Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series: Battle Summer Harvest

This battle of the Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series was one of the best I had ever been to. When it was announced that the Quarter Final battle between Chef John Bobby (Noble's Grille) and Chef Dion Sprenkle (Chef Dion Sprenkle) would be Battle: Summer Harvest, I started salivating immediately. This is the best possible time of year for a produce and harvest-focused battle! You get a variety of proteins! AND you know the desserts will be brilliant! It seemed too good to be true. Every course topped the last one. (Thanks to Heidi Billotto for the beautiful photos!)

I was at one of the most happening tables at the Benton Convention Center - what better way to spend an evening dining than to be with fellow foodies so you can discuss every single element of the plate? The Specialty Farmer provided Rainbow Carrots and Green, Purple and Savoy Cabbage, while Windcrest Farms Organic offered up Pattypan, Zephyr and Dunja Squash. The veggies were literally picked the morning of the battle - you don't get much fresher than that.

Course #1
As I leaned in to get a better whiff of the outstanding aroma of Course #1, I nearly dove in face-first. Braised Heritage Farms Cheshire Pork Cheek is some of the most unctuous and tender meat, with a tangy and slightly gingery SF Roasted Carrot Broth. This was beside a WFO Zephyr Squash and Uno Alla Volta Agnolotti, which was softer than a pillow and perfectly al dente. I'd like to be wrapped up by this pasta dough and lounge around among the filling. Basil and Pickled WFO Pattypan Squash lighten up what could have been an entree with another Agnolotti or two (which I happily would have scarfed down.) This was a beautifully composed and balanced dish.

Course #2
If I thought Course #1's Pork Cheek was tender, I had another thing coming when I sliced through the Roasted Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast and Duck Confit. Perfectly al dente Ravioletti were delicately filled with Uno Alla Volta Ricotta and Truffle (!). This dish was slightly sweet, but The SF Rainbow Carrots (both roasted and fried), Wild Mushrooms and WFO Dunja Zucchini provided earthy notes.This seemed more like a fall harvest plate, which made it that much more endearing! Use some of that La Farm Bakery bread to soak up the broth. (And save a bite of the White Chocolate Mini Baguette to eat between dessert courses. YUM.)

Course #3
Upon reading the description for Course #3, my eyes stayed glued on the words "Ham Foam." The Foam trend was HUGE a few years ago, which I was a fan of, so I was delighted to get some that tasted like one of my favorite pork products. Duck Boudin (sausage) was topped with a Manchester Farms Soft-Boiled Quail Egg, Crispy Shallots and that gloroius Ham Foam. The flavor marriage was smoky and savory, and the crunch of the shallots were perfect to break up the richness. This mountain was surrounded by a WFO Squash Stew and SF Rainbow Carrots with Lemon-Dill to lighten it all up. I'm continually impressed with how the chefs can get so many components in a dish, and how they all work together so well.

Course #4
We were halfway home when Course #4 presented a flavor rarely seen in Competition Dining, because it can be quite polarizing: CURRY. I was practically jumping out of my chair with excitement from every bite. Roasted Marcho Farms Lamb Loin is perfection and melts in your mouth. All other proteins should bow down to this. It rested on a bed of Curried Israeli Couscous and a tangy Tomato Fondue. This was the most outstanding bite I had all night. WFO Zephyr and Pattypan Squash sits atop, and add in some SF Braised Savoy Cabbage for a slight crunch and you have my favorite dish of the evening. It's Indian comfort food, and mine too - this makes me want to curl up with a glass of Malbec and read by the fireplace. Grab a blanket. Excuse me for a moment.

Course #5
I surprised myself with how unprepared I was for the dessert courses. I knew they would be phenomenal with such versatile summer produce to work with, but considering the outstanding execution of the first 4 courses, I was in no mood to stop with the savory plates! I had my fingers crossed though, that one of the dessert courses would be a play on a Carrot Cake, and I was pleased when a SF Carrot Cake topped with Cream Cheese Mousse appeared! A tangy Strawberry sauce and light Honey Tuille cookie made up a very well-rounded dish, and Carrot Sprinkles could trick any kid into eating some veggies. The sponge was nice, but not terribly saturated with Carrots. The mousse on the other hand, should be my new body butter.

Course #6
Just as the Ham Foam got a gasp from the crowd, so did the words "Bacon Iced Milk." Think a Bacon Milkshake, minus any sugar. I'm not a huge bacon fan (I know, shocking), and this was basically just smoky milk, but it was incredibly inventive so I had to give it props. The Blueberries inside the Ran-Lew Dairy Iberico Bacon Iced Milk were a nice tart pop, otherwise, a little sugar would have helped me enjoy it more. A deeply dark Chocolate Pomegranate Cake was incredibly rich and not too sweet. The warm, almost liquid center of the cake was a nice contrast to the iced milk. My favorite element was the creamy SF Carrot Anglaise, which reminded me of one of my favorites - Indian Carrot Pudding. The Anglaise is so buttery and delicious. If the mousse (see: above) were my body butter, this Anglaise would be what I bathe in.

The difference in scores between Chefs Bobby and Sprenkle was 0.75 - an unbelievably close call - but Chef Sprenkle walked away with the victory, defeating a former champion! Who knew Chef Sprenkle had swagger like this?! He says this competition keeps him young and helps him prove that he can still hang with the younger chefs, and indeed he can. I was so tremendously impressed with both of these chefs. It was an honor to have Chef Sprenkle's food in two battles this year; it will be hard not to cheer him all the way to the end! Get your tickets while they're still available!!
Congratulations on such outstanding food, chefs!
Chef John Bobby and Chef Dion Sprenkle

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