noir-strawberry gastrique. The only thing that could have made it better would have been the addition of some duck fat to give it a little more body and layer of flavor, but it was excellent notwithstanding. The parsnip puree was a disappointment and like something from a hospital cafeteria. I wished it were mashed potatoes instead. The rice cake wasn't memorable. A little bland, it lacked depth or multi-dimensional flavor, despite the addition of the ginger and the scallion. There was a fried basil leaf garnish and that made the rice taste better, but once it was gone, so was the flavor of the rice.

Chinese Five-Spice Crispy Chicken, Goat Cheese-Mascarpone-Chive Polenta, Strawberry-Plum-Fig Demi-Glace
Do you remember Funyuns? Do they still sell those? No disrespect to the chef, but the crispy onion garnish tasted exactly like those. Eating the garnish brought back a food memory: Third grade. Indoor recess. My first bag of Funyuns paired with a strawberry NeHi soda. A new food memory was created Wednesday night with the rest of this dish. Rife with the flavors of clove and cinnamon, the rub on the chicken served as a spicy blanket to cradle the juicy piece of bird. The sodden polenta was wet from sitting in the strawberry sauce. Alone, it tasted great. Together, not so much. The pungent flavor of the five-spice mixed with the strawberry-plum-fig sauce elevated the dish to the second highest scoring dish of the night.

Strawberry Ménage à Trois: NC Strawberry Chambord Gelato in a Phyllo Box, Strawberry-Balsamic Chantilly Cream, Strawberry Coulis
Expecting this to be a sexy dish, it was just what a ménage à trois always turns out to be: Complex and not quite right. Make all of the jokes you will, but there was too much buck and not enough bang for me with this dish. Not sure of where to start or how to eat this dish, I started with the most prominent part, the rosebud of gelato. The gelato was over-churned and had greasy bits of butterfat throughout, messing with the integrity of that part of the dish. I liked the phyllo box, especially the chocolate dipped edges, but I didn't like the erroneous sprigs of mint on the side. Eating the grassy leaves just reminded me of how much I dislike garnish just for color's sake. However, the strawberry-balsamic Chantilly cream's flavor of was salty, creamy, sweet and matched perfectly with the sweet, strawberry coulis [coo-LEE].
Strawberry-Ginger Crème Brûlée, Bittersweet Chocolate-Covered Strawberry
A major failure in execution, I wish I could say this dish was a success. The custard was not pleasantly aromatic; it smelled of eggs. The custard was not set up; it was runny. There were reports of loose, watery cups and disappointment across the dining room. Some diners had one half nice, crusty brûléed tops, but most did not. I did not. Not a total loss, the chocolate covered strawberry was good. A bowlful of strawberries covered in chocolate would have been a better choice than going with this pot de crème, because THIS was not a creme brûlée. In a disappointing tally of votes, the pro judges' average score out of 30 was a mere 8 points. Eight.

There were audible cries of disbelief and loud rounds of applause after each chef's dish was revealed. After a nail-biting, suspenseful tallying of the votes [I held my breath and closed my eyes a lot], the final scores revealed Chef Timothy Bocholis to be the winner of Battle Strawberries!

I'm sure some mental right & left hooks were thrown

See Chef Bocholis take on Chef Grohman of Meridian on June 11. It's gonna be a Forsyth County THROWDOWN!

To see a breakdown of scores and side-by-chef photos of each dish, please visit Competition Dining.

The end is nigh for the preliminary Fire in the Triad battles. Next up, newcomers Chef Tim Thompson of Marisol in Greensboro versus Chef Travis Myers of River Birch Lodge in Winston-Salem.

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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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