Fire in the Triad: Semifinal No.1: Battle Pepsi & Peanuts #CompDiningNC ~ Nik Snacks

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


Please enjoy this guest post from local blogger, Jennifer Hooker of The Onyx Plate. I will be back in the saddle again Wednesday evening to eat, tweet and tell the story of Spring House Vs Graze.
Keep It Delicious,
Nikki of Nik Snacks

Got to Be NC Competition Dining 
Fire in the Triad Series

There are moments in life where you just can't believe what you've been asked to do.  These are moments that you seize with every fiber of your being, and you enjoy them!  When Nikki of Nik Snacks asked me to guest blog in her place, I couldn't have been more excited.  I was one of those people that always checked the site to see who the Chefs were, and what they were cooking.  I wanted to be there incredibly bad!  Sometimes life finds ways of connecting us to where we are supposed to be, and this was where I was supposed to be that night; enjoying the battle between Marisol and Meridian.

What does one say about such an amazing event?  I would start by apologizing from my blog,, and myself.  I’d like to apologize to all that were unable to make it out tonight to the Fire in the Triad competition.  When I say I apologize, I really mean it.  The Got to Be NC food was phenomenal, the atmosphere was charged, and the people were incredible.  It was an experience I will never forget and can honestly say that I enjoyed to no end.  Sad that it had to end, but I felt blessed and happy that it happened. 

I walked in and was met by Kristi with TriadFoodies and Dishcrawl conveniently.  She was able to show me the ropes since my blogger friend, Nikki, wasn’t able to be there.  I missed her presence!  So thankful that I could step in and take her blogging spot for the night!  The tables were elaborately decorated with good NC products and information.  The candles were lit and seemed to set the mood perfectly.  Table 9 was where I was to be seated.  Mark with Salute NC Wine stopped by to say hello and inform me of all the wonderful things Salute has been working on!  You should definitely check it our yourself!  Later, I was joined by 7 other fantastic people to round out my table of 8.  They all knew their wine, and beside them, I definitely felt a little under educated.  I must brush up on my wine knowledge! 

In the beginning, they gave us a lot of education on how things work, as well as talked to us about a few wonderful Got to Be NC items.  The NC Beer Guys were talked about, Eric Lars Myer from Mystery Brewing was there, Southern Foods (where the Chef Refs were from…yes, I said Refs), Denver Restaurant Equipment, and many, many more! 

I had chosen to not judge the competition so I could go more behind the scenes.  Nothing makes me happier than being in the kitchen.  I started out by heading directly into the kitchen to see and meet everyone.  I think the perception of what we expect a competition kitchen to be like, is what we see on Iron Chef.  It was shocking not to find this environment.  Everyone was quiet…focused…on point.  However, both teams were smiling, joking around, helping each other, and working as one.  The first trip back to the kitchen, I heard music to my ears.  The traditional “That’s what she said.” joke was flying around with laughter.  You have to love a good Chef camaraderie.  I couldn’t help but laugh along with them.

After a little chitchat, it was back to the table to be with the rest of the guests, and join in on the conversations.  I was very lucky with the table I was seated at, and it seemed like everyone in the remaining 150 seats had the same fun experience with their own wonderful people.  With each course, I was headed back and forth to the kitchen for photographs.  Then I would rush back to the table to join my group for the tasting of each course.  It was nice to be at a table of people that understood what it was like to actually critique and enjoy every element of the food.

In this competition, the two Chefs compete with at least one secret ingredient.  Tonight was a good Southern one-two-punch.  I meant really, you can’t go wrong with Pepsi and Peanuts from America's Best Nut Co.

Let us now go over each course…each MAGICAL course.

~First~ Marisol

Rosemary-Roasted Garlic-Honey Mustard Rubbed Cheshire Pork Tenderloin, Wasabi Aioli, Ginger-Pepsi-Cabbage Slaw, America’s Best Nut Co. Peanut-Sambal Puree, Pepsi Liquer

Verdict: Too long of a name for the Pork.  Just saying.  The pork was tender with a great flavor.  The Aioli was perfect.  The Cabbage Slaw – nothing spectacular, except for .  That Peanut-Sambal Puree though… my my.  This dish set the tone for the rest of the night.  To some, nothing else really ever compared.

~Second~ Meridian

Pepsi Braised Chard wrapped Cheshire Pork Butt, America’s Best Nut Co. Peanut Potato Gratin, Grilled Broccolini, Texas Pete Cha!_Pepsi Reduction

Verdict: Pork was so much better once you broke open the chard ball (my goodness that sounds vulgar, ha) and let the pork soak up the reduction.  The gratin was out of this World to be honest.  I could have consumed a LARGE portion of that side.  The peppers were pretty, but not necessary.  They were very plain compared to the rest of the dish.

~Third~ Marisol

Veal Milanese with America’s Best Nut Co. Peanut-Panko Crust, Coffee-Bacon-Pepsi Reduction, Dijon Garlic Mash, Micro Greens Salad, Whole Grain Mustard Emulsion

Verdict: I honestly just realized there was a mustard element on the dish.  Otherwise, I don’t remember that flavor.  The Veal was full of flavor!  Although, with that being said, I didn’t taste the peanuts until the very end of the veal.  The mashed was smooth and bold.  I need to figure out the recipe to the dressing on the salad.  You couldn’t really taste the Pepsi to be honest.  I loved the chunks of bacon though!!!  BACON!  *smiles*

~Fourth~ Meridian

Bacon wrapped Veal, America’s Best Nut Co. Peanut-Shitake Duxelle, Sweet Potato-Apple Puree, Caramelized Onion-Brussels Sprouts, Blueberry Pepsi Sauce

Verdict: My favorite dish of the night!  A young lady at the table said it best…”This reminds me of Thanksgiving”.  It was warm, colorful, and soulful.  The sweet potato puree was phenomenal with a mysterious heat at the back of the tongue.  Amazing.  The last note for this dish….I could eat that Blueberry Pepsi Sauce on some good ol’ homemade ice cream any day!  Try me!  Who’s making the ice cream??? 

~Fifth~ Marisol

Pepsi Cheesecake with America’s Best Nut Co. Peanut Graham Cracker Crust, Salted Caramel Ice Cream, Pepsi Infused Chocolate Sauce

Verdict: The crust fell apart, but when it crumbled, it was just that much better to scoop up with the melting ice cream.  Pure bliss.  I didn’t get much of the Pepsi in this dish.  That’s alright though, because it was awesome!

~Sixth~ Meridian

America’s Best Nut Co. Peanut S’Mores, Bruleed Pepsi Marshmallow, Dark Chocolate, Peanut Brittle

Verdict: Peanut Brittle was slap your momma good!  I could eat that all afternoon!  I’m not sure I got much Pepsi in this dish either.  I definitely loved the marshmallows.  They were a great texture and perfectly prepared.  

In the end, the winning restaurant was Marisol.  It was definitely fitting since Marisol is the last Greensboro restaurant remaining in the competition.  Now, I haven’t seen the rest of the competition coming up, but I would probably bet money that they’re going to take the crown this year. 

In closing, and after 150 plates were served, the Chefs worked together, and both showed up in full force tonight.  It was an experience I’ll never forget, and I wish I could keep living it over and over again.  In the end, it’s all about working together, inspiring, and sharing your passion with the World.  Tonight….job well done to both Chefs and their teams.  Their passion clearly came through in their dishes, and I left more inspired than ever. 

With love and inspiration,
Jennifer with

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