Round two of Competition Dining NC’s “Fire in the Triangle” brought us a Chapel Hill-on-Chapel Hill battle. Chef Adam Rose of Il Palio at the Siena Hotel and Chef Josh DeCarolis of Jujube were duking it out in front of what appeared to be a hometown crowd. Between the familiar faces and the raucous cheers of support for both chefs, I think half of Chapel Hill was in the dining room!
Let’s get right to the important part – the secret ingredient. Based on a earlier peek into the kitchen I was pretty sure they’d be working with white asparagus, but boy was I wrong. The secret ingredient turned out to be mustard; Lusty Monk brand mustards from Asheville to be exact. The crowd was clearly excited at the announcement and I began wishing I had brought breath mints.
Here’s where I take a step back and admit that I was a bad blogger; I forgot to charge the battery on my camera and it died shortly after the first course. Luckily for me Judy Royal, our trusty media wrangler for the competition, had thought ahead and I thank her for allowing me to use her photos.
The first course was from Chef Rose of Il Palio – Buttermilk Mustard Fried Shrimp with Original Sin Mustard Slaw & Chipotle Mustard Barbeque. It was a hit with both the crowd and the judges (who tonight where Fred Thompson of Edible Piedmont and Colleen Minton of TeraVITA).
Up next was what turned out to be the runaway favorite amongst those of us at table 18 – Mustard Poached Pork Tenderloin with Shellfish Confiture, Salad of Pickled Vegetables, Mixed Greens, Fresh Herbs & Mustard Polenta Croutons. It was perfect in every way, mustardy without being too hot, fantastic combinations of textures, light yet filling. If I had been voting I would have given the competition to Chef DeCarolis of Jujube on this dish alone.
The courses continued to come and our breath continued to get a little stinkier. Some, like the Cassoulet of Mustard Crusted Duck Breast with Lamb and Pork Sausage, Lentils & Yucca Tots from Jujube didn’t get rave reviews from my fellow diners (although the tot was a hit), while others, like the Chipotle Mustard Duo of Skirt Steak with Sunchoke Puree, Pickled Sunchokes, Braised Veal Cheek, Porcini Risotto & Fruit Mostarda left the table divided. Colleen Minton & myself loved the braised pork cheek, but others found the texture a bit much to deal with.
Finally dessert arrived. Yes, mustard dessert. We were all waiting to see how the chefs would handle this task, and in the end they did pretty well. The first dessert was a Golden Apple Tarte Tatin with Honey Mustard Caramel, Mustard Crème Anglaise, Fresh Basil & Golden Raisins from Il Palio.
I am a huge fan of tarte tatin, and this was pretty good. The only complaint that it got from the table was that hidden underneath the apples was a hunk of blue cheese that most thought took away from the overall taste structure of the dish. When you have mustard, do you really need blue cheese?
Lastly was, in my opinion, the most daring dish of the night and my favorite of the desserts:
Mustard Mascarpone Flan with Roasted Walnuts & Port-Currant-Mustard Compote. Yes, you heard right. Mustard. Flan. It was delicious. I couldn’t get enough of it, and if I hadn’t already been on the edge of a mustard overdose I would have gone into the kitchen to see if there were seconds. It was creamy and rich with just a hint of mustard, and I was very impressed with the Jujube team for pulling off such a daring combination.
The night was getting late and everyone was anxiously awaiting the results as host Jimmy Crippen introduced the two teams. Once again I was proven wrong; I was fairly certain team Jujube had clinched it, but in a surprise photo-finish Chef Adam Rose of Il Palio pulled ahead and won the competition by a hair, 68% to 62% for Chef Josh DeCarolis. What put Chef Rose over the top was the audience votes; the professional judges had preferred team Jujube 74% to 70%.
In the end though everyone had a great time, and both teams presented amazing dishes while working with what admittedly is a pretty tough ingredient, mustard. I have one more night of reporting before I pass the blogging baton, and if there is one thing I am looking forward to for tonight’s competition, well I think Chef Adam Rose said it best last night:
“I if I never have to see mustard again I’ll be a happy man.”
– Matt Lardie
Matt Lardie is the voice behind the local food and agriculture website Green Eats Blog. He has a passion for local foods and businesses, and works to connect customers with local food producers through his writing as well as hosting food-centric events around the Triangle. He is also the full-time manager for Hillsborough Cheese Company. Matt lives in Durham with his husband and pets.
Bonus – Here’s what goes on behind the scenes at Fire in the Triangle!