Fire in the Triad: B. Christophers Vs J. Peppers #CompDiningNC ~ Nik Snacks

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


About Got To Be NC Competition Dining Series: This unique 15-dinner competition dining experience has traveled across the state of North Carolina to Asheville/Blowing Rock (Fire on the Rock), Wilmington (Fire on the Dock) and Greensboro (Fire in the Triad). Raleigh (Fire in the Triangle) and Charlotte (Fire in the City) are slated for later the summer and fall.

Competition Dining is always a Battle of the Threes:
Three chefs
Three courses
Three chances.... win over the dining public and move on to the next round. Tuesday night was no different.

Don't miss nightly recaps of the previous night's battle! Subscribe to Nik Snacks' email list and follow #CompDiningNC on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Chris Russell is chef/owner of B. Christophers Restaurant in Greensboro, formerly of Burlington. This is Russell's THIRD Fire in the Triad appearance. He exited early in 2012 and 2013. Was the 3rd time the charm?

William Kevin Baker is now at the helm of the kitchen at J. Peppers Southern Grill in Kernersville; Last year he was part of the J. Peppers team that floated to the 2nd round. Chef Baker is poised to make his 2nd Fire in the Triad appearance.

John Batchelor

Guest judges: Chef John Willis of Ryan's Steakhouse in Winston-Salem; Chad McIntyre, former Fire in the Triangle competitor; John Batchelor food critic for Greensboro News & Record and Jeff Tiberii of WUNC Public Radio

Other noted luminaries in the building Tuesday night and EVERY night: Kristi Maier of Triadfoodies, Heidi Bilotto & Grace Riddle, new manager of Competition Dining and Renee Griffin of Guilford Senior Services.

It's important to give back to the community. While we get to enjoy sumptuous food prepared by professionals, there are a number of seniors in our community who can't and need our help. Please consider making a donation to Fire in the Triad's charity partner. $27, the price of one entree at a fine dining establishment can feed a senior for one week. For more information, please click here.

Now that I've pulled at your heart strings, the best way to get to your heart is through your stomach, so let me tell you about the night's courses!

The secret ingredients: Certified Angus Beef spinalis and Cottle Farms strawberries. BOTH ingredients had to be used in 2 of 3 courses from each chef. The spinalis (Pronounced spin-AL-is) is the tender, juicy cap on the top of the ribeye. And Cottle Farms is in the Coastal Plains region of the great state of North Carolina, in Faison. Beef is ALWAYS in season and it's just the beginning of strawberry season here in North Carolina. Check out your local farmers markets schedules to see when strawberries will be coming to a stall or stand near you.

Course 1: Smoked Spinalis carpaccio, fennel and arugula salad, strawberry vinaigrette, pickled strawberries, pine nuts, crispy maple leaf farms duck skin
Presented by J. Peppers
The smokyness of the carpaccio was welcome and unexpected. I can't say I'd ever enjoyed smoked carpaccio before Tuesday night. As beautiful as the slices were, it was very underseasoned. A simple sprinkling of salt could have alleviated that. The focus of the dish was the arugula salad. The pickled strawberries were the best two parts of the salad alongside the pieces of crispy duck skin, which doubled as croutons on the delicate handful of arugula and microgreen lettuces. I did not have pine nuts, do to my allergy, but other diners commented that they were not toasted enough to bring out their rich flavor. The strawberry vinaigrette was well-executed and the fennel added freshness and crunch, but nothing else was particularly highlighted here.

Course 2: Braised spinalis, goat cheese risotto, chilled NC shrimp, and strawberry pico de gallo, basil pesto oil
Presented by B. Christopher's

Second highest scoring dish of the night, I would order this in a restaurant, save for the miniscule bits of strawberry hidden beneath the shrimp and the braised beef. It was seemed to be an afterthought and was not highlighted at all. The risotto was creamy, flavorful, tangy and matched well with the juicy, braised spinalis. I enjoyed the bits of shrimp and they added an extra layer of flavor and texture to the dish, but I'm not sure why the shrimp were labeled as "chilled", because they were the same temperature as the rest of the dish. Perhaps the plating changed in the kitchen and the description couldn't be changed, but either way--I am glad the shrimp were not cold. The pico de gallo was more tomato than strawberry and I'm not sure if I would have liked the dish if more diced strawberry had been introduced, but it was a perfect comfort dish to help us forget the foggy night brewing outside. No basil pesto oil for me, but from what I heard, I don't think I missed much.

Course 3: Spinalis confit, vanilla cayenne sweet potato puree, charred mushroom pierogi, strawberry black peppercorn demi

This dish needs to be on someone's menu (hint, hint; nudge, nudge). This was my favorite course of the night. The plating was not impressive and needed some serious work, and a few of us at my table thought this to be an empanada upon first look, but the aroma of this course knocked all others out of contention for the Most Aromatic award. The confit of spinalis was truly delicious. It was braised, juicy, sumptuous, sexy. I couldn't get enough of the sweet potato puree; partly because there was only a teaspoon on the plate. It was smooth, as if it had been forced through a tamis and the delicate balance between vanilla and the spicy cayenne was perfect. Really. It was perfect. The pierogi filling was amazing. Soft, delicate mushrooms were a great foil to the silky spinalis confit.

The pierogi dough was not that great. I wished it had been sauteed in butter, garnished with parsley, chives, ANYTHING. The naked dough was a little unappealing. The strawberry peppercorn demi was sweet, yet aggressively spiced with the peppercorn and it really pulled the dish together.

 Course 4: Spinalis, pancetta sweet potato hash, strawberry demi glace, whole grain mustard creme fraiche
Presented by B. Christopher's
The spinalis was the star of this course. Pancetta makes it betta and it did make the dish better. I didn't like the sweet potato hash as it was underseasoned, but this strawberry demi was EVERYTHING. Every bite without the sauce made you a little sad inside. The creme fraiche did not add anything to the dish and if I never ate it, I would not have missed it. And if I never see another tuft of microgreen-hair, it will be too soon.

Course 5: Strawberry gateau Breton, chocolate strawberry ganache, strawberry sabayon
Presented by J. Peppers
There was not enough strawberry here. The word strawberry was in each component of the dish, but not enough of it was on the plate: a sliver of a slice in a 1/4 teaspoon of sabayon with another 1/2 teaspoon on top of a cake does not a great secret ingredient use make. The ganache did not have the crunch, snap or sheen that is associated with ganache that has been properly tempered. The cake tasted just how it was supposed to: biscuity, buttery, sugary--but it was more like a crescent of biscotti than a cake. Otherwise, it was a very lovely dish.

Course 6: Strawberry shortcake, dark chocolate ganache, orange mascarpone whipped cream

Presented by B. Christopher's
The highest scoring dish of the night had the best use of strawberries the entire evening. The shortcake was short in the fact that the 2 pieces were shorter than your finger. It had a very similar texture and taste to the Breton of course 5.The dipped ends of chocolate ganache had a slight bitterness to them that worked well with the orange essence in the creamy bit of Mascarpone on the plate. I wished the mint has been candied, or dipped in a simple syrup instead of simply being put on the plate, but the best use of strawberries: diced, in a sauce and on top took precedence. The sauce was a little too tart and tangy and it made the strawberries seem less sweet, but when separated from the other dish components it was fine on its own.

With a 4 point margin between each team, Chef Chris Russell proved that the third time is the charm and he moves on to the quarterfinals.

Congratulations to Chef Chris and his team! We'll see him on May 14 against Chef Mark Grohman of Meridian! GET YOUR TICKETS NOW! Seats are limited to 100 each night and you definitely want to be a present when these two chefs meet!

Team B. Christopher's