Sunday, October 26, 2014

Tickets for NC Competition Dining's FINAL FIRE

The Got To Be NC Competition Dining Series has "got to be" one of my favorite events in the entire year. Since January, regional tournaments have taken place in Wilmington, Asheville, Greensboro, Raleigh and Charlotte, and the moment we've all been waiting for has finally arrived: the FINAL FIRE! The 5 winners from each of the regional battles are sharpening their knives and donning their chef whites with the hopes to take home the ultimate title, and $4,000 cash, two handmade chef knives by Ironman Forge and a trip to the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley, compliments of Kikkoman and the Pro Chef Program!

At the battle, the chefs are assigned an NC ingredient or product, and they must prepare 3 courses with it. Diners have no idea what the ingredient will be, but trust me, you're guaranteed 6 tasty dishes. Perhaps the most fun part - YOU are the judge! Using your smartphone (or pen and paper), you'll vote on elements of the dish like appearance, taste and execution of the secret ingredient.

Me at Fire in the Triad earlier this year!
The first showdown is between Fire on the Dock champion Antione Murray (Cape Fear Country Club in Wilmington) and Fire on the Rock winner Michelle Bailey (Season's at Highland Lake in Flat Rock). That winner will take on Fire in the City champ Jon Fortes (Mimosa Grill in Charlotte). Fire in the Triad champion Tim Thompson (Marisol in Greensboro) will face Fire in the Triangle winner Dean Thompson (Flights in Raleigh). These are seriously tough brackets. The Final Fire will be a close one.

For those of you who haven't been to a battle, it's a fantastic thing to do with your sweetie, your parents or your friends - just as long as they're adventurous eaters! You can read about my experiences at Battle: Rabbit; Battle: Honey; Battle: Ostrich; and Battle: Chestnut Flour.

Hungry? You can purchase tickets this Wednesday, October 29 at 7pm, and you better believe these tickets will FLY. Last year, tickets were sold out in 8 minutes!

The Final Fire events will be held November 19-22, at Renaissance North Hills Raleigh. Tickets to attend the first three battles are $129, and tickets for the final championship battle are $139.

About The Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series
The Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series is sponsored by the NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, Pate Dawson-Southern Foods, Certified Angus Beef®, Pepsi Bottling Ventures, the NC Wine & Grape Council, Hits Technology 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 the state. For more information, visit or get in on the conversation at and @CompDiningNC on Twitter or Instagram.

Mom's Birthday Celebration in NYC!

3 days of gluttony and debauchery in the Big Apple. I can't think of a better way to spend my mom's birthday weekend than in our favorite city. Besides walking around gorgeous Central Park and admiring all the beautiful people in the West Village, the highlight of the trip had to be attending the NYC Wine and Food Festival's Absolut Bloody Mary Brunch, hosted by the cast of "Chopped" on the Food Network. I didn't really know how much we'd get to eat, drink and be merry with the cast, but my expectations were exceeded 1,000 fold.

Bartenders from across the country submitted their best Bloody recipe, and we got to sample the top 12! The garnishes were my favorite part - everything from Pickles to Pork Belly, Hot Peppers to Hush Puppies, and more Celery than I ever want to see again. 20 or so "Chopped" contestants and celebrity chefs, most notably Paulette Goto of "Unique Sweets", prepared tasty bites for us, including a BBQ Duck Steamed Bun, Bulgogi Steak Tacos and Absolut Raspberri Cream Doughnuts!

"Chopped" Judges! (Clockwise L-R: Moi with GZ (Geoffrey Zakarian), Alex Guarnaschelli, Chris Santos, Scott Conant)
As soon as the "Chopped" judges walked out, people whipped out their Smart Phones and cameras and basically lost it. Fortunately, my mom pushed me into almost all of them, to snag a few photos. Notice how chummy I look with GZ! Perhaps it's because my mom had just confessed her love for him. They were all lovely and happy to make small talk and pose. The moment I spotted NoLa's OTHER famous chef John Besh, who was a surprise to the attendants, it's as if the clouds opened up and a bright light shone behind him. The few glorious moments I had with him gave me butterflies, and he is more gorgeous in real life than he is on TV. The eyes are bluer and the pearly whites are pearlier. Smoking hot and funny. I tried so hard to charm the pants off him (literally and figuratively) and I can now die a happy woman. (Well, I still have to meet Leo, but then yes. A happy woman.)
With John Besh(!!!) and Aaron Sanchez. A DREAM. Don't we make a precious threesome?
Samplings of Bloodies!

Other notable epicurean moments in NYC:

Sea Salt Caramel Eclair at Dominique Ansel Bakery. Really, no words.
The "Cronut" trend led us to visit Dominique Ansel Bakery, and heads up, if you're not in line by 5am, you're not getting one. I'm almost glad we didn't, because we purchased a Sea Salt Caramel Eclair instead. I would do just about anything to get my hands on another one. The flavors wrapped around my tongue like a warm towel right out of the dryer. And the flakes of Sea Salt took each bite to another level. This was my first "other-worldy" experience of the trip, and there were so many more. We even saw the man himself, and I would have complimented him on this treasure had I not been too shy! (ME shy? I know, right.)

Beauty & Essex on the Lower East Side is one of our faves, not just because we saw the entire cast of Modern Family there in 2011, but because the food kicks ass. The Chicken Meatballs with Sheep's Milk Ricotta and Truffled Cream are exceptional, not to mention the complimentary champagne in the ladies' bathroom (sorry, guys).

Del Posto is one of those places that was on my "bucket list," especially after becoming such a huge fan of "MasterChef." Joe Bastianich is one of the judges on the show (meaner than Gordon Ramsay, if you can believe that!) and a co-owner of the Tribeca establishment, along with Mario Batali. I'm so charmed by the idea of the Amuse Bouche. At Del Posto, you get 3. As soon as I took a bite of the Sea Bass with Truffled Mushroom Sauce and Escarole, I was no longer on this planet. Top things off with a box of "Amuse Bouche desserts" and I'm an ecstatic girl.

The DB Burger at DB Bistro. Just LOOK at that juicy interior. 
The Original DB Burger at DB Bistro Moderne has also been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. Daniel Boulud's infamous Sirloin Burger (grilled to your liking) is stuffed with Braised Short Ribs, Foie Gras and Black Truffles, and served on a Parmesan Bun, reminiscent of the flavors of an Everything Bagel. If this isn't a delicacy, I don't know what is. Watching the juices run down my hands as I dove into this sensationally rich burger is a memory I will cherish for a long time.

Restaurant Marc Forgione is another long-time favorite. This was one of the first restaurants I visited that really made me think about food differently. The Halibut with Forgione's Sauce Proposal remains a staple, and the folks there made our celebratory evening extra special with complimentary Chocolate Truffles, Apple Cider Muffins and even shots for my mom's birthday. Not to mention the Pumpkin Souffle with Bourbon Cream Cheese Sauce and Butternut Squash Sorbet. HOLY DESSERT. This was the most perfect ending to perhaps the most perfect trip.

With the birthday girl at Restaurant Marc Forgione!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Gone Girl

Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry
Director: David Fincher
Running Time: 2 hours, 25 minutes
Rating: R

I've been struggling with how to write a non-spoiling yet satisfying enough for my readers kind of review of this film. It has the darkness (obviously) that director David Fincher gravitates towards (see "Se7en", "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo") but it seemed like an interesting choice to take on what some consider a "girls book club" project. Thankfully he did.

If "Argo" didn't send me head over heels for Ben Affleck, oddly enough, "Gone Girl" did. He charms us and disgusts us, though I'll say that we see more of NPH (or shall I say "NPeenH") than the over-hyped Affleck frontal. As Nick Dunne, Affleck struggles with the sudden disappearance of his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike). Amy is cold, Nick is slimy, something is definitely off here, but you can't quite put your finger on it. Rosamund nailed this role, one of the most coveted since Rooney Mara landed "Dragon Tattoo."

Margot (Carrie Coon) is Nick's sister, and perhaps the only person we trust. She is supportive and relatable in a time of utter chaos. ATL's baby boi Tyler Perry doesn't grace us with his presence long enough as Nick's defense attorney. Neither does "Boy Meets World" turned "One Tree Hill" sidekick Lee Norris. UNCSA alum Missi Pyle is fantastic comedic relief as a Nancy Grace character, who leads the media frenzy against Nick.

Also against Nick (for the most part) are lead detectives Boney and Gilpin (Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit). These two have such chemistry. The score sets the mood, but is oddly more optimistic than looming, thanks to Trent Reznor of "Nine Inch Nails" and Atticus Ross. These two have a musical chemistry not unlike Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. What are written as chapters in the book are flashbacks in the film. It's highly effective. Kudos to Gillian Flynn for writing such a cohesive and engaging screenplay.

If it sounds like I'm skipping over major plot points, I am. This story is too good to let any spoilers out. I thought the book was creepy and this film nailed the creep factor. The plot has multiple personality disorder. It has more twists than a year's worth of Kardashian relationships. Divulging further into the plot would be a real shame for those of you who have covered your ears each time the words "Gone Girl" have been uttered, or changed the channel when you saw Ben Affleck on the talk shows. You may lack closure at the ending, but when you think about how ridiculous said ending may be, remember what you just sat through.