Fire in the Triad: Spring House Vs Noble's Grille // Battle Ostrich

The THIRD preliminary Fire in the Triad dinner took place Thursday night, putting a cap on a great week of fine dining in the Triad. Winston-Salem culinary geniuses and Fire in the Triad veterans Chef Tim Grandinetti of Spring House Restaurant, Kitchen & Bar versus Chef John Bobby of Noble's Grille in Winston-Salem sizzled and seared their aprons off at The Empire Room in Downtown Greensboro. Both chefs lost in the first round in '12. Meet the chefs below:

(left) Chef Tim Grandinetti, (right) Chef John Bobby
Click each name for a video introduction
No matter the ingredient, the night belonged to Winston-Salem. Fresh off the heels of our city's centennial celebration, the night's dinner seemed like a post-fête homage.

The secret ingredient became the featured ingredient very quickly and with bated, wine-tainted breath, we all found out the unusual secret ingredient: Ostrich! One note about Competition Dining, is that it definitely for adventurous eaters. You must be of the adventurous sort to feel comfortable not knowing what the featured ingredient will be until moments before the first course is served.

The ostrich was from Hilltop Farms in Winston-Salem. These ostriches eat nothing but grass and spent grain from Foothills Brewing's spent grain of malted barley which remains in the mash-tun after the wort is made. It mainly consists of carbohydrates and proteins. All North Carolina products are superior, but this ostrich really is homegrown from top to bottom!

Personally, I'd never had ostrich before except in bits and pieces of sausage in the Hunter's Pie on the Winter menu at Foothills. Even though its a bird, ostrich meat looks and eats like steak and is best cooked medium rare. What does it look and taste like? Read on to find out!

Composed Salad featuring Ostrich Roulade, Asparagus, Beets and Radish, Blueberry Gastrique
I can't say how composed this salad was, because the only part of this that made it a salad was the fact that it was all chilled. The roulade was delicious, but the ostrich bit inside of the roulade was a little tough to eat. Smooth and flat, the ostrich meat was accented with chopped thyme and the bits of carrot you see there, but it was something akin to a bad school cafeteria lunch menu item. I didn't care for the accompaniments but that's because of how I feel about beets, so those stayed on the plate. The whole blueberries just sat on the plate and blueberry gastrique was a little too thick and a little too sweet (but I bet that would have been great with the beets I didn't eat) and complimented the roulade in a inexplicable way, but this was not my favorite dish of the night.

Ostrich Tartare, Fried Egg, Pickled Red Onion, Shaved Fennel, Arugula, Globe Radish, Black Garlic Aioli
Again, not my favorite dish either, it was difficult to eat because I had to wrap my mind and mouth around the fact that I had raw ostrich AND a cold sunnyside up egg on my plate. The pickled red onion's scent was strong, but it did nothing to whet my appetite. I pushed everything around the plate like a teenage girl feigning her peckish disposition. The saving grace of this dish: black garlic aioli. Once I mixed it with the under-seasoned ostrich tartare, the dish's intent became apparent. The deeply intense and salty flavor of the dressing complimented the arugula, fennel and the tough-to-eat ostrich. I was not about to add the runny egg yolk to it to make a trio, but I'm sure that was what I was supposed to do.

Hand Carved Charred Ostrich atop Lobster Hash, Andouille and Bell Pepper Gravy
This dish brought the "meat and potatoes" to the table. Everyone seemed to be excited about this dish after viewing the photo posted on Facebook and Twitter. And then THIS came to the table.

Awww, man! Three tough, overcooked pieces of ostrich. Boo. But the big pieces of lobster mixed with the andouille & bell pepper gravy made me happy. Tucked underneath the ostrich was THIS.
Look! Big ol', fat ol' lobster claw!
The gravy, so deep, rich and intense warmed my soul. I didn't stop eating until my fork hit bottom. I didn't want this to end.

Peppercorn Crusted Ostrich Filet, Ostrich Sausage, Toasted Farro, Charred Patty Pan Salad, Parsnip Chips, Pomegranate Gastrique
Too busy taking pictures, and tweeting to eat, I heard my table's opinions of this dish before I had a chance to dig in.
"This is delicious"
"Holy pomegranate"

Taking the lead with over 25 points out of 30, the ostrich was a perfect medium rare. Soft and delicate, it fell against the warm, ostrich sausage-accented, toasted farro in the most delicate fashion. The pomegranate seeds were little surprise bursts of sweetness that complimented the medallions. The patty pan squash, mistaken for bits of avocado, were soft and melted into the dish perfectly.

At this point, it's always a waiting game to see if ostrich is going to be turned into a dessert. I tweeted:
My prayers were halfway answered.
Pan Roasted Ostrich Medallion with Curried NC Sweet Potato and Carrot Puree, Slab Bacon,
Red Wine Reduction
What could have been mistaken for a cut of beef steak, this was the best cooked piece of meat all night long. Glistening and inviting, I could cut my piece with a fork. No knife required. There were unlisted bits of bleu cheese on the plate that I mashed into the medallion, creating a perfect union of creamy, tangy bliss. I couldn't taste any of the warm, toasty nuances associated with curry in the puree, but the puree was good, nevertheless. And I'm still trying to figure out what that nest on top of the medallion is...

The last and final course was a toss up: Are we getting dessert? What could is possibly be? I speculated that we could be getting ostrich jerky with a selection of cheese and some sort of mousse. I was wrong. Berry wrong.

Devil’s Food Cake, Cast Iron Cocoa Ostrich, Milk Chocolate Chantilly, Strawberry Consommé
One of the most beautiful presentations I've seen in Fire in the Triad '12 or '13, I never, ever thought this would come out of the kitchen. A complete surprise, the three petals of cocoa-crusted ostrich were the same thickness, texture and sweetness as the slices of strawberry. Speechless, my table ate in silence, marveling at the creativity of this dish: The devil's food cake was deliciously deep, dark and delicious. I could taste the salt and the subtle bitter notes of the cocoa powder. The Chantilly creme was smooth and sweet. I left the strawberry consommé to ensure it masked the flavor of the ostrich, just in case I didn't enjoy it. I took the plunge and was pleasantly surprised. A sleeper hit, this course was the second highest scoring dish of the night.

A mix of hits and misses from course one through six, the prevailing chef was Chef John Bobby of Noble's Grille. To see the score breakdown and dishes side by chef, please visit Competition Dining's website here.

 "Like" Nik Snacks on Facebook to stay tuned for nightly recaps of Fire in the Triad. You can also follow me on twitter @niksnacks and the hashtag #CompDiningNC for live updates during each battle (dinner begins at 7pm). Please also "like" Competition Dining on Facebook or the web.

See Chef Bobby's post-competition remarks below

Congratulations, Chef! You're the unofficial mayor of Winston-Salem right now. Keep up the good work!

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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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