Competition Dining: 2013 Fire in the Triad Grand Championship #CompDiningNC ~ Nik Snacks

Bite it and write it. That's what I do.


The Fire in the Triad Grand Champion has been chosen. The coveted red chef's jacket and prize of $2,000 has been claimed. Wednesday night, Chef John Bobby of Noble's Grille in Winston-Salem met Chef Timothy Bocholis of Bistro B in Kernersville at the Empire Room in Downtown Greensboro for one last time to secure a spot to determine the top chef in the Triad.

Wednesday night, it was all about the pig. The night's featured ingredients: pork butt and bacon, courtesy of Cheshire pork from Heritage Farms in Seven Springs, NC, made the Empire Room rock and sway with excitement. Pork definitely rules. The Boston butt or pork shoulder is partly responsible for the following popular foodstuffs: sausage, pulled pork, hot dogs and kielbasa, two of which we had during the course of the night. In the end, bragging rights went to Chef John Bobby and his team. Read on to find out how the evening unfolded.
[In the style of Sir Mix-A-Lot]
I like pork butts and I can not lie/
You other chefs can't deny/
That when a pot-bellied pig walks in
You can foretaste
that round thing in your face
You get HUNG(ry)

(left) Chef John Bobby; (right) Chef Timothy Bocholis

Culinary and professional judges for the evening included Todd Dulaney from Our State magazine; Jim Early from the NC BBQ Society; Ted McCall, a culinary instructor at Johnson and Wales University; and Ryan Payne, the 2012 Final Fire champion and executive chef of Weathervane at Southern Season in Chapel Hill, N.C. Their votes were weighted at 30 percent. The dining public’s votes were weighted at 70 percent.

The house was full of local chefs and luminaries. Chef Michael Harkenreader of Undercurrent, Chef Creighton McNeil of Liberty Oak, Chef Gregory John of Greensboro Country Club, Esther Ivey of Heritage Farms Cheshire Pork and so many others, I can't begin to name them here. But what I can share is the 2013 Fire in the Triad video montage played before the final results were revealed. It showcases photos from each battle, each chef, the friends, the families, the farmers and there's even a resplendent photo of myself in the mix [at the 1:10 mark]!

Okay, dry your eyes. It's time to talk about the food! For score breakdowns, click here.

Latin American Smoked Pork Guiso (Stew) with Peppers, Onions & Tomatoes, Black Bean Bacon Salsa with Orange, Sweet Potato Matchsticks, Poblano Crème Fraiche
Presented by Bistro B, this dish arrived to each table promptly at 7:30, during host Jimmy Crippen's introductions and explanations of how to vote and use the Competition Dining app. I thought this was foreshadowing for how the evening was going to play out: hot food from the kitchen and in a timely manner and I'm home in Winston-Salem by 10:30. Contrary to popular belief, the dishes came out of the kitchen very slowly and while most of the dining room had finished or were near to finishing their meal, the tables surrounding mine had yet to be served. Some of the dishes arrived cold, missing components or something else all together.

You've heard of a 'mess of greens'? Well, this stew was a mess of beans. And pork, tomatoes and peppers. The presentation was messy and due to the dim, romantic lighting of the Empire Room, that played to this course's advantage. The flavors, however were great. Classic Latin flavors of cumin, garlic, oregano, cilantro, and smoky roasted peppers were very strong. The sweet potato matchsticks gave a little crunch and were an appropriate nod to the South American roots of the dish and the origin of the potato. The poblano crème fraiche melted into the stew and added a mouthful or two of tart contrast to the red brick-colored stew. The pork was lost among all of the other ingredients and seemed to be just another ingredient addition to this dish.

Beer Braised Pork Belly, Oyster Mushrooms, Pork Butt & Bacon Sausage, Fingerlings, Bacon Brodo, Blackberry Mustarda
Another mess in regards to presentation, this dish was presented by Noble's Grille. The glamour shot above doesn't hold a candle to what I received at my seat.

I. Like. Pork. Butt and I cannot lie.

The scored, grilled pork belly was beautiful and definitely the best part of this course. It was soft, juicy, unctuous, and melted in my mouth. The sausage became sodden in the savory bacon broth and was difficult to eat with the uneven pieces of oyster mushrooms, purple and white fingerling potatoes. The blackberries provided little bursts of sweetness, but didn't mix OR match with any of the components of the dish. There was no cohesion in the course and even though it was flavorful, the sausage executed well and the pork belly absolutely delicious.

Butt Pad Thai with Applewood Smoked Bacon, Pad Thai Noodles and Lemon Grass Stir Fried Vegetables
One of the least successful dishes of the night, this course really did not showcase the featured ingredients. DISCLAIMER: Pad Thai usually means peanuts or a peanut sauce, so my dish was modified and contained NO SAUCE. According to reports from other diners at my table, I didn't miss much. There wasn't much sauce to cover the noodles in the first place. No one I spoke to was willing to explain the dish in positive terms.

The noodles I had were dry, tasted of cellophane and were slicked with oil. The entire dish was completely covered with dry, crispy wonton strips. No tamarind. No bean sprouts. No coriander. No lime. No chillies. No taste. There were bits of pork and bacon mixed in the noodles and I almost missed them, they were so small. The best part of the dish? The stir-fried vegetables. Very crispy and bright in color, the vegetables were done well. The promised lemongrass? I think it may have been left behind in the kitchen because it was not on my plate.

Pork Sugo, Spinach Tajarin, Garlic Chips, Grilled Fennel, Shaved Calvander Cheese, Fried Bacon Lardons
Complex and aromatic, this dish was one of my favorites of the night. The mound of pork on top was shredded, juicy, succulent and tasted better than it looked. Sugo [soo-go] means sauce in Italian. Pork sugo is made by braising vegetables and pork shoulder until they fall apart, extracting every ounce of flavor out of each component. The pork in this course was definitely full of flavor. Accented with the creamy, salty, savory, shaved Calvander (similar to Asiago), that alone made the dish sing. The pork-filled aria was cut short by less-successful accompaniments. when this dish arrived, it was cold. Not lukewarm. Cold. The tajarin (or taglierini) pasta was not executed well. It was slimy, and did not soak up the sauce or the sugo very well. I did not taste any grilled fennel in my dish, but I did taste the fried bacon. The bacon was super crispy, too crispy. I actually chipped a tooth on it. Literally. I went home with a piece of my enamel in my hand. Despite those missteps, and even though this dish was not high-scoring, it was still one step further to victory for Noble's Grille.

Marinated Paillard of Pork with Smoked Bacon Mustard Butter, Spiced Pommes Frites, Braised Dried Apple Cabbage
The promise of a juicy, fried pork cutlet mounded with crisp, farinaceous French fries encouraged me to be excited about this course. When it arrived, my excitement level was reduced to a zero.

Womp. Womp. Womp.

It was like something from an overpriced, overrated Parisian bistro. Execution and accompaniment scores were low, I'm sure. The pork was indeed hot, fried and crispy, just how I imagined it, but it was also dry. Very dry. And I'd run out of wine and water at the table. There was an oasis of the smoked bacon mustard butter in the center of the huge cutlet, but it had already melted underneath the fried potatoes by the time it reached my table. My pommes frites were not spiced. They were too thin, too hard and crunchy, almost like canned potato matchstick snacks. Lastly, no one at my table got the cabbage. During plating, the portions were underestimated and at least eight people were without. From the looks of the glamour shot--it looked dry as well.

At this point in the night, I realized we were only going to get one dessert course. I also realized that the top chefs in the Triad hadn't shown up yet. Until it was time to present course number six.

Dark Chocolate Mousse Cake, Chocolate Covered Bacon Pieces, Pork Butt Peanut Brittle
After the first glance, I tweeted,
This course alone was worthy of an award. Orchestrated by Chef John Bobby's wife, Lucia, she really helped the team pull out a W. The base of the dessert was a thin chocolate sponge with a smooth, creamy, decadent chocolate mousse on top of that. Hidden inside of the mousse were extra crispy bits of dark chocolate covered bacon. The same crispy bacon that was in course number four made its way here and it was "pure poetry" as one person put it. layered on top of the mousse was MORE CHOCOLATE in the form of a chocolate glaçage [gla-SAHJ], acting like a layer of fondant: smooth, pretty, yet functional and delicious. I did not partake of the peanut brittle, but from all accounts, it was surprisingly buttery, salty, porky, nutty and a little tease atop this beautiful dessert.

Guests waited to hear the final numbers, eyes riveted on Jimmy Crippen. After recognizing the outstanding staff and team at the Empire Room, Crippen rattled off the scores for all six courses. All of the scores were low for all of the courses. The diners, many of whom were repeat offenders customers, expected more out of both chefs and definitely voted with their palates. Chef John Bobby and teammates Lucia Renzi-Bobby and Sara Brown took home the trophy, a $2000 check, a handmade chef knife by Ironman Forge in Charlotte, and the coveted red chef’s jacket only a Competition Dining finals winner can receive.

The $2000 check was presented by Mac Sullivan, chief executive officer of Pate Dawson-Southern Foods, lead sponsor and Jimmy Crippen, host and founder of Competition Dining.

Thank you, Chef Tim & team. It was a pleasure experiencing you and your styles of cooking during the competition.
Team Bistro B

Team Noble's Grille // The Winner's Circle

Chef John Bobby will now compete in November at Final Fire: Battle of the Champions against the Got To Be NC Competition Dining Champions from Asheville, Wilmington, Charlotte and the Triangle.

Thank you for reading this blog for a nightly recap of Fire in the Triad. Thank you to all of you followers on Twitter (@niksnacks), Facebook (Nik Snacks) and all of the Competition Dining Series sponsors and partners: North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, Pate Dawson-Southern Foods, OUR STATE magazine, Certified Angus Beef, Pepsi Bottling Ventures and Swisher Hygiene.