FIRE ON THE ROCK
Iron Chef, watch out. North Carolina has the best chef competition going, held the last few springs in Blowing Rock, but coming to the rest of the state next year.
FIRE ON THE ROCK is the culmination of 16 chefs from the High Country competing during the month of March for one of 8 coveted spots in the final heats. The RULES? They could bring $100 worth of food in their bag of tricks. Each heat provided a secret ingredient that must be used in each of the three dishes they would prepare in 50 minutes. Baskets full of NC veggies - peppers, apples, onions, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, red and yellow potatoes and heirloom tomatoes grown in a hot house were also available for the chefs to use.
Honey, leafy greens, corn and corn products, and striped bass were the secret ingredients from NC in the four elimination rounds held on Sat.
The audience watched, smelled and cheered, while a lucky 5 purchased a spot at the Chef's Table to dine on each of the 3 dishes both chefs created during their heat. Judges also tasted and ranked each dish.
CAROLINA FOODIE TORTURE
So we in the audience salivated as each dish was presented.
Yucca-encrusted striped bass, then presented in the next dish in a tortilla with avocado, mango and chipotle salsa, then a ceviche with heart of palm, caper and grapefruit were presented by the only female chef, Marietta DeBriere, chef of the Blowing Rock Country Club and a native of Puerto Rico who definitely cooks with a Latin flare.
Chef Chuck Nelson of The Table at Crestwood used duck fat to saute the striped bass. He also wrapped a filet around julienned red and yellow peppers sprinkled with balsamic vinegar, tying the bundle with a long green chive. another dish stacked the fish with heirloom tomato, a sweet potato slice roasted with balsamic vinegar, with fried wantons on top.
Bill Greene of Artisanal blanched, then gave native NC ramps a cold water bath, which he sprinkled over roasted corn chowder; another used sweet corn and habanero sauce with pork. HIs challenger, James Welch of Crippens, did a rosemary cheesy polenta, also a corn succotash with pork.
The next heat had Michael Barbato of Chetola's Manor House and Guy Branaman tossing leafy collards, kale and cabbage with apples, onions, bacon, peppers and shitakes to serve with NC pork or chicken.
The surprise ingredient for the last heat was honey. Chayote squash, julienned leeks, carrots and parsnips, diced heirlom tomatoes, as well as the honey, were used with honey pecan glazed chicken, and a steak. Both chose to do sweets - a honey blueberry cobbler with a honey creme anglaise, and a blackberry honey gastric served over chicken. One judge, restaurant reviewer John Batchelor, exclaimed, "You need to count how many toes are curling!"
Each heat had a declared winner. But competitors for the final heat, held on Sunday, were determined by the total number of points given each chef by the judges.
THE THROW DOWN
Celebrity chef Carla Hall Lyons of Alchemy Caterers in Washington, DC, the People's Choice winner and self-proclaimed "'Al Gore' Iron Chef," joined the Judges Table for the final THROW DOWN between Bill Greene of Artisanal, and Dominic Geraghty of The Hounds' Ear Club.
The secret ingredient? Carolina Blue Crab. The first of the season, alive and fiesty.
Tossed into boiling water, it was a scramble to clean enough crabs and then cook, within 50 minutes.
Chicken thighs were wrapped around crabmeat by Dominic. He prepared a crab bisque with a basil chiffonade. "Fireworks" coleslaw with a little "zip and a zap" formed a bed for more crabmeat.
Meanwhile, Bill Green served thinly sliced Kobe beef with crab and a homemade hollandaise sauce with asparagus. A Kobe Oscar? Then a Napoleon stack of veggies and crab, and finally, a gazpacho with mache and crab.
Unbelievably, it was a tie. Both chefs received 255 points. The other chefs were only separated by 7 points.
Close? You bet.
What was amazing to this Carolina Foodie was watching the chefs think on their feet, using ingredients they had on hand, to present such beautiful and amazing dishes in such a short time.
Next time, I'm buying a seat at the Chef's Table.