2014 Fire in the Triad: Grand Finale [Battle Beer & Bacon] #CompDiningNC ~ Nik Snacks

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


It's done.
It's finished.
One more of the 2014 Got to be NC Competition Dining Series is in the books.


The red jackets have been donned.
The $2,000 check has been signed.
The Ironman Forge knife has been unsheathed.
The night was bittersweet. Literally.

Chef Tim Thompson, Marisol-- came out of the gate running to beat newcomer Matt Culpepper of Quiet Pint Tavern during the first Fire in the Triad battle. Not resting on his laurels, Chef Tim participated as a professional judge on a few occasions and enjoyed the fare of other competitors throughout the competition. He went on to take down dark horse, Tony Stevens of Cast Iron Kitchen and Winston-Salem's Mark Grohman of Meridian in the semifinals. Last, but not least, Chef Tim Thompson and his team battled it out and made mincemeat of his competition, swiftly whipping and beating them with his arsenal.

Chef Richard Miller, Graze--a true native son of Winston-Salem, this veteran player to Fire in the Triad, he came to play and took Winston-Salem chefs to task. He took down Brandon Sherrill of District Rooftop Bar & Grill, slayed Travis Myers of River Birch Lodge and reigned supreme over former colleague and culinary powerhouse, Tim Grandinetti of Spring House Restaurant, Kitchen & Bar in the Fire in the Triad semifinals.

The night was crowded and rowdy from the very beginning. It was like a family reunion with everyone hugging, shaking hands, air-kissing each other and visiting each table carrying glasses of NC Wine and pilsners filled to the brim with Foothills Brewing's fine beer.

Over 170 hungry chefs, diners and farmers settled into the Empire Room at Elm Street Center with one thing on their minds: Would they be basking in Marisol's glow or moseying over to Graze?

Guest judges and special guests: 2014 Fire on the Dock winner, Antoine Murray from Cape Fear Country Club; 2013 Final Fire Grand Champion, Ryan Payne; 2013 Fire in the Triad winners, John and his wife, Lucia Bobby; Jeff Turner of Our State Magazine; John Batchelor, fine dining reviewer for News & Record; Chef Michael Harkenreader of Undercurrent; Vicki Payne of PBS Show 'For Your Home'; Tim Barbrey of Perky's Bistro

The secret ingredients: Bacon and Beer! Bacon and Low Down Brown and Hoppyum IPA from Foothills Brewing. Little known fact: I LOVE Hoppyum. It is my NUMBER ONE favorite NC beer. I love the bitter Simcoe hops, the fine line that it rides between disgusting and bitterly amazing. It's intensely bitter, grassy, piney, with thin whispers of citrus laced in. Sounds awful, doesn't it? But I love it.

Course 1
Dijon & Bacon Panko Crusted NC Flounder, Pan Seared Scallop, Spicy Mango & Lime Aioli, Salad of Asparagus, Almond, Orange & Bacon, Foothills Hoppyum Soy Vinaigrette
Presented by Marisol

Voter Score: 31.25
Pros Score: 22.50
Weighted Score: 28.62

There aren't many things that render me speechless, but this course nearly did it. Every piece, every component, every nuance of this course screamed elegance, sophistication and represented the caliber of food worthy of a Fire in the Triad champion.

The flounder was hot, crispy and buttery against the mango lime aioli. Sitting atop was a perfectly cooked scallop that was briny, succulent and probably one of the most perfect things I've eaten in a long time. The "salad" was more of a garnish of crisp, crunchy bits of asparagus, bacon bits and slivers of orange supremes (no almonds for me #allergyalert).

Course 2
Applewood Smoked Bacon Dusted Sea Scallop, Cheshire Bacon & Ashe County
Cheese Polenta, Foothills Hoppyum Brown Sugar Beurre Blanc, Spicy Candied Bacon
Presented by Graze

Voter Score: 29.48
Pro Score: 25.00
Weighted Score: 28.13

Again. Speechless.
A perfectly cooked scallop that was truly dusted with bacon bits was cradled in a quenelle of soft, creamy polenta. The smooth, sweet, beautifully colored beurre blanc bordered on the line of tasting too much like raw alcohol had been poured in, but it's difficult to mask that bitter-piney taste of the Hoppyum IPA. It worked well here, adding another dimension of flavor to the dish.

Course 3
Foothills Cottonwood Low Down Brown Braised Cheshire Pork Shoulder, Bacon Lardon, Foothills Low Down Brown Gravy, Potato & Parsnip Puree with Ashe County Romano Cheese, Hoppyum Syrup
Presented by Marisol

Voter Score: 28.11
Pro Score: 18.25
Weighted Score: 25.15

Presented beautifully, I was ready to tuck into this dish before it came to the table because the aroma reached me before the plate. My piece of pork shoulder was  dry on the inside, but there was PLENTY of gravy to remedy that situation. The gravy had slices of carrots, slivers of garlic floating in it and that was my favorite part. Flavor-wise, this was my favorite dish. I loved the deep, dark caramelly flavors of the Low Down Brown paired with the Hoppyum syrup. The potato and parsnip puree was so soft and smooth, if you'd told me "This is what clouds taste like," I would have believed you. Each component was so perfect, it was easy to just enjoy and eat this course without picking it apart and dissecting each item listed.

Course 4
Cottonwood Low Down Brown Marinated Certified Angus Beef® Bistro Filet,
Hoppyum Tempura Enoki Mushrooms, Heritage Farms Applewood Smoked Bacon
Low Down Brown Bordelaise, Sweet Potato-Cipollini Puree, Bacon Aioli with Green Onion
Presented by Graze

Voter Score: 23.61
Pros Score: 22.00
Weighted Score:23.13

A bistro filet is a designer cut of beef. Cows have not changed since they were invented, but the way butchers cut their meat has. The bistro filet comes from the shoulder and rivals the tenderloin as the most tender cut of beef. It's less expensive than the tenderloin and difficult to get to without finesse, but Monday night's bistro filet was treated with lots of finesse. Missing, was the flavor of the Low Down Brown Ale, but the tender petals of beef were perfectly prepared, set up against the soft, sweet potato puree. There could have been more bordelaise on my plate, but I LOVED the bacon aioli. It was missing a strong bacon flavor but it was pleasantly pungent and thick with green onion flavor .

Course 5
Foothills Cottonwood Low Down Brown Chocolate Cake, Coffee Ice Cream, Hoppyum Three Way Chocolate Patè, Raspberry Foothills Hoppyum Curd, Toasted Pistachio & Pig Candy
Presented by Marisol

Voter Score: 29.49
Pros Score: 23.25
Weighted Score:27.62

I think I forgot to say grace before the meal and I remembered right at the moment my spoon dug into this course.
Every Competition Dining diner dreams that every dessert course is this amazing. The taste and complexity of this course is something everyone should aspire to attain. Not the most sophisticated plating, I'd order this dessert again and again and again and tell other tables at the restaurant I'd pay them to order the dessert so we can have the experience together.

The cake: a perfect disk of devil's food cake, spongy, airy
The ice cream: coffee, coffee, coffee (with 2 sugars and 2 creams)
The pate: a triple layers of milk, dark and white chocolate created a stripe that reminded me of what Snickers tastes like, sans peanuts
The curd: a melted pool of tart, bright raspberry 
The pig candy: My portion was simply candied bits of bacon, but it was perfect, I swear.

Course 6
Foothills Hoppyum Heritage Farms Bacon Devil’s Food Cake,
Cottonwood Low Down Brown Maple Bacon Ice Cream, Hoppyum Sabayon, Bacon Ganache
Presented by Graze

Voter Score: 23.21
Pros Score: 16.50
Weighted Score:21.20

You know that person. That guy or girl who is an acquaintance--you like them enough to say hello when you see them at a social function, but not enough to remember finite details about them: last name, occupation, etc. That is how I personally felt about this course. And I believe the scores reflect that sentiment as well.

The cake reminded me of this:

I kept looking around for the Shoney's Bear to show up.
The cake was dry and all of the dark, bitter, disgusting things I love about Low Down Brown and Hoppyum became things I hated in this dish. The ice cream reminded me of the beer breath the old man at the bar has when he tries to put his arm around you and breathe 'Hello' into your shocked face as you shrink away. The presentation was gorgeous! The ganache dripped down onto the block of cake and the ice cream, dotted with strawberries and large bits of bacon was promising, but left a unpleasant aftertaste in my mouth.

The score breakdown:
Final Scores by Chef:
Chef                                       Voter Score               Pro Score       Final Weighted Score
Tim Thompson, Marisol                 29.53                  21.33              27.11493213
Richard Miller, Graze                    25.40                   21.17             24.12750557

We will see Chef Tim Thompson and his band of followers from Marisol in Raleigh in November! Congratulations, Chef!

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 Triad.com, 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

(Photo courtesy: Competition Dining)