The preliminary battles of the “Got to be NC” Competition Dining Series began last night with Chef Scott Wallace and team of Rankin Vault vs Chef Peter Pollay and team of Posana Cafe. The secret ingredient? Cheese!
The location for the Asheville “Fire on the Rock” series is taking place at Lioncrest on the magnificant Biltmore Estate. I am gathering some more detailed information about the space, so look for that to come in a later post.
Funny thing is, for all the years I have lived in NC and the many visits I’ve enjoyed to Asheville, I am ashamed to say I have never been to, or even caught a glimpse of the Biltmore House. And still haven’t. It was quite the experience driving onto the estate on a dark and rainy evening, you just can’t see. And with all the winding roads that lead up to Lioncrest, all I could do was focus on the road and hope I didn’t make a wrong turn. Comical to say the very least. I am however heading over for a tour, meal and to interview the chef later this week, so I am looking forward to reporting back about the experience.
Ok, now for Battle Cheese.
The setting was elegant and romantic with a sense of excitement in the air. Host and founder of Competition Dining, Jimmy Crippen, owner of Crippen’s Country Inn and Restaurant in Blowing Rock, with his flair for getting the crowd excited, began the event by explaining the concept behind the series and introducing us to the many sponsors that make this possible.
One of the sponsors is the Office of the State Fire Marshall and at the beginning of each competition, a representative comes in to talk to the crowd about safety when cooking in the kitchen. She asked what the number one cause of fires in the kitchen is. I answered, “don’t leave the kitchen when you are cooking.” “Exactly, Unattended cooking is what is causing cooking fires” she said. .
So how did the chefs execute battle cheese? Lets go over the dishes.
The Cheese: Ashe County Cheddar & Bailey Mountain Tomme by Spinning Spider Creamery
The Chefs: Chef Peter Pollay, Cafe Posana, Asheville vs Chef Scott Wallace, Rankin Vault, Asheville
Pesto Shrimp and Bacon Chowder, Bailey Mountain Tomme and Lump Crab
Pros: The chowder had a great smokey scent, shrimp a nice grill flavor, beautiful presentation, perfect comfort food for the rainy day it was.
Cons: Secret ingredient was overpowered by the shellfish and didn’t shine and I bit into a few remaining crab shells.
Bailey Mountain Tomme Gnocchi, Braised Bacon, Lobster Cheddar Sauce
Pros: Lovely strong scent of bacon and cheese, cheese crisp added great texture, gnocchi was soft and nicely pan-seared, good amount of cheddar. They said it was there version of Mac and Cheese.
Cons: There was really no need for the lobster except for a “wow” factor, the flavor was non-existent. Bacon was too smokey.
Braised Veal Cheeks, Tomme-Cheddar Polenta Cake, Bacon Collards, Green Peppercorn Demi
Pros: This was a hearty looking dish and reminded me how much I love the smell of collards. Veal cheeks were nice and tender, cheese flavor was evident in the polenta cake, and the greens, oh those fabulous greens. I could have taken a plate of just them and been happy. The greens still had a nice bite in texture but cooked well. Mixed with the slight spice from the demi, this was by far my favorite component of any of the dishes all evening.
Cons: Although the flavor of cheese was pronounced in the polenta cake, the Tomme overpowered the cheddar so that you had to really hunt for the flavor of it.
Bacon-wrapped Pheasant, stuffed with Pine Nuts, Ashe County Cheddar, Andouille, & Crawfish with Farro
Pros: Pheasant was nice and tender. The farro was chock full of crawfish, yum!
Cons: The bacon and andouille really overpowered the pheasant and when eaten with all the components (of the pheasant) combined, all you could taste was salty, smokey bacon and sausage. I enjoyed the farro much more after adding some salt. The cheese was lost to me in this dish.
Fried Duck Breast,Ashe County Cheddar-Green Onion Biscuit, Cherry-Mint Jam, Spiced Honey-Bourbon Syrup
Pros: Smelled like Christmas on a plate, very seasonal and comforting. Clever dish. Duck breast had a nice crust to it. While not technically a dessert, the jam, mint and sauce gave it a nice sweet component. Most of us at the table agreed it tasted like breakfast, ironically without the bacon, present in several courses served.
Cons: The Biscuit was not fluffy and soft as you would except, rather it was dense and heavy. The cheese in this dish, a little melted on top of the biscuit, was almost like an afterthought. Cheese did not shine here.
Braised Veal, Cheddar Grits, Mushroom-Tomme Jus, Pickled Oyster Mushrooms
Pros: Nice hearty dish, it just smelled homey and warm, another perfect dish for a chilly, rainy day. Grits were wonderfully cheesy, and was the first dish that the cheese was really standing out to me. The mushroom jus was delicious and the mushrooms cooked perfectly. They had a nice bite, earthly, roasted quality to them.
Cons: The pickled oyster mushrooms. What in the world. I understand their place on the plate, as a way to cut through the richness of everything else on the plate, but!! Let’s just say they made your whole face and mouth pucker. Actually it was extremely funny to look around the room as people took first bites of this dish. You could tell immediately when someone bit into one of those mushrooms. That being said, if they had been just a little less mouth puckering, the pickled mushrooms would have been a great addition. Regardless, this was still one of my favorite dishes of the evening, and for most others too. This dish essentially gave Chef Pollay the win.
Disclaimer: All photos are courtesy of Competition Dining
As the final scores were called out, a hush came over the room. five of the six course had left the two teams neck and neck, there was only one dish to go, Chef Pollay’s Braised Veal. The score came in at a weighted vote of 62.o7 and gave the win to Chef Pollay and team Posana.
|Contestant||Voter % Score||Pros % Score||Weighted % Score|
The only thing I will say to future competing chefs. One: Bacon DOES NOT have to be a part of every dish. Not that I don’t like bacon, trust me, but at some point it just becomes overwhelming to the palate. Two: DESSERT!!!!!!!!! I was visibly shocked when last night, for the first time at any Competition Dining event I’ve attended, NO dessert was served. How is that even possible when cheese is the secret ingredient. It’s perfect for dessert. Cheese crust apple tart, mini-cheesecakes, some sort of fruit and cheese concoction, etc, etc, etc…….
Overall, battle cheese was successful and I enjoyed myself tremendously. The atmosphere was beautiful, the company delightful and the food delicious. Whether the cheese was the star or not, after it’s over, it really doesn’t matter. It’s the meal you remember. Thank-you Chefs for a great evening!
“The “Got To Be NC” Competition Dining Series is a brand new event sponsored by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, Southern Foods/Pate Dawson,Crippen’s Country Inn & Restaurant, Our State magazine and local partners in each region of the state. The goal of the series is to celebrate local North Carolina products and agriculture and to showcase the culinary ingenuity and talent across our state.