Competition Dining: Marisol Vs Liberty Oak // Battle Blueberries ~ Nik Snacks

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


The fourth Fire in the Triad QUARTERFINAL dinner took place Wednesday night. Chef Tim Thompson of Marisol Restaurant and Chef Creighton McNeil of Liberty Oak in Greensboro met at Elm Street Center's Empire Room in Downtown Greensboro for the last opportunity to lock in a spot in the Fire in the Triad semifinals.

Both chefs are family men and are very talented, revered chefs in the Greensboro community. Chef Thompson wowed fans and soon-to-be fans with his Pork Sausage, Strawberry Tarragon Moonshine, Strawberry Moonshine Syrup, Ginger-Strawberry Moonshine Slaw during Battle Moonshine. The talk amongst Competition Dining patrons was that he and his team were going to take each battle and run away with it. Two-thirds of Team Liberty Oak have already tasted the sweet nectar of Competition Dining victory. Chef McNeil gained some new fans (me included) with a Short Rib & Chèvre Ravioli, Saffron Goat Cheese Cream, Roasted Beets, Spring Onion and Pistachio-Pink Peppercorn Dust during Battle Goat Cheese. Creative in and out of the kitchen, what ingredient would they face next?

BLUEBERRIES. Blueberries from Lewis Farms in Rocky Point, NC.

(left) Chef Tim Thompson of Marisol; (right) Chef Creighton McNeil of Liberty Oak

The night's judges: Kim Alexander of Triangle Localista, local chef instructor Chef Don McMillian of The Stocked Pot in Winston-Salem and local chef and caterer, Chef Reto Biaggi.

Let's eat!
Sesame Crab Cake, Blueberry Black Rice “Risotto”, Citrus Herb Salad, Lemon Grass Blueberry Curry
I always love to see a crab cake on a menu. It's a classic American staple and always a crowd-pleaser. The crowd was fairly pleased with this dish scoring a little over 20 out of 30 points. I didn't detect any sesame in the crab cake, but it was well-prepared and fresh, pressed up against the citrus herb salad. The parsley, fennel and supremes of orange brightened up the dish and was my favorite part. I'd eat more of that palate cleanser any day. Anticipating the redolent flavors of curry, lemongrass and blueberry in the curry sauce at the bottom of the bowl, we were treated to a disappointingly thin stream of it that got lost in the small mound of black rice. I wished there was more rice as it was the only component that tasted remotely of blueberries.

Confit Chicken and Quail Farcemeat, Parsnip Potato Puree, Blueberry Red Wine Cipollini Onion, Blueberry Apple Compote, Blueberry Reduction
Farcemeat or forcemeat is a mixture of something finely chopped and usually bound together with egg whites and is used as a stuffing or by itself (ie. the meat inside a sausage casing). The confit chicken and quail of this were bound together by fat and flavor. Not the prettiest plate of the night or the highest scoring, the plating left much to be desired.

Quite phallic, huh?
The best part of the dish was the singular cipollini onion. Sweet and tart at the same time, I was sad when it was gone. The parsnip potato puree was well-prepared but that is where the praise for this dish ends. The whole plate was beige and unappealing to the eye. The farcemeat was something like cat food for humans. Made of uneven pieces of both fowl, this made this main part of the dish foul. Sitting inside of the log of fowl forcemeat was the blueberry apple compote. Sweet and tart, no one at my table could detect the apple. None of that mattered because we were ready for the next course.

Later in the evening when each course's creator and the scores were revealed, we learned that courses one AND two were from the same chef! Shocking! An unexpected turn of events! So courses three and four were from the opposite camp. Interesting...

Pan Seared Roasted Quail, Sweet Potato Puree, Blueberry-Ginger-Mint Red Wine Reduction, Blueberry Balsamic Glazed Cipollini Onions
Again, not the prettiest plate of the night, this course tasted of Thanksgiving and everything everyone likes about the holiday (minus the football). My two medallions of quail was just okay, as I kept finding miniscule bones and crunching down on them. I gave up after a while and focused on the sweet potato puree and the blueberry reduction. The puree was sweet and nicely spiced with cinnamon, sugar and everything nice. Sliced blueberries aren't pretty and you hardly ever see them on a plate, so I was surprised by this plating choice. The small amount of cipollini onions here were very tart and astringent. I'm positive I would have liked them with the quail, but that ship had sailed, so it was up to the reduction to save the day. The mint gave the sauce a little freshness and it made those sliced blueberries I eschewed earlier taste like floral, piney juniper berries.

Braised Pork Butt, Blueberry-Apple-Basil Crème Fraiche Cole Slaw, Dried Cherry & Bacon Couscous, Blueberry-Chipotle BBQ Sauce
This was the course worth waiting for. While the other three courses were fair to middling, this course put the "competition" next to the word "dining". In my personal opinion, this was the best course of the night. I was so enthralled with it, I did not take a photo of it before digging in and cleaning every inch of my bowl. I was not a fan of Israeli couscous until now. The couscous must have been toasted in another life, because it was smoky from the bits of bacon, sweet from the cherries and spicy from the blueberry-chipotle sauce. The piece of pork butt was juicy, succulent and I'm getting hungry all over again typing about it. The cole slaw was not as chilled as I would have liked it to be against the hot pork, but the crunch of the cabbage and the creaminess of the crème fraiche cut the spice of the sauce.

Chef Tim and Chef Billy Seay "doing (ie. plating) da butt"

Lemon Custard, Blueberry-Ginger-Sage Ice Cream, Blueberry Passion Fruit Syrup, Cashew Graham Crisp
The best part of this dish: the lemon custard. I fall in love nightly with parts of dishes, but I really fell hard for this quivering little thing. I even took my bread plate back to the kitchen in the middle of the course, with hopes that I could snag an additional piece. And I found this:

Chef McNeil cutting out that sweet, sweet custard
The texture was smooth, creamy and absolutely perfect. The bright, fresh lemon flavor was tamed by the cream and the sugar, but it still burst all over my taste buds. I didn't care for the blueberry-passion fruit syrup (which was more like a compote) because it was way too tart, and I didn't really pick up the flavors of passion fruit. No cashew graham crisp for me, I focused on the ice cream. My portion was full of small chunks of ice, but the earthy sage and the abundant ginger flavors made me forget about that part. More than a few diners echoed my sentiments because this was the highest scoring dish of the night.

Yellow Cake, Blueberry Citrus Compote, Blueberry Ice Cream, Streusel Topping, Blueberry Gastrique
I'd never had gastrique in a dessert before last night and I kinda like it. The sweet yet vinegary undertones of this sauce worked well with the sweet blueberry compote. The compote soaked into the yellow cake and that was my favorite part. The cake, although moist, it was very dense and thick. The blueberry ice cream was pretty, sitting atop the cake but it wasn't very flavorful. The other blueberry flavors overpowered the subtle sweetness and flavor of this frozen dessert component. Full of whole berries and topped with the crunchy, spicy bits of streusel, that was exactly the kind of texture this dish needed.

In the end, only 0.18 separated each chef.

All votes tallied, Chef Creighton McNeil and his crew pulled out a win and is headed to the Fire in the Triad semifinals.

For a breakdown of scores and chef-by-dish photos, tickets sales & reservations, additional photos and more, visit Competition Dining.

The Final Four are set. Who will make it to the finals? Who will reign supreme? Place your bets in the comments below!

Pictured: (top left to right) Chef Gregory John of Greensboro Country Club, Chef John Bobby of Noble's Grille, Chef Timothy Bocholis of Bistro B, Chef Creighton McNeil of Liberty Oak

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

About Competition Dining: In 2013, this unique 15-dinner competition dining experience has traveled across the state of North Carolina to Asheville/Blowing Rock, Wilmington and now Greensboro. Raleigh and Charlotte are slated for later this summer and fall. Each evening, two of the region's best restaurants “battle” it out side by side in a single elimination, “Iron Chef”-style format. Each chef must create three courses, for a total of six plates, each using a “secret” North Carolina ingredient.