Fire in the Triad: Semfinal [Part 2]: Battle Strawberries + Grits #CompDiningNC ~ Nik Snacks

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


I'm back. Did you miss me? I missed y'all.

Read this blog for a nightly recap of Fire in the Triad posts to stay in the loop. You can also follow me on twitter @niksnacks and the hashtag #CompDiningNC for live updates during the next battle (The next and LAST battle begins Monday, June 2 at 7pm). Please also point your web browsers to OR "like" Competition Dining on Facebook,Twitter and Instagram!

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Wednesday night was a true grudge match. It was Battle Winston-Salem. It was Battle Royale. It was a Battle to end all battles because: Chef Tim Grandinetti of Spring House used to be executive chef of Twin City Quarter-Marriott International which now houses Graze, where Chef Richard Miller is chef de cuisine. What is a chef de cuisine? Basically, the CEO of the kitchen (the Executive Chef is like the COO). The Marriott family is a proud and esteemed family to be a part of, as both chefs are amazing and respected. It's pretty safe to say that hotel chefs are not seen as putting out glamorous or complex dishes, but both of these men and their teams put that notion to bed very quickly during the second round of the Got To Be NC Competition Dining Fire in the Triad semifinal!

The night's judges and media guests:
2013 Fire in the City winner, Jon Fortes of Mimosa Grill in Charlotte; and Adam Jones of Rocky Top Hospitality Group in Raleigh; Michael Hastings, food editor of Winston-Salem Journal

The secret ingredient(s)? Strawberries from Cottle Farms in Faison, NC and Grits from Old Mill of Guilford in Oak Ridge, NC.
Who had "true grit"? Who blew a "strawberry" at the competition? Let's find out:

Course 1
NC Mahi Mahi, Old Mill of Guilford Grits Cake with Pancetta Wrapped Shrimp, Cottle
Farms Strawberry-Cipollini Agrodolce, Lemon Grass Beurre Blanc

Presented by Spring House

Voter Score: 19.16
Pros Score: 23.00
Weighted Score: 20.31

The lowest scoring dish of the night, it had good intentions. But we all know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

My first course
I would normally apologize for the fuzzy, out-of-focus photo, but in this case, I'm a little fuzzy on why this plate looked different from what we were promised. The mahi mahi grit cake was very dry. The lemongrass beurre blanc was a mere suggestion on the plate as the majority of the dish's flavor came from the very spicy balsamic reduction encircling the dish. The spice from it overwhelmed the rest of the dish. I wish the strawberries had been diced a little finer to match the size of the cippollini onions. Others at my table commented that the strawberries did not really complement the dish, but I thought they worked well. The pancetta-wrapped shrimp would have been beautiful on top of the grit cake, but it was on the side, like a forgotten step-child.

Course 2
Old Mill of Guilford Grits Crusted Mahi Mahi, Grits Cake, Tasso Pepper Velouté,
Cottle Farms Strawberry & Lump Blue Crab Salsa
Presented by Graze

Voter Score: 32.50
Pros Score: 28.67
Weighted Score: 31.35

The highest scoring dish of the night, I think everyone fell in love with the deep, rich flavors of the tasso veloute and the comfort of the soft, buttery, creamy grit cake. Major points for creativity, this dish's use of the mahi was more approachable than the last course. This mahi also didn't have much flavor. A little sesame seed combined with the grits crust would have been nice, I think.

Course 3
Bacon Wrapped Pork Stuffed Joyce Farms Chicken, Cottle Farms Strawberry-Heirloom Tomato BBQ Sauce, Old Fashioned Grits Cornbread Stuffing, Carrot Mousseline, Broccolini Puree

Presented by Spring House

Voter Score: 23.84
Pros Score: 23.00
Weighted Score: 23.59

One of the more creative uses of both secret ingredients, I really liked this dish. The bacon on my plate did not wrap the pork as much as it did sit on top of it and pair with slabs of deliciously crispy chicken skin. The strawberry-tomato bbq sauce was really nice, as it started off sweet (the strawberries!) and then tickled the back of your throat with spice and everything nice and reminded you that it was a barbecue sauce. I'd mop my pork butt with this sauce any day. The best part of the dish? The cornbread stuffing. It was golden and buttery and sweet and savory and hidden underneath the slices of chicken stuffed pork loin.

Course 4
Sous Vide Poblano Marinated Lamb Loin, Cottle Farms Strawberry Demi, Bacon
Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Old Mill of Guilford Whipped Mascarpone Grits, Texas Pete®Cha! Aioli

Presented by Graze

Voter Score: 29.61
Pros Score: 30.33
Weighted Score: 29.82

THIS. Was the best course of the night, in my opinion. I don't know why it didn't score higher. Everything about it was perfect. This lamb was the best piece of sous vide meat I have ever tasted. I will remember this lamb and how it was sacrificed to bring Fire in the Triad diners joy, for years to come. The sauces were amazing. The demi was sweet yet savory. The aioli was thick, spicy and bright. After every bite, I couldn't help but exclaim," Whoa. WHOA. WHOA!" The only drawback? Granite rocks could have been substituted for these Brussels and I would not have known the difference.

Course 5
1)Rum Spiked White Chocolate Milk Shake
2)Strawberry Mascarpone Mousse with Cornmeal Grits Cake Shards
3)Cinnamon Crusted Petite Doughnut with Cottle Farms Strawberry Sauce

Presented by Spring House

Voter Score: 26.11
Pros Score: 25.33
Weighted Score: 25.87

I have to admit: I ate this course so fast, I didn't get to savor it as much as I would have liked. I saved the best for last though: the rum spiked milkshake. I joked on Twitter:

The cake shards had people at my table worried that they would be gritty, hard and sharp. They were anything but. They were soft, fluffy, light and gone in an instant. The doughnut was a little chewy and the strawberry sauce was a little too tart, but overall, I personally liked this dessert best.

Course 6
Chocolate Bouchon, Old Mill of Guilford Grits Dusted Beignet, Pastry Crème,
Cottle Farms Strawberry & Strawberry Cider Ice Cream
Presented by Graze

Voter Score: 29.83
Pros Score: 33.67
Weighted Score: 30.98

Put chocolate in a dessert and it almost always automatically wins. This dessert was no exception. The bouchon (the chocolate disk) was a very dark chocolate cake, almost like a thick and chewy brownie. I couldn't decide if I like it or not because it was so rich. Paired with the beignet that was dusted/sprinkled with grits, I just couldn't get on-board. I think everyone was so impressed with the plating, that the forgot about the grits part. The strawberry cider ice cream was a little too tart for my tastes but it kind of went with the bouchon. The single painted stripe of pastry creme was the most beautiful part and held everything in place on the plate.

In the end, it was Chef Richard Miller and his team from Graze that ran away with the win this night. Graze will now meet Marisol in the 2014 Fire in the Triad Grand Finale. May the best chef win.

ContestantVoter ScorePros Score Final Weighted Score
Chef Richard Miller, Graze 30.639 30.889 30.71368421
Chef Timothy Grandinetti, Spring House 23.043 23.778 23.26376812

I told y'all that it was Miller Time. Didn't I?

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