Monthly Archives: November 2013

Competition Dining: Final Fire

They spend hours slicing, marinating, sifting, curing and preparing our food. It usually doesn’t take us more than 10 minutes to finish the masterpieces they create.

Now, imagine they get a secret ingredient that they must incorporate in every dish. Things like caviar, pecans, pintade (guinea fowl), peaches, Cheerwine and truffles. The chefs who participated in North Carolina’s Competition Dining Series took these North Carolina ingredients and transformed them into appetizers, main courses and desserts.

Orange-Scented Brioche Doughnut with Truffle Honey Creme, Cashew Truffle Twill, Caldo Zinfandel Gastrique, Caramelized White Chocolate Mousse, Keep Your Fork Farms Truffle Dulce de Leche (Chef Adam Hayes, Red Stag Grille)

Orange-Scented Brioche Doughnut with Truffle Honey Creme, Cashew Truffle Twill, Caldo Zinfandel Gastrique, Caramelized White Chocolate Mousse, Keep Your Fork Farms Truffle Dulce de Leche (Chef Adam Hayes, Red Stag Grille)

Host and founder of the competition, Jimmy Crippen was right when he said, “Tickets will be gone in less than an hour.” If you were not lucky enough to be on your computer at 6:55 p.m. the night the tickets went on sale, please enjoy the post and visit the link at the bottom for more photos.

During the “pecan battle” in the Final Fire series, Dean Thompson of Flights was up against John Bobby of Noble’s Grill. The battle was held in Raleigh at the Renaissance Hotel, home to the Flights Restaurant, so Chef Thompson was the favored competitor. The mystery ingredient was pecans from High Rock Farm in Gibsonville, NC.

Quail & Waffles, Pecan Fried Quail, Cornbread Waffle Chipotle Sweet Potato, Honey Butter Apple Ginger Honey, Candied Pecans (Chef Dean Thompson, Flights)

Pecan Fried Quail, Cornbread Waffle
Chipotle Sweet Potato, Honey Butter
Apple Ginger Honey, Candied Pecans (Chef Dean Thompson, Flights)

Chef Thompson appeared to be making a dish that resembled chicken and waffles for the appetizer round. The smell in the kitchen while he was making this was irresistible. I found out the dish was quail, which I had never had before, but I can say that this pecan-crusted quail and waffle dish was delicious!

The most interesting dish I tried during this battle was Chef Bobby’s entree dish. What stood out was the citrus ravioli. The mix of the tangy citrus filling and the savory ravioli was a nice complement to the flounder. “One dish will make you or break you,” said Crippen. “One dish could be everyone’s favorite to the point where it won the competition for them. Other times it will lose the competition for them.”

Flounder, Citrus Ravioli, Pecan Sausage Pecan Smoked Fennel, Tarragon Emulsion (Chef John Bobby, Noble's)

Flounder, Citrus Ravioli, Pecan Sausage
Pecan Smoked Fennel, Tarragon Emulsion (Chef John Bobby, Noble’s)

Chefs are not allowed to cook anything from their restaurant’s menu. This allow for creativity and anonymity. “We don’t want this to be a popularity contest,” Crippen said. “I’m looking for true opinions of food based on the food itself.”


The teamwork I witnessed in the kitchen went above-and-beyond. When it was time to plate the dishes, the chefs and Chef Refs, headed by Laurence Willard of Southern Foods, came together to stack dishes three to four plates high on an island in the kitchen. They had 150+ people to feed and no time to waste. The chefs assembled their teams and the Chef Refs gathered to form an assembly line. Chef Bobby and Chef Thompson may have had quail in the deep fryer or whip cream to prepare, but they helped each other as much as possible. Chef Bobby finished the battle first with round five, and the relief on his face was evident. He gladly helped Chef Thompson plate the final dish of the battle.

Chef Bobby helps Chef Thompson in the final round of the Pecan Battle

Chef Bobby helps Chef Hayes in the final round of the Pecan Battle

Chef Bobby made it to the final battle. Chef Adam Hayes of Red Stag Grille won against Chef Gerry Fong of Persimmons to advance to the final. The secret ingredient in the final battle was Battle Black Perigord Truffles and Truffle Honey from Keep Your Fork Farm in King, NC. This battle proved to have an interesting dynamic in the kitchen. Both chefs were competitive; while Chef Bobby and his team were more reserved and focused, Chef Hayes’ team was more energetic and seemed more confident. Chef Bobby’s wife, Lucia Bobby, was perhaps the most patient chef in the kitchen – or at least she gave that impression.

Chef Lucia Bobby concentrates as she prepares the plate for dessert

Chef Lucia Bobby concentrates as she prepares the plate for dessert

The community involvement in the competitions involved tweets, sometimes between tables. The dining room had a large screen that showed up-to-date tweets with the hashtag #CompDiningNC. Some of my favorites:

Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 5.41.36 PM Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 5.40.54 PM Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 5.40.11 PM

The competition, teamwork, camaraderie, hard work and cooking was unbelievable. The way the chefs assembled like clockwork to plate the dishes took a lot of practice and patience getting used to the other team’s work style.

Chef Hayes won the Final Fire, but both chefs, and all chefs who competed in the Competition Dining Series, deserve a round of applause.

Check out more photos here.


Happy Thanksgiving to all! Eat up!


Asheville Day Trip: Wicked Weed, French Broad Chocolate Shop & Urban Orchard

Asheville makes for a great day trip, if you’re hungry, thirsty and willing to make the drive. Our first stop was Wicked Weed, where strangers and locals meet to drink great beer. And that’s exactly what we did. We sat downstairs in the tasting room, at a community table, and met a local gentleman who suggested some of his favorite items on the menu.

When I go to a brewery, I usually don’t expect anything more than average pub food. So, when I saw the food options, I was surprised by the creative combinations on the menu. Just check out these sandwiches on their menu:

Sandwich Menu

Sandwich Menu

I ordered the fried chicken sandwich. The crispy fried chicken was complemented by the sour, fermented cabbage (kimchi) and the sweetness from the miso mayonnaise. It was different than any sandwich I’ve ever had and it was quite satisfying.

Fried chicken + kimchi + miso mayonnaise

Fried chicken + kimchi + miso mayonnaise

Classic beef burger + lettuce + tomato + onion + pickle

Classic beef burger + lettuce + tomato + onion + pickle

My friend ordered the classic burger. If I were him, I definitely would have gone for the bison burger with haystack shallots and blue cheese coleslaw. However, he enjoyed his classic burger, although he said it could have been juicier.

If you are an IPA fan, you must also try Wicked Weed’s “Freak of Nature Double IPA.” The Freak of Nature is 8% abv and has too many ibu’s to put a number to it. They have quite the beer selection, ranging from local IPAs and pale ales to Belgian and wood-aged beers. I sampled the muscadine beer, because I have only ever had Muscadine wine, and I was intrigued. I am not a fan of muscadine wine, but the beer was pretty good. They also had “apple pie saison” and perhaps the most interesting was “sweet potato and grits saison.”

Selection of pale ales

Selection of pale ales

After getting some food and beer, it was time to visit the highly regarded French Broad Chocolate Shop. This is where you want to go to indulge. Try one of their brownies, whether you eat it there or take it for later. I took mine for later (ate it that night) and ordered Mexican hot chocolate. I could not let this delicious sounding concoction pass me by: “contemporary Mexican-style hot chocolate with house chocolate, almonds, sugar, cinnamon, and milk.” It smelled delicious and after letting it cool enough to drink – or so I thought, until I burned by tongue – I was disappointed because it didn’t taste as good as it smelled. While the chocolatey taste was phenomenal,  the chili powder was overpowering. I was hoping to taste more of the other flavors, like the cinnamon and almond. Nevertheless, still visit this lovely shop if you’re in Asheville. Just make sure you will like what you order!

French Broad Chocolate Shop

French Broad Chocolate Shop

While at Wicked Weed, the gentleman told us of a cidery down the street. Urban Orchard is a new establishment in Asheville, serving a selection of ciders and beers. We both ordered the flight, which included a seasonal cranberry cider and an apple-ginger cider. The ginger cider was my favorite and tasted the most like actual cider. I also enjoyed the unfiltered apple cider. However, the other ciders seemed to be missing the crisp, refreshing taste that I am used to in ciders, rather leaving me with the taste of flavored champagne. Urban Orchard is a good spot to meet friends, kick back and have a beer. But if you’re going for cider, don’t waste your time on the flight. Go for the ginger cider. With that said, I like the idea of the company, which sources apples from Hendersonville, NC, and crafts the ciders in-house.


Urban Orchard Cider Company

Urban Orchard Cider Company

Noble Cider was also recommend and I sampled their cider at Wedge Brewing Company. We didn’t stay at Wedge long because it was getting late, but I will be going back because of the friendly laid-back vibe and the big outdoor courtyard that hosts food trucks and corn hole games.

Thank you for all of your suggestions on our Facebook page. I will be making a trip back to Asheville soon to try some more of your recommendations. If you haven’t already liked our Facebook page, you can find it here:

Have a great week!


“A Passion for Bread” – La Farm Bakery – Cary, NC

You’ve probably heard the name, or seen the truck at one of the many food truck festivals in the Triangle area. But do you know the face behind all that delicious La Farm bread?

Lionel Vatinet, La Farm's Master Baker, signs copies of his new book "A Passion for Bread"

Lionel Vatinet, La Farm’s Master Baker, signs copies of his new book “A Passion for Bread”

Lionel Vatinet opened La Farm Bakery in 1999 and since then has been baking La Farm’s signature sourdough loaf among other types of bread including ciabatta, multi-grain rolls, challah, baguettes and more.

A baguette with cut-outs for dips. Yum!

A baguette with cut-outs for dips. Yum!

Last week, La Farm had a book party for Lionel’s new book “A Passion for Bread.” The bakery was overflowing with bread enthusiasts and there was plenty of bread to go around. I enjoyed trying the different dips which were in a cut-out baguette. The honey butter was delicious, if you have a sweet tooth like me. The kitchen was open for guests to walk through and see where the magic happens.



Bread-making demonstration at La Farm

If you missed this event, Lionel has more book signings coming up. Wednesday (11/13), he will be at Flyleaf books in Chapel Hill, NC for a book signing and tasting at 7 p.m. Saturday (11/16), he will be at Western Wake Farmer’s Market at 10 a.m. There are more events listed on La Farm’s website.

Please feel free to leave a comment if you have tried one of the recipes from Lionel’s book and let us know how it turned out.


REVIEW: Aviator Brewing Company SmokeHouse – Fuquay Varina

“Life is about the journey, not the destination,” my friend says to me during dinner. And that’s exactly the attitude you should have when eating at Aviator. You will need to put aside the thought of what the consequences may be, and just enjoy the crispy, beer-battered, blue cheese-smothered journey.


I recommend starting off your dinner with the Aviator beer-battered onion rings. These crunchy delights are served with a spicy-sweet mustard sauce. It’s a huge portion and definitely big enough to split between 2 people.


I got the chicken wings with the “Aviator” sauce, which is the mildest. The sauce options for wings are listed on their menu as:

Moco Loco: This will remove the flesh from your tongue.

Crazy: Very Hot! Habaneros, Jalapenos and Thai Peppers!

Monster: Habenero, Jalepeno, Honey and Spices…manageable.

Buffalo: The sauce that made wings famous.

BlackMamba: Our BlackMamba stout with a little kick to it.

Thai Red Devil: Little bit of spice with our Devils Tripel.

Aviator: Our sweet and tangy sauce….delicious.


The wings are served with blue cheese and ranch, both of which are homemade. You can tell that everything is fresh and homemade. The wings are smoked and fried to perfection and then covered with your choice of sauce. I enjoyed the sweet-tangy Aviator sauce and the homemade blue cheese. It’s about the journey, right? So, hand over the onion rings and deep friend wings.

My friend got the “Brewers Beef Brisket,” which he finished to the last bite, along with french fries and coleslaw. I tried some fries and they were extra crispy and delicious.


Remember, life’s about the journey!


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