Fire in the Triad Semifinals // NC Cheese & Honey #CompDiningNC ~ Nik Snacks

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


The Fire in the Triad SEMIFINALS are underway. Only a few courses separate the finalists from obtaining the coveted red chef's jacket. Chef Gregory John of Greensboro Country Club and Chef John Bobby of Noble's Grille in Winston-Salem met at the Empire Room in Downtown Greensboro for one last time to secure a spot to determine the best chef in the Triad.

(left) Chef Gregory John; (right) Chef John Bobby

It went from Team Country Club and Team Noble's to Team Greensboro and Team Winston-Salem very quickly. The county lines were crossed and brought out fans and families for both chefs. This night promised to be some of the best food of the series so far. This battle, a month in the making, came to a fever pitch when the featured ingredients were revealed.

Do you remember this commercial?

I was totally obsessed with it AND cheese as a kid. The first featured ingredient we were treated to: Calvander cheese from Chapel Hill Creamery. Calvander is reminiscent of Asiago, made with raw milk and aged at least 7 months. It’s semi-hard, good for melting and grates well too. Portia McKnight and Flo Hurley, the creamery's owners and cheesemakers were on hand Tuesday night to dine and enjoy the dishes made with their wonderful product.

The second featured ingredient was local honey from St. Dominic's in Mayodan. Battle Honey in 2012 was one of my favorites. The family of the apiary was also on hand to dine and enjoy each of the six courses of the night.

Judges for the evening: Michael Hastings, food editor of the Winston-Salem Journal, Associate Professor Jerry Lanuzza from Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte and Susan Melvin from St. Dominic's Honey. 

Okay, it's time to eat. I'm hungry. How about you? Be sure to read this week's Yes! Weekly for another look at Fire in the Triad, written by yours truly. I was not privy to what was going on in the kitchen because I decided to vote tonight, but I do know that the kitchen was running behind.

Honey White Peach Glaze BBQ Shrimp, Stone Ground Calvander Grits, Sauteed Snow Peas, Shaved Country Ham & Calvander Frica
For the first 5 minutes after this course's announcement, my tablemates and I searched to find out what "frica" was. My first thought was a fried cheese crisp and I was right. The crown atop this course was indeed crisp. Sharp. Nutty. Floral. The rest of the dish followed suit. The grits were a little soupy, but the flavor of the cheese within the grits was very strong and pronounced. The bits of ham matched with the cheese. The fresh snow peas snapped and crunched with each bite and were just barely past done. The shrimp combined with the swirl of peach glaze gave the palate a break from the strong, salty flavors of the calvander.

Mustard Gnocchi, Baby Vegetable with Honey Gastrique, Bacon Lardons, Calvander Beer Cream
Very similar to the first course, instead of a bowl of grits, we got a bowl of cheese sauce. With some stuff in it. Presented beautifully, the glamour shot above does not do this dish justice. The gnocci were very light and fluffy, but were not crisped to add texture and had no flavor unto themselves.The potato dumplings got lost in the intense flavor of the beer cream. Light (well, as light as a cheese sauce can be) yet intense, the mustard advertised in the gnocchi turned up in the sauce. I did not taste any of the honey gastrique, but the beautiful petals of baby vegetables (pattypan squash and some other unidentifiable tiny vegetables) were sweet and cascaded down into the bowl like a colorful fall leaves.

Honey Bourbon Braised Pork, Herbed Spaetzle Hash, Honey Glazed Root Vegetables, Sauteed Spinach, 60 Minute Egg with Calvander Bacon Ale Fondue
Oh boy. This dish was definitely a risk. A risk worth taking at this level of competition, but the risk did not pay off. The lowest-scoring dish of the night got points from me for creativity, but the execution didn't happen. It seemed to take near 60 minutes for the plate to come to the table. Cracking 120+ eggs takes time. Too much time. And when you crack the egg, it likes to roll around, I'm sure. I bet plating was a nightmare.

The honey bourbon pork was dry, but the flavors of both the honey and bourbon were pronounced strongly. Both were distinct and did not overpower one another. The spaetzle was not successful. Typically, a soft, eggy noodle, this showing of German noodles was not. It had the texture of a soft grain like farro: toothsome and al dente, but it did match the texture of the potatoes (hash). The sauteed spinach was flavorless but it cradled the 60-minute egg. Yes. A 60-minute egg. Cooked in an immersion circulator for 60 minutes, the intention of the egg was to be pierced by the folk, the yolk will be thick, with a fudge-like consistency and run all over the pork (the reason for the dry pork, I suppose) to moisten it and to flavor it. The slow-cooked egg ran all over the plate, indeed. The calvander fondue mimicked hollandaise and was not nearly as intense as the previous beer cream. It was VERY light in flavor. So light, I did not detect any bacon. Or ale for that matter.

Andouille & Calvander Raviolio, Grilled Poblano, Honey Mustard Chimichurri
Hello, pretty little raviolo. Upon first bite, I was reminded of an exchange between former Fire in the Triad competitor Chef Travis Myers and myself earlier in the day:

The smoky andouille, salty calvander and poblanos inside the pasta made this dish taste like the most elegant hot dog on the planet. Hot dogs = bologna + potted meat. Two things I am not interested in eating. Ever. Combined with the garnish of sweet red onions and honey mustard chimichurri, it was the perfect recipe for a deconstructed hot dog. The only other misstep: the pasta dough. It was undercooked. Not al dente; Undercooked. It wasn't raw, but it had that unpleasant bite to it that needed another 3 minutes in simmering water to be perfect. The unlisted ingredient of charred green beans were also smoky and tasted great with the rest of the dish. Crisp and snappy, the beans' texture was what the pasta's should have been.

Chocolate Honey Crème Caramel with White Chocolate Calvander Ganache
Another risk-taker, this course started to turned into a mess before it began. The chocolate caramel creme melted and turned into soup before the chefs' eyes during plating in the kitchen. My creme was starting to melt into the white chocolate ganache and the sauces in the bottom of the bowl when it came to the table. Despite those issues, this was a very sexy dish. Sex is unpredictable, messy and awkward yet beautiful, satisfying and fun. That is exactly what this course was. My chocolate ganache decoration was decorated with beads of sweat. The creme was cool and jiggly, with a sweet, soft chocolate flavor. I was confused as to if the ganache was on the bottom or the top, but the halved blackberries provided a nice juicy burst to contrast the darker chocolate. I was not confused about that. Smooth and velvety, I think it was a sweetened crème fraîche on top. It did not really add flavor, but it did add another layer of sensual texture.

Calvander & Pear Torte, Honey Meringue, Pistachio Crumble
Everyone was impressed by this course. Everyone was raving about the pistachio crumble. I heard reports of it having the crunch of a shortbread, salty yet sweet and it added the perfect texture to the torte. The farmer in the dell would have eaten this dessert. The cheese would not have to stand alone. The meringue was soft and sweet like a marshmallow, redolent with the flavors of a summer campfire. The soft pastry of the tort was layered with a cool, light and sweet pear jam and pastry creme. The attention to detail did not go unnoticed.

Check out the floral design of the sauce on the plate
Impressed by the glamour shot, the plating and the mix-match of flavors, this course was the highest-scoring dish of the night.

The scores were close all night long. The winner by 1.5 points was Chef John Bobby of Noble's Grille! Winston-Salem is still in it to win it and will meet the winner of Wednesday night's battle between Chef Creighton McNeil of Liberty Oak and Chef Tim Bocholis of Bistro B.

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

Tickets for the next Competition Dining series, Fire in the Triangle are on sale NOW. Team brackets will be announced on Monday, June 24. Stay tuned to Facebook and for all of the details!

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.