Fire in the Triad: Battle Seasonal Produce #CompDiningNC ~ Nik Snacks

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Two more chefs were in the running for a spot in the Fire in the Triad semifinals. Only one can win and get that coveted red chef's jacket. And $2,000. And a custom set of hand-forged knives from Ironman Forge. And prestige. And bragging rights. And... the list could go on.

Who wants it more?

Chef Kevin Reddick & Chef Tim Grandinetti are both poised for victory

Monday night brought out two more of the best chefs in the region to battle for the unofficial title of King of Winston-Salem. Who put the WIN back in Winston-Salem? Let me tell you: It was neck and neck all night long! Located a mere 2 minutes away from each other in Downtown Winston-Salem, both restaurants and both chefs set the bar high for quality food, service and expertise in my favorite city in North Carolina.

The night's judges and special chef guests: Steve Zanini of Jimmy V's Steakhouse & Tavern in Cary, Scott James of Midtown Grille in Raleigh, Tom Milne of Green Valley Grille in Greensboro, Kristi Marion of Southern As Biscuits and Forsyth Magazines; Former 2014 Fire in the Triad competitors: Matt Culpepper of Quiet Pint, Tim Barbrey of Perky's Bistro; Kevin Baker of J. Peppers; owner of New Town Bistro, Kyle Agha;

The secret ingredient(s):
Smith Farms & Fogwood Food Seasonal Produce & Buttered Pecan Syrup: Shiitake mushrooms, butter pecan syrup, arugula, pea shoots and swiss chard were all up for grabs as the night's secret ingredients!

With such an array of produce from which to choose, I honestly thought the dishes would all be above and beyond anyone's wildest imaginations:

Course 1
Black Drum-Crab Mousseline Stuffed Manchester Farms Quail, “Toad in a Hole” Old
Mill of Guilford Grits Cake, Citrus Laced Smith Farms Pea Shoots, Pomegranate Fowl Demi
Presented by Artisan

Voter Score: 26.48 
Pro Score: 27.00
Weighted Score: 26.64

Impressed by the presentation and the promise of a "toad in a hole" this was my favorite dish of the night. There was a lot going on and it took a bit to figure out what was going on with this dish. My mom raised me on what we called an "egg in a nest", which essentially is a piece of bread with a hole cut out of the middle and a fresh farm egg dropped into the center and griddled on both sides in whole butter and seasoned with salt and pepper. The grit cake was a creative choice and I appreciated that throwback to my childhood. I always like my eggs to be cooked over hard, with absolutely no runny yolk. Runny yolks are trendy and that is half of what I received--one side of the egg was runny, the other was overcooked. Others at my table received "overcooked eggs" too. The mousseline of fish and crab was an odd choice with the quail breast, I thought but the citrus-laced pea shoots were the best part of the entire dish. 

Course 2
Braised Heritage Farms Cheshire Pork Belly, Fogwood Foods Shiitake Mushroom Polenta,
Smith Farms Arugula Spiked Fruit Salsa, Crispy Yukon Chip
Presented by Spring House
Voter Score: 28.64
Pros Score: 24.33
Weighted Score: 27.35

The first pork belly of 2014 Fire in the Triad started off with a bang. The very smoky, salty pork belly was absolutely perfect. It was well-prepared and matched perfectly with the creamy, savory, unctuous shiitake mushroom polenta. The salsa left much to be desired as it didn't really match with the other hearty, heavy components of the dish and the arugula was a mere suggestion, a whisper, that did not add to the overall flavor of the dish. The "crispy yukon chip" was not a potato chip. I believe it was fried yuca, a root native to South America. If it wasn't, it was a damned good representation.

Course 3
Cast Iron Seared Maple Leaf Farms Breast of Duck, Fogwood Foods Buttered Pecan & Scallion Couscous, Swiss Chard & Four Pepper Ragout, Tempura Shiitake Mushroom Caps
Presented by Spring House
Voter Score: 29.61
Pros Score: 26.67
Weighted Score: 28.73

I was not able to enjoy this dish due to my nut allergy, but all across the board, everyone seemed to like this course best, of all the savory dishes. I did manage to snag a tempura mushroom and it was a little soggy by the time it got to me, but that's what I get for pilfering someone else's mushroom. The concensus: the duck was well-prepared, the couscous was a little overdone and did not have much butter pecan flavor, but the four pepper ragout really brought everything together and made the dish "tasty".

Course 4
Grilled Loin of Venison, Fresh Vegetable Melange, Dehydrated Smith Farms Pea
Shoots, Bing Cherry Jam, Natural Reduction
Presented by Artisan
Voter Score: 23.67
Pros Score: 23.00
Weighted Score: 23.20

After it was revealed that this was the lowest-scoring dish of the night, it was clear not that it wasn't that the course tasted bad, it was that the components did not match. The venison was well-prepared and tender, but it was under-seasoned. The fresh vegetable melange was more bits of smoky pork belly than vegetables and the pork assaulted your taste buds so you couldn't enjoy the rest of the dish. There were smoky bits of potato, and a miniscule sprinkle of green pea shoot dust that looked sad next to the sad, stringy pieces of wilted arugula. Another bright spot and the best part of the dish next to the piece of venison was the Bing cherry jam. It had a deep, dark flavor that matched with the meat and more of that on the plate could have garnered more points for a win.

Course 5
Pâte Brisée, Cinnamon Crème Fraîche, Fogwood Foods Buttered Pecan Crème,
Dehydrated Apple Chips
Presented by Artisan

Voter Score: 30.37
Pros Score: 25.00
Weighted Score: 28.76

No buttered pecan syrup for me, but I was still able to enjoy this course. The highest scoring dish of the night was presented like a deconstructed apple pie. The best part of this dish: the sweet, silky, creamy slices of apple. The cinnamon crème fraîche pulled everything together and matched perfectly with the apples and the butter, crispy disk of pâte brisée (which is basically a fancy term for pie crust). I REALLY disliked the bits of dehydrated apple, as they were like apple-flavored BBs and made my mouth hurt while chewing them. Maybe the pork belly bits in course 4 would have been used better here.

Course 6
Tuxedo Cake with Flavors of Chocolate and Orange, Fogwood Foods Buttered Pecan Brittle
Presented by Spring House
Voter Score: 26.38
Pros Score: 21.00
Weighted Score: 24.77

It looks like the pros REALLY disliked this course, eh? Well, it was the most technically perfect dish of the night: the layering of the chocolate orange and vanilla cake was perfect. They can't teach that skill in school (okay, yes they can. I'm just playing). The only caveat: it tasted just like cake. And by that I mean, it was moist, had even crumb and was presented beautifully, but it was just. cake. There was no wow factor. And the butter pecan brittle (that I did not enjoy due to my allergy), was just that. It was just. brittle. After polling some of the dining public, I was told it was like an afterthought and perched inside a puff of whipped cream just to make sure it was added on the plate. 

You know when you're watching "Chopped" and a chef puts an ingredient on the plate at the last minute, just to get it in? It was like that (no dig to Chef Tim and his appearance on "Chopped". I swear)

These chefs and their teams worked hard. Lots of thought and innovation went into each course, but there could only be one winner and snaking by with a .07 of a point, Chef Tim Grandinetti and his team of ladies won Battle Seasonal Produce! Spring House goes on to the semifinals against the winner of the Graze Vs River Birch Lodge battle. Either way, a new King (and possibly a few queens) will rise from Winston-Salem!

Final Scores By Each Chef

Chef Tim Grandinetti, Spring House 28.207 24.000 26.94504505
Chef Kevin Reddick, Artisan 26.652 25.222 26.22277526

About The Got To Be NC Competition Dining Series: This 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.

We are all chefs, farmers or diners: Thank you to the following sponsors for making the Got To Be NC Competition Dining Series possible--NC Department of Agriculture, Pate Dawson-Southern Foods, Go, Pepsi Bottling Ventures, Joyce Farms, Texas Pete, hITs Tech, Certified Angus Beef, Cheshire Pork by Heritage Farms, NC Restaurant & Lodging Association, NC Egg Farmers, Office of State Fire Marshals

The 2014 Fire in the Triad series semifinals are almost upon us! Don't miss a crumb of nightly recaps! Don't miss out on the most fun you'll have on a Tuesday night! GET YOUR TICKETS NOW!

(Photo Courtesy: Competition Dining)