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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Holy Shiitake! Seasonal Produce at Competition Dining’s Fire in the Triad

To read about the previous quarterfinal battle between Chef Kevin Grohman of Meridian Restaurant in Winston-Salem and Chef Russell of B. Christophers in Greensboro, see my earlier post here. Follow me on Twitter at @SouthrnBiscuits to view live tweets and pics of the battles.

The Competitors

It was a privilege to once again be a judge at the Competition Dining Fire in the Triad Quarterfinal battle at the Empire Room in Greensboro last night. Contenders were Chef Timothy Grandinetti of Spring House Restaurant and Chef Kevin Reddick of Millennium Artisan Restaurant, both located in downtown Winston-Salem, NC.

The Secret Ingredients: Holy Shiitake!

I'm truly enjoying being able to type "Holy shiitake!" again and again and it being somewhat relevant here. I think there was a missed opportunity when naming this farm, but shiitake happens, I guess (see, still relevant). The secret local ingredients are unveiled to the chefs each competition date at noon. They prepare their menu for 100 guests without the use of cookbooks or the internet. The secret ingredients tonight were fivefold from Fogwood Food in Reidsville, NC: shiitake mushrooms, arugula, organic Smith Farms pea shoots from Stoneville, NC, Swiss chard and butter pecan syrup. Whew! That was a mouthful about to be a mouth-full. Mushrooms are a favorite of mine, so I had high hopes for the evening.

With our Competition Dining host,
Jimmy Crippen

The Experience

What I love most about these food competitions is that people slow down and think about their food. We waft the air to deeply breathe in the aroma of each dish; spin the plate around to admire the presentation (sometimes checking the photo freshly posted to Twitter to see how ours compares), and then I deconstruct my dish to taste the flavors individually and then all together, paying close attention to the use of the secret ingredient(s) of the night, and finally, consider the creativity of the dish so we can score all appropriately.

All this pondering takes time, which helps you get all six courses down without bursting, though I still can’t clean every plate without regret, especially if I’m not wearing my stretchy “Thanksgiving pants!”

The Dishes

Course 1
Black Drum-Crab Mousseline Stuffed Manchester Farms Quail, “Toad in a Hole” Old Mill of Guilford Grits Cake, Citrus Laced Smith Farms Pea Shoots, Pomegranate Fowl Demi (Chef Kevin Reddick)

This dish had a lot going on – four protein sources in all: crab wrapped in bacon, quail and egg. The grit cake was perfect and the quail egg was also just right – a combination of softly cooked and runny. The lemon glaze was a great compliment to the pea shoots, which had a taste similar to strong alfalfa sprouts. The quail and crab were fine, but I could have done without one or the other and still would have been happy with this dish.

Course 2

Braised Heritage Farms Cheshire Pork Belly (also the official pork of the Biltmore House), Fogwood Foods Shiitake Mushroom Polenta, Smith Farms Arugula Spiked Fruit Salsa, Crispy Yukon Chip (Chef Tim Grandinetti of Spring House Restaurant)

I’m sometimes not a fan of pork belly, as I often get more belly (fat) than pork, but this Cheshire Farm pork belly was not too fatty and full of flavor. The creamy shiitake polenta was dense, but a good pairing with the pork. Although I liked the idea of the fruit salsa, it just wasn’t flavorful enough to match the strong flavors of the pork and polenta. Loved the Yukon chip which also added drama to the presentation.

Course 3
Cast Iron Seared Maple Leaf Farms Breast of Duck, Fogwood Foods Buttered Pecan & Scallion Couscous, Swiss Chard & Four Pepper Ragout, Tempura Shiitake Mushroom Caps (Chef Tim Grandinetti of Spring House Restaurant)

This dish was a favorite of our table. The duck was perfectly cooked and not greasy. The pearl couscous was a little soft, but soaked up the four-pepper ragout beautifully, which left a lingering heat on the palate, though the pepper must have overpowered the butter pecan flavor, as I couldn't find it. My mushroom caps were a little limp, but that didn’t keep me from loving this dish.

Course 4

Grilled Loin of Venison, Fresh Vegetable Melange, Dehydrated Smith Farms Pea Shoots, Bing Cherry Jam, Natural Reduction (Chef Kevin Reddick of Artisan)

This was another favorite at our table. Though many were leery of venison in general, they all decided it was better than they expected. I thought my venison was a little overcooked and flavor was a little lacking, but the vegetable mélange, where our shiitake mushrooms were found was packed with flavor along with the bit of tart bing cherry jam. Although it was the lowest scoring dish of the evening, (perhaps others were put off by the venison?) all around it was a great hearty fall or winter dish.

Course 5

Pâte Brisée, Cinnamon Crème Fraîche, Fogwood Foods Buttered Pecan Crème, Dehydrated Apple Chips (Chef Kevin Reddick of Artisan)

This was not surprisingly the highest scoring dish of the evening (did you read that description?? Hello Miss American Pie). As our host Jimmy Crippen always says, these battles are often won and lost with the desserts. The pâte brisée (a.k.a., pie crust, shortcrust pastry) was a mouthful of sweet apple pie comfort food with creamy butter pecan and I finally found the cinnamon crème fraîche on the underneath it all (more please!).

Course 6

Tuxedo Cake with Flavors of Chocolate and Orange, Fogwood Foods Buttered Pecan Brittle. (Chef Tim Grandinetti of Spring House Restaurant)

The cake, while it was was very pretty and moist and the orange drizzle was gave a light fresh citrusy flavor, there was nothing that stood out about it. The pecan brittle didn’t seem to belong, and since it was supposed to be the highlighted secret ingredient in this dish, felt more like an afterthought.

The Winner

The scores of the “pros” and the “joes” were tallied and Chef Tim Grandinetti of Spring House Restaurant won by seven tenths of a point! “That was too close,” said our self-proclaimed competitive victor. But he came in with a plan and felt that the plan made the difference. Kudos to Chef Grandinetti and his all-woman team!

You Be the Judge!

You can be the judge, too! Attend Competition Dining and you and vote your palate at an upcoming Fire in the Triad or other Competition Dining event across the state of North Carolina, all highlighting our North Carolina produce and artisan foods. Got to be NC! For tickets and more information, visit

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