|Moi, excited about the evening. |
Photo credits: Kristi Maier of Competition Dining.
|Chef Chris Russel of B. Christophers & Chef Mark Grohman of Meridian Restaurant|
MeridianRestaurant is a local favorite here in Winston-Salem, for good reason. Though I haven’t had a chance to visit B. Christophers restaurant in Greensboro yet, the samplings I’ve had by Chef Chris Russell at Fire in the Triad battles are great incentive to put it on the top of my list to visit next time I’m in Greensboro. One treat at these events is hearing the chefs' backstory.
Secret Ingredient: Chestnut Flour
Most all of the North Carolina foods for Competition Dining are provided by Southern Foods. The secret ingredient for this battle was (drumroll….) High Rock Farm chestnut flour. High Rock Farm is located in Gibsonville, NC. (Sending out some local gluten free foodie love!) As one with family members with gluten allergies, I for one, was thrilled about the secret ingredient. However, neither chef seemed too thrilled about the chestnut flour challenge, as it was the first time for both using the flour, but they both stepped up for delicious and creative results in this “Iron Chef”-style competition. I'm happy for the local gluten free find and will try it out myself soon!
During the cocktail hour, I sampled Hummingbird Helles by Red Oak, a golden lager that like all of their draughts, is fresh and cold-aged, not filtered or pasteurized. Plus, I scored some awesome Red Oak swag – a Red Oak/Hummingbird pint glass and hefty pewter bottle opener!
Another first taste was wines from Jones von Drehle, a new winery in Thurmond, NC. Another to put on the must-visit list! Representative Diana Jones was in attendance to talk about their wines.
Now, on to the main reason we’re all here – Gourmet NC food!
First Course: Poached Lobster and Andouille Sausage, High Rock Chestnut & Cheese Grits, Chestnut Flour Tempura Asparagus (B. Christophers)
This savory Southern dish was a big hit at our table. You’ve never had cheese grits like this, but the chestnut flour made them a welcome and hearty compliment to the spicy Andouille sausage and the chestnut flour-coated asparagus tempura was a delicious surprise.
Second Course: Little River Crab and Mascarpone High Rock Chestnut Pyramid, Red Oak Chestnut Battered Lobster Claw, Melted Leek Fonduta, Chive Oil (Meridian)
The “pyramid” dumpling was a creative use of the chestnut flour, though tougher than your usual flour pasta, it had great flavor. But the use of the chestnut flour in the Red Oak beer batter for the lobster claw was a favorite, and no one was complaining about a second course of lobster!
Third Course: Jamaican Jerk Style Pulled Heritage Farms Cheshire Pork, High Rock Chestnut Jalapeño Corn Fritter, Jicama, Fennel and Red Cabbage Slaw (B. Christophers)
Presentation was lacking in this dish (none at our table looked this good), and I think the scores showed this, but the delicious savory-sweet jerk pulled pork made up for it. Although the description of the corn fritter sounded great, it was a little disappointing. The red cabbage slaw added nice color and crunch.
Fourth Course: Grilled Herb-Marinated Venison Loin, High Rock Chestnut Spaetzle, Chestnut Roasted Carrots, Red Wine Coriander Reduction (Meridian)
Schlemiel, Schlimazel, Spaetzle & Venison Incorporated! What is spaetzle? Folks at my table wondered, even after tasting it. Literally, “spaetzle” means “little sparrow,” but culinarily, it is a type of egg noodle or dumpling found in German, Austrian, Hungarian and Swiss cuisine.
The chestnut flour spaetzle was a nice, (to risk repeating myself --) hearty, though chewy, compliment to the beautifully presented venison and roasted carrots, though the venison was the star of this dish. My venison was quite rare, while another tablemate’s was quite well-done. Still, his dish was a favorite at my table, myself included. The red wine coriander reduction was a saucy cherry-on-top.
Fifth Course: Chocolate High Rock Chestnut Cake, Fresh Mint Ice Cream, Chestnut Whipped Cream, Bing Cherry Sauce (B. Christophers)
This dessert was like an upscale ice cream sandwich, complete with fresh minty ice cream between two slices of thin, firm, chestnut flour cake. Everyone was impressed and I thought it would be hard to beat… until it was, in my opinion. Though this dessert ranked the highest score between the two.
Sixth Course: High Rock Chestnut Opera Cake, Bourbon Caramel, Cheerwine-Raspberry Coulis, Coffee Buttercream (Meridian)
Let’s talk nut cake. I was very impressed with the chestnut flour opera cake. I’ve made and had lots of cake made with gluten free flours, mostly almond. So, I’m very aware and accept that any cake made with nut flour is going to be denser, grainier and dryer, rather than the fluffy processed wheat flour versions to which we’re accustomed. Perhaps this is why I was more impressed than other guests at the great job Chef Mark Grohman making this cake as fluffy as he did, and preventing the dryness that usually comes with a nut flour cake with the layers of coffee butter cream. The bourbon caramel was so good we discussed bottling it at my table and the only bad thing about the Cheerwine coulis was that we wished there was more. (I confess, I “sopped” my sauces up with my cake, a practice I usually strictly reserve for my biscuits alone.) Both desserts were wonderful, but I was surprised this one didn’t score higher.
As our host, Jimmy Crippen, thundered, “It almost always comes down to the dessert!”
But this time, Chef Grohman and his crew from Meridian Restaurant still achieved sweet success and prevailed despite their dessert score. Congratulations to Chef Mark Grohman and Meridian on your delicious win!
I look forward to judging next week’s quarterfinal battle between Winston-Salem beloved restaurants Spring House Restaurant and Artisan, two I haven’t tasted the pleasure of competing since Battle Dish in Back in February!