Competition Dining: Meridian Vs Bistro B // Battle Carolina Catfish & Berries #CompDiningNC ~ Nik Snacks

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



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

The penultimate Fire in the Triad QUARTERFINAL dinner took place Tuesday night. Chef Mark Grohman of Meridian Restaurant in Winston-Salem and Chef Timothy Bocholis of Bistro B in Kernersville met at Elm Street Center's Empire Room in Downtown Greensboro for the unofficial Battle Forsyth County.

(left) Chef Mark Grohman of Meridian; (right) Chef Timothy Bocholis of Bistro B

Both chefs competed during Fire in the Triad's inaugural year and went two different directions. Chef Grohman did not advance past the preliminary rounds and Chef Bocholis lost in the quarterfinals in 2012. Back in the saddle again, both chefs are looking to show what they can do in the kitchen and see what other chefs are doing as well. Both chefs started cooking at a young age, are restaurateurs and lead their kitchens as a quiet storm. Both chefs were judged on Tuesday night by a room full of fans, foes, peers and jeers.

Guest judges for the night were: Local author, Jo Maeder; Executive Chef of Starmount Country Club, Travis Bensink and owner/founder of Fullsteam Brewery, Sean Wilson.

Me with Fullsteam CEO, Sean Wilson
While I have your attention and you're reading, voting ends soon for the 7th Annual Smitty's Notes "Best of Winston-Salem" Contest. Please vote Nik Snacks as best local Twitter feed (#13) If you're one of Winston-Salem's many loyal Smittyheads-- or even if you're not-- I'd love your support. (Bonus: no matter how you vote, include your email address when you fill out the survey for a chance to win a $50 Visa gift card!)

Enough about ME, let's get on with the food!

The list of the night's featured ingredients: Carolina catfish, blackberries AND raspberries from Lewis Farms in Rocky Point, NC. On their own, each ingredient is just okay but to not know how each chef was going to incorporate each into 3 courses was intriguing indeed.

Raspberry Glazed Breast of Duck Salad, Grilled Red Onion, Chèvre, Blackberry Balsamic Vinaigrette
A nice, simple salad is sometimes too simple. One of the lower scoring dishes of the night, the duck on this dish was too rare for me. I was lucky enough to get a slice of an end piece so I could enjoy the sweet, rich, meaty flavor of the duck. I enjoyed the sweet, tangy flavor of the blackberry balsamic vinaigrette but I wished there was a tiny bit more of it. No one wants their greens drowning in dressing, but more would not have hurt, especially since it was the only component that featured the secret ingredient.

Catfish & Crab Fritters, Asian Slaw, Blackberry-Applewood Smoked Bacon-Chipotle Tartar Sauce
In my opinion, the slaw was the best part of this dish. The tiny parcel of toasted sesame seeds, cabbage and green onions was well-prepared, flavorful and countered the delicate meat of the fritters. It was a smart move to combine the sweet meat of crab with the earthy flavor of catfish. The fritters were fluffy and light, but the nuggets of fish in my portion was a bit soggy and damp. The tartar sauce was a great addition, but it did not need the bits of bacon.

Crispy Katafi Catfish, Old Mill of Guilford Stone Ground Grits, Snap Peas, Lusty Monk Original Sin Mustard & Pancetta Cream
The highest scoring dish of the night was, in my opinion, the best dish of the night. Definitely something I would order on a menu, this dish restored my faith in the dirty, dirty taste of catfish. The pancetta mustard sauce was spicy, creamy and had depth. It blanketed the grits, the beans and the fish when I dipped my fork in it. I loved it. I ate it slow so I could remember and savor every bit of it. The flavor masked the earthy undertones of the fish and I loved that part. The catfish filet was wrapped in katafi (also known as shredded phyllo dough) and even though the fish was well-seasoned and soft, it tasted fried because of the crispy strings of katafi. The grits were creamy and studded with the bits of pancetta, leftover from the cream.

Catfish Jambalaya Stuffed “Turban”, Smoked Tomato-Crab-Shrimp Ragout
The lowest scoring dish of the night, this "jambalaya" stuffed "turban" caused a bit of confusion and controversy in the dining room. When the dish was first named, the word turban was misspelled as "turbine" because the team did not know how to spell it. A turban in the culinary world is a rolled, stuffed fillet of fish. When that was cleared up, opinions turned to the "jambalaya". If you are a reader of my blog, you know I have roots in New Orleans. I am a grandchild of New Orleans. I teach a "Mardi Gras" cooking class every year featuring gumbo, etouffée and JAMBALAYA. This was not jambalaya. Rice, bits of andouille sausage and a sprinkle of cayenne do not a jambalaya make. There were no bons temps while eating this part of the dish. The most successful part of the dish was the ragout, but it smelled unpleasantly fishy, the chiffonade of basil on top was off-putting and the bits of shrimp were disappointingly few. Diners definitely voted with their palate regarding this dish.

Genoise Cake, Raspberry Jam, Mixed Berry Sorbet, Blackberry Compote & Red Wine Zabayon
The best part of this dish was the zabayon. It was perfect and I wished I had more to cover every bit of my cake and sorbet. The red wine tannins were tamed by the sugar and the softness of the egg, whipped into this component of the dish. I was not a fan of the cake's presentation, as it looked like a crustless lunchbox sandwich, but the berry-soaked galette was no match for the smooth, sweet, tart, cool sorbet. Or that zabayon.

Spiced Vanilla Ice Cream, Almond Tuille, Raspberry-Lemon Coulis
The highest scoring dessert and second highest scoring dish of the night, this dish made me question my palate as a foodie and as a person of the world. Of course, there was no almond tuille cup for me, but there was plenty of ice cream and coulis for me to enjoy. Only, I did not enjoy it. At all. I could not get past the grainy texture of the ice cream. Over-churned and full of bits of ice and buttercream, I mistook the cream for sand. The spice of the sand ice cream hit you on the back of your palate, in a sneaky way. I asked my table about the tuille and all said it was good. Sweet, pliable (which tuille usually is not) and a nice cradle for the ice cream, everyone seemed to love it. I don't feel as if I missed out on that gem.

The volleying of scores was neck and neck all night and before the dessert courses, there was a little more than a ONE POINT difference between each chef. While the results of each course were being announced by founder and host, Jimmy Crippen, you could have heard a pin drop. There was no laughter, no applause. Nothing except the "baited" catfish breath of 120+ people. Winning by a mere 0.445 of a point, Chef Timothy Bocholis of Bistro B won Battle Carolina Catfish & Berries!

In good spirits, after the competitors shook hands
Visit Competition Dining for score breakdowns, dish-by-chef photos, tickets and other information!

The next battle begins Wednesday, June 12 between Tim Thompson of Marisol and Creighton McNeil of Liberty Oak in Greensboro.

Tickets are on sale for Fire in the Triangle. The chef brackets will be announced June 24. Get your tickets now, after one day of sales, the Fire in the Triangle final battle tickets are over halfway sold out!

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.