Fire in the Triad: Battle High Rock Farm Chestnut Flour #CompDiningNC ~ Nik Snacks

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Greetings and eatings from Amanda Clark, of the blog Cuisine and Screen! I review restaurants and movies, and when I'm not eating and writing, I'm the General Manager of the NC Theatre Conference. When Nikki asked me to guest blog for her, I shrieked with delight. I'm very familiar with the excitement that is Fire in the Triad - guest judging in 2012, dining in 2013 - so the opportunity to guest blog for the official Fire in the Triad blogger is just awesome!

Nikki and me at a 2013 battle!
The battle was on: Marisol v. Cast Iron Kitchen, the first quarter-final battle. I reviewed Marisol back in 2012 and was blown away by the food; however, it was the first time I ever felt slightly out of place in a restaurant, because I didn't order the "standard" 5-course meal. I enjoyed what I ate, though not the full restaurant experience, so I couldn't wait to see what Marisol came up with at the Fire! To get familiar with Chef Tim Thompson and see what he and his team accomplished in the preliminary round, click here.

After reading Nikki's post about Cast Iron Kitchen's first battle, I immediately added it to the top of my "to visit" list. This place is making a name for itself, QUICK. To get familiar with Chef Tony Stevens and see what he and his team accomplished in the preliminary round, click here.

Guest judges for the evening included Chef Chris Blackburn (Josephine's Bistro AND former Fire in the Triad competitor), Chef Jonathan Wheeler (Jake's Pub & Billiards in Greensboro AND former Fire in the Triad competitor) and my table mate, Jorden Cruley, the winning Pastry Chef from last year's Final Fire battle! Tanya Rivera from WFMY News 2 was also in the house and a joy to meet!

The lights got dim, the crowd came to a hush - it was time to light the fire. Finally, the secret ingredient was revealed: High Rock Farm Chestnut Flour from Efland, NC! What a versatile ingredient! I was into it.

Course 1: Natty Greene’s Ale and High Rock Farm Chestnut Flour
  Tart with Herb Cheese, Arugula and Radish Salad, Bacon Brown Sugar Vinaigrette

Presented by Cast Iron Kitchen
As Pro Judge and table mate Jorden remarked, "could we get a spoonful of the Chestnut Flour to know what we're trying to taste?" Right? We all wanted to know how it differed from all-purpose flour, and hoped for an obvious nutty, woody flavor. I grabbed my fork and greedily dug in, but I couldn't get past the toughness of the Tart. It was a bit too dense and chewy, and unfortunately all notes of Natty's Ale were lost. The presentation was fine - nothing memorable, a bit lackluster, but the Bacon Vinaigrette was bangin'. Someone got started off on a shaky foot, but it's always tough to go first!

Course 2: High Rock Farm Chestnut Flour Crab Cake with Curry Lime Aioli, Pickled Red Onions & Mango Coulis, Balsamic Liqueur

Presented by Marisol
Now we're talking. This Crab Cake was phenomenal. The aroma screamed "I'm on vacation at the beach!" and the Mango Coulis provided a really nice sweetness. The edges of the Crab Cake were perfectly crisp, and the Balsamic and Pickled Red Onions added the right note of acidity. 

Again, I'm not quite sure I got any nuttiness, but the Chestnut Flour was used to bind the Crab Cake, which was darn close to perfection, so in my book, it was extremely well-executed. So dainty and delicate!

Course 3: High Rock Farm Chestnut Flour Seared NC Black Grouper, Chestnut Cream Risotto with Fire Roasted Tomato Sauce, Crispy Fried Brussels Sprouts

Presented by Cast Iron Kitchen
It's as if the chefs could sense our positive feedback, because each course was getting progressively tastier (and hard not to clean the plate!) The Black Grouper was cooked perfectly - the thick, white filet was so meaty! AND this was the first clear tasting of Chestnut Flour! I got the flavor in both the Grouper crust and the Risotto! (Who doesn't love a good Risotto, am I right? Is it a rice, is it a pasta? Who cares! IT'S THE BOMB.)

I could have eaten a plateful of the Fried Brussels, and the Fire Roasted Tomato Sauce was like Ragu on steroids. I can't get over the thickness of that fish. Look at it! It must be 2 inches tall!

It's always fun to meet fellow foodies at this event. Jimmy Crippen does a fantastic job as emcee, and the Social Media was blowing up, thanks to some trendy ladies - Heidi Billotto, Kristi Maier, Grace Riddle and miss Nikki Miller-Ka. People were definitely enjoying some NC wines and Red Oak/Hummin' Bird beers. These events are always such a party!!

Course 4: Pan-Seared Lamb Loin dusted with High Rock Farm Chestnut Flour, Cheerwine Cherry-Tarragon Gastrique, Maple Leaf Farms Duck Fat Grilled Asparagus, Sweet Potato Puree

Presented by Marisol
What a comfort. The dish smelled like Thanksgiving, and I wanted to take that tender, medium rare Lamb and use it as a full-body wrap. There's an idea! I'm sure there are some takers out there...if I think it's a good idea, 1 or 2 other people in the world have to agree with me, right? But I digress. The Cherries were a lovely pop of tartness, and the Cheerwine Cherry-Tarragon Gastrique brightened up the whole dish with its tang.

The Sweet Potato Puree would also be something to offer at my "food salon" - just spread it all over your body. The luscious, velvety Potatoes were a perfect flavor complement to the dish. The Grilled Asparagus was such a treat, and was clearly basted in Duck Fat - you could tell there was more to the often overlooked veggie than meets the eye!

Having sung this dish its' praise, the Chestnut Flour was really nowhere to be seen. This was the Pro Judges' lowest score of the night for that very reason. The plate was fantastic, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Chestnut Flour had been completely forgotten.

Course 5: High Rock Farm Chestnut Pomegranate Tartlet with Chocolate Chestnut Sabayon, Cottle Farms Strawberry Nage

Presented by Cast Iron Kitchen
My sweet tooth and I had been waiting for this moment all evening...DESSERT!!! I knew Chestnut Flour would rock out in these courses, and I was very pleased with the description of this one. I noticed way more Strawberries than Pomegranates (which was fine by me!) and the Strawberry Nage (sauce) was outstanding. So fresh. It did look a bit odd, having the Tartlet in a bowl of the tasted good though.

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that this dish is reminiscent of a PB & J. The nuttiness of the Chestnut Flour really shined through here, and combined with the Strawberries - yeah, I was having awesome flashbacks of being 10 and watching Nickelodeon after summer swim team practice. The Chocolate Chestnut Sabayon was evocative of Nutella (see: Chocolate Hazelnut spread), so bravo for that!

Course 6: Chocolate Ganache Tart, Buttermilk Ice Cream, High Rock Farm Chestnut Flour Sugar Cookie with Chestnut Flour-Infused Chocolate Sauce

Presented by Marisol
My goodness. The highest scoring dish of the night - both Pro Judges AND "Joe" Judges - and my personal favorite. The Buttermilk Ice Cream is heavenly. This is what heaven tastes like. Imagine a Cream Cheese Frosting Ice Cream. Seriously, take a moment. Mmmmm. Sinful and heavenly at the same time.

I dug the Chestnut Flour Sugar Cookie big time, and the Chestnut Flour Chocolate Sauce. This was all coming together so nicely. I slid my spoon into the KitKat-shaped Chocolate Ganache and paired it with a fresh Strawberry...this is what it's all about, folks. Really superior ingredients coming together to make a beautiful dish.

They say Pastry Chefs win competitions in these battles, and if there wasn't a clear winner before, this put it in the bag.

Ballots were submitted, nerves were high, and the victory goes to...

We have a winner! Congrats Marisol! (Chef Thompson is in the white coat)
Marisol! Congratulations, Chef Thompson! You and your team should be very proud! They compete again on May 27, against the May 14 winner - and guess what, I'll be back to write about that one!! Thanks, Nikki, for letting me hang out on here!! It was such a treat for me! I'll even put up my Vanna White photo... See you tomorrow!

Cheesin', like Vanna, in front of the Twitter board!
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

We're more than halfway through the 2014 Fire in the Triad series. Don't miss a crumb of nightly recaps! Don't miss out on the most fun you'll have on a Tuesday night!