Fire in the Triad: Liberty Oak Vs WS Prime // Battle Goat Cheese #CompDiningNC

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 June 3 at 7pm). Please also "like" Competition Dining on Facebook and on the web.

Be sure to check out Fire in the Triad companion pieces in local alternative weekly paper, Yes!Weekly, on the web and newsstands now!

Eight is great. The EIGHTH preliminary Fire in the Triad dinner took place Thursday night. Chef Creighton McNeil of Liberty Oak in Downtown Greensboro and Chef Christian Froelich of WS Prime in Downtown Winston-Salem (in the Marriott hotel) met for the first time and cooked alongside each other in the kitchen of Elm Street Center's Empire Room in Downtown Greensboro.

Creighton is new to Fire in the Triad but not new to the game of Competition Dining. Chef McNeil was flex cook of the award-winning Fire on the Dock team in 2012. He joined Chef Andy Hopper down at the coast and rocked it 'til the wheels fell off. In an interesting turn of events, Andy, a Greensboro native, returned the favor and came out to play as McNeil's flex cook for 2013. [ONE flex cook is allowed per team; a chef who is not employed by the executive chef's restaurant]

Guest judges for the night were: Charlie Brinson of blog, Eat It NC, Fire in the Triad veteran and executive chef of Print Works Bistro and Green Valley Grill, Leigh Hesling and executive chef and program director of Triad Community Kitchen, Jeff Bacon.

Chef Leigh Hesling (right) with Green Valley Grill pastry chef, Laura Dominguez (right)

Meet the chefs below:
(left) Chef Creighton McNeil; (right) Chef Christian Froelich
The featured ingredient of the night was goat cheese from Celebrity Dairy in Siler City, NC. Goat cheese  also known by it's sexy French name, chèvre [SHEV-ruh, but say it like you're a Frenchman], is cheese made from goat's milk. Chèvre means goat in French, so there's no hiding what it is and from whence it came. It's smooth in texture with a generally mild, yet tangy flavor. It's white, similar to cream cheese and softens when heated, but doesn't melt. Some varieties of chèvre are soft but others are more crumbly.

On an unrelated note, this part of the blog is directed toward foodies out there who have food allergies. Not knowing the featured ingredient beforehand is more fun than any one person can handle, but arriving to the event and not knowing if you will be bombarded by your allergy is not fun. Please tell someone. You can contact Competition Dining directly by clicking HERE or reaching out via social media. Allergies are real and I don't want to hear stories of how you didn't have a good time at Competition Dining because you couldn't eat (bear, ostrich, citrus, cheddar, soy, peanuts, dairy, gluten, raw vegetables). Ok, PSA is over. It's time to eat!

Celebrity Dairy Chèvre & Vidalia Onion Tart with Heirloom Tomato Relish & Herb Oil
When I first saw this, I thought "This looks like hotel buffet food". Not overly creative, I wish the plating had been a little tighter, but the presentation did not interfere with the taste. The small tart had a crisp, buttery crust and was light in texture. The sweet Vidalia onions were a nice contrast to the tart, bright flavor of the chèvre. The tomato relish was bright and juicy with lots of slivers of fresh garlic, chopped herbs and had good flavor as well.

Short Rib & Chèvre Ravioli, Saffron Goat Cheese Cream, Roasted Beets, Spring Onion and Pistachio-Pink Peppercorn Dust
Since there was only one, technically this was a raviolo, but I won't nit-pick (much) about the description of each dish. Bursting at the seams with tender bits of short rib, this was my favorite dish of the night. The dining public agreed, as this was the highest scoring dish overall. No dust for me (a disappointment because I LOVE PINK PEPPERCORN!), the beautiful, savory goat cheese cream made me forget about the aforementioned omission. Soft, creamy and mild, the cream melted into the short rib and the thin sheet of pasta melted into the cream and it was a beautiful dish. The small dice of roasted beet stared at me, so I ate one. Just one. And it was just as awful as I thought it was going to be.

Roasted Poblano Marinated Sous Vide Bistro Filet, Roasted Turned Potato, Bacon Braised Collards, Parsnip Chip, Celebrity Dairy Goat Cheese Fondue, Chimichurri Drizzle
This was my first time having sous vide filet and I can't say I liked it.

Sous vide [soo veed] means 'under vacuum' (more sexy French!) The purpose of this cooking method is to have an evenly cooked product that will never overcook because the circulator, or bath that it is in stays the exact same temperature during cook time. The food is put inside a vacuum sealed pouch and cooked for a long time at a very low temperature, typically under 200 degrees F. There's no need to remove the plastic bag from the water because the meat will never rise above the temperature you set it. You can let it sit in the bath for as long as you want, with no detriment to it.

More chewy than tender, the steak was a little too rare for me. No detectable scent or taste of roasted poblano, the filet was a huge let down. The parsnip chip had seen better days and mine was a little wilted by the time I ate it, but the goat cheese fondue and the tournéed potato were just okay. The fondue was light and airy but it did not have the tangy chèvre flavor I was hoping for. The potato was browned and crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside. My table's server was concerned about my allergy and thought the chimichurri was pesto, so I did not get any. The sharpest and best flavor of the dish: the collard greens. The greens were snappy, vinegary and smoky from the bacon, but chewy just like the filet.

Seared Pork Belly, Herbed Goat Cheese & Lobster Polenta, Duck Fat Braised Collards, Porcini Goat Cheese Crema

Not the prettiest plate of them all, this dish was the hottest dish of the night. Hot as in temperature. The entire dish stayed hot until I'd finished eating every morsel I cared to eat. Not the best use of the featured ingredient, the goat cheese got lost in all of the other dish components. This course seemed to have three components that did not have anything to tie them together. The pork belly was well-cooked, but did not have much flavor outside of that. The drizzle of porcini goat cheese crema was broken and did not look the least bit appetizing BUT--it did have a wonderful aroma that made everyone at my table think it was truffle oil. Maybe there was a little truffle oil to amp up the flavor a little, because I'd never tasted porcinis that tasted like that! The lobster polenta was a little fishy, but was well-prepared and the lumps of lobster were buttery and delicious. The collards were well-executed as well, but I missed the snap of a little sweetness or vinegar to bring out their grassy, earthy flavor.

Celebrity Goat Cheese & Strawberry Ravioli, Strawberry Lemonade Broth, Goat Cheese Crème Anglaise
Our second ravioli (or raviolo) of the night looked beautiful in the glamour shot, but didn't fare so well once it hit the table. The lemonade broth was pretty good. It was bright, fresh and very creative.The ravioli was not rolled out thin enough and it was thick and doughy. The goat cheese inside of the parcel of dough tasted as if it came straight from the farm. It was very pungent, tangy and musty. Lots of points for creativity, but low marks for execution on this one.

Goat Cheese Iced Chocolate Budino, Lavender Goat Cheese Crème Anglaise, Blood Orange Pomegranate Puree,
Graham Cracker Crust
I promised I was not going to nit-pick (much) about the description of each dish, but that moratorium is over. I always thought budino [boo-DEE-no] was a steamed pudding. If this presentation is what a budino is supposed to be, I stand corrected. The cake (because that's what it was) was somewhat pudding-like as it was moist like a souffle and light with very little flour, almost like a flourless chocolate torte. The chocolate was very dark, bittersweet; I could taste the flavonoids bursting onto the scene. The layer of goat cheese on top was studded with pomegranate arils and that further accentuated the tang of the chocolate and the blood orange pomegranate puree. The floral scent of the lavender (which I suspect was the addition of lavender honey) added to the complex nature of this course. The presentation wasn't anything special, but the subtle complexities made this dish the highest scoring dessert of the the night.

Team WS Prime with Competition Dining host & founder, Jimmy Crippen

In the end, it was Creighton McNeil and his team that reigned supreme over Battle Celebrity Dairy Goat Cheese!
Congratulations, Team Liberty Oak!

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

The brackets are filling up fast and the preliminary rounds of Fire in the Triad are over. Next up are the quarterfinals. If you have any intention of coming to Fire in the Triad to support your favorite chef, restaurant or city, please hurry and buy your tickets. Seats are filling up fast and the first quarterfinal round on June 3 between Jamestown's Southern Roots and Greenboro's Greensboro Country Club are already SOLD OUT.

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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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