Monday, November 30, 2015

1703 Restaurant and Catering

If you don't follow Chef Curtis Hackaday's Instagram, please pause reading right now, and go follow @curtishackaday1703 but beware - his photos will have you drooling. Those photos are actually how I chose where to dine the other evening. I hadn't been to 1703 Restaurant and Catering in Winston-Salem in several years, and with all the "liking" of Chef Hackaday's photos I was doing lately, I knew exactly where to go. And I am so freaking glad I did.

Fried Foie Gras on Matcha Milk Buns
When we walked in, our thoughtful, attentive and personable server Leslie made us feel right at home. I asked for a gin cocktail, and she quickly concocted the classic French 75, while my dining partners enjoyed a Dona Paula Argentinian Malbec. Saying that we were totally blown away with the presentation and flavors of our appetizers would be an understatement. Milk Buns are all the rage right now, and Chef Hackaday adds Matcha (Green Tea Powder) to his for a beautiful pale green bun. Fried Foie Gras is encased in the delicate bun - are you serious right now? Fried foie? I had never seen this done before, let alone ever dreamt of it. The foie gras literally melts in your mouth and is so savory. A tangy Pumpkin BBQ sauce has a perfect sweetness and bite to cut through the richness of the meat. This dish is outstanding.

Head Cheese, Mushroom Jerky, Pig Chicharron with Pimiento Cheese!
Another starter trio presented me with something I had never tried before, and was quite eager to - head cheese! Contrary to what you might suspect, head cheese is actually a meat spread or cold cut made from a pig's head. I was so excited to find that I enjoyed it, reminding me of a pate. It's studded with peppercorns and topped with pickled carrots, and perfect to spread on peppery crackers. Mushroom Jerky is slightly sweet and presents a unique umami flavor. It's better than any questionable meat jerky I've ever had. The most whimsical of the bunch was a Pig Chicharron that's about a foot tall. It was still crackling when it got to our table! This is not your typical 7-11 pork rind, folks. Especially when it's served sticking out of a bowl of fantastic Pimiento Cheese (and I would know, I KNOW pimiento cheese.)

Curry Octopus Risotto
With every plate, Chef Hackaday was proving that his creativity is unparalleled. He wowed us with a Curry Risotto with Octopus, Fennel Powder and Squid Ink, beautifully painted across the plate. The artistry in the plating of all his dishes is so beautiful! The octopus was tender, like a scallop, not rubbery at all. We were so impressed with the way Chef Hackaday plays with flavors - pairing curry with fennel and squid ink? It totally works.

Scallops, my love!
French Bread and Cheese Bread is served with Chive Butter and was a nice interlude as we awaited our entrees. Chef Hackaday's Sea Scallops are perfect. 4 plump scallops are seared, and served on top of rich Pimiento Cheese Grits, with Wilted Greens and Broccoli. Having something green in this dish is essential to cut through the savoriness. Everything is seasoned just right, and Jalapeno Vinaigrette isn't spicy, but adds a nice peppery element.

Chef Hackaday's Salmon is roasted and topped with a Chili Crab Sauce, which has a nice spice. This dish is light but packed full of flavor. Mashed Sweet Potatoes were a fabulous precursor to Thanksgiving! It's also served with wilted greens.
Salmon with Crab and Greens
Creme Brulee trio
The dessert list is long, but when we spotted the words Creme Brulee trio, we didn't need to read much further. The trio includes Vanilla, Chocolate and Coffee varieties, and you really can't go wrong with any of these flavors. The custard is smooth and velvety, and rests underneath a crunchy shell of bruleed sugar. I just love breaking through the glassy topping with my spoon. Berries are on the side for a pop of color and tartness.

I'm so glad Winston-Salem has Chef Hackaday! His Instagram proves that social media marketing works, and his unique and creative play with flavors is worth a trip to 1703, y'all. Trust me. I look forward to many future meals here.

Monday, November 23, 2015


Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Bruhl, Emma Thompson
Director: John Wells
Running Time: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Rating: R

Bradley Cooper plays a chef in the new foodie movie "Burnt." Say no more - I'm in. The film "Chef" was one of my favorites last year - one of my favorite food films ever, actually - and I thoroughly enjoyed "Burnt," though it lacked the comedy and food porn that "Chef" gave us so much of. (Well, this movie has food porn for the bourgeois foodie.) However, unless you read cookbooks, food magazines and menus for fun like me, you may want to sit this one out, or at least wait to watch it at home. Bradley Cooper continues to prove that he can tackle just about any role though, and does a fantastic job channeling the feared and revered Chef Gordon Ramsay (a chef consultant for the film). Cooper's portrayal of Adam Jones, a 2-star Michelin chef seeking his 3rd, is incredibly believable though the story line may not be very strong.
Photo Courtesy Yahoo
Chef Adam Jones has a few obstacles standing in his way of getting that third Michelin star. He screwed over all of his friends and colleagues when he went on a drug bender and walked out of his restaurant in Paris. He attempts to soothe the edges and put his old crew back together in a new restaurant, owned by former colleague Tony (played by Daniel Bruhl, who I'm afraid has too much screen time.) A newbie to the line of sous chefs includes Helene, played by Sienna Miller, who reunites with Cooper since last year's "American Sniper." Their chemistry is as hot as the pan-seared turbot she works so hard to master. Emma Thompson's turn as Adam's therapist doesn't do a lot to add to the film - she shines in comedy - but her line "there's strength in needing people, not weakness" serves as a catalyst for Adam to strive more to connect with others.

It's not really fair that all we see in film and TV these days are chefs being portrayed as ill-tempered, aggressive, perfectionists that tend to have substance abuse issues. But this film reinforces that. Chefs Gordon Ramsay and Mario Batali apparently didn't mind, and did a fantastic job as chef consultants on this film. Cooper chopped, plated and talked shop, seemingly like a real chef. The beads of sweat and his bloodshot eyes only add to his credibility. I haven't seen a chef this hot since I met John Besh (that's right, folks -my fave!)
What a handsome pair we make. I still can't believe this moment happened.
Though there's a flirtation, this is not a love story. Instead, it's a story of Adam's journey, for better and for worse, and how he rediscovers himself through food. A few plot twists and constant battles in the kitchen keep you entertained and emotionally invested. Also, blink and you'll miss Uma Thurman. It's like the director owed her a favor and threw her in the film for fun. If anything, this film will make you fall in love with Bradley Cooper's baby blues, and crave a plate of milk-poached turbot or brown butter-basted halibut with fennel fronds and pea shoots, at $39/plate, natch.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Martian

Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels
Director: Ridley Scott
Running Time: 2 hours, 24 minutes
Rating: PG-13

Is "The Martian" a fantastic film? Indeed. Is this one of Matt Damon's best performances? He's pretty freaking great. Is the film a visual spectacle? Not exactly. What I expected from Ridley Scott (director of "Alien" and "Prometheus") was way more than what he delivered. Sure, the shots of Earth and Mars from outer space are beautiful, but they are few and far between. The film stays pretty close to Andy Weir's novel, thankfully without as much scientific jargon that I admittedly skimmed right over while reading. If you enjoyed "Gravity" or "Interstellar" you will probably enjoy this film. Just be prepared - it's awfully lengthy.
Photo Courtesy Fox Movies
You've all seen the trailer - Matt Damon plays astronaut Mark Watney who gets left on Mars after his crew presumes he's dead. Surprise! He's very much alive, and has to figure out how to spend the next 3 years (when the next planned Mars mission lands) alive on a planet that doesn't grow food and has nearly every element that would work against him. Luckily, his botany skills come into play and allow him to grow potatoes, and his chemistry knowledge enables him to create water to help them grow. But just about every time something goes his way, something throws a kink in his plan.

Back on Earth, when NASA discovers that he's alive and well, engineer Vincent Kapoor (Ejiofor, whose star continues to rise), PR specialist Annie Montrose (a surprisingly boring role for the usually lovable Kristen Wiig) and Head of NASA Teddy Sanders (solid Jeff Daniels, as per usual) set about devising a rescue plan. They also decide to not inform Watney's crew that he's actually alive. As plans are hurried and ultimately fail, NASA is forced to inform the crew, and also partner with the China National Space Agency to make Watney's rescue a reality.

The beautiful Jessica Chastain plays Commander Lewis, who feels the most guilt at leaving Watney behind. Chastain's talent isn't really showcased in this film - she didn't have much to work with. The same can be said for Michael Pena and Sebastian Stan, supporting crewmates and solid supporting cast members, who got very little screen time and material. Damon does a wonderful job at keeping Watney's sense of humor throughout the film, as Weir depicted in the book. Watney never really loses it, and we don't ever see him get totally desperate and just give up. The fact that everyone on Earth is rooting for him and the smartest people in the world are working towards finding a solution must have given him hope.

The final shots left me wanting a little more visually and emotionally. What's intended to be the film's climax almost gets you there, but doesn't give you a full emotional release. That may be partly due to the filming and choice of shots, but it also might be that we've watched him struggle for 140 minutes and are frankly ready for something to finally go his way. I enjoyed this film, for the most part. (I especially enjoyed looking at Damon's hunky bod, until that awful body double scene.) This film remains #1 at the box office after a month. It will be one of Damon's most memorable roles, and will last long into Ridley Scott's film legacy.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Recap: Got to be NC Competition Dining - Battle of Champions

This past Saturday, the two remaining chefs in the Got To Be NC Competition Dining Series battled it out in the Battle of Champions. It was a tight race between Chef Brent Martin of The Summit Room in Charlotte, and Chef Ryan Conklin of REX Healthcare in Raleigh.

The chefs had to work with two very intriguing featured ingredients: Jarrett Bay Oysters and Outer Banks Sea Salt! What I would have given for a plate full of fried oysters, or a bowl of salted caramel...but alas, the photos and descriptions from Competition Dining's Facebook page will have to suffice! And they are mouthwatering for sure! (Thanks to the Competition Dining team for the photos I've used in this post, too!)

Course 1: Chef Martin's Smoked Jarrett Bay Oyster, Lump Crab and NC White Shrimp Ragout, Low Country Grits, Tasso Ham and Chile Oil is an inventive play on Shrimp & Grits!
Course 1
Course 2: Chef Conklin had the highest scoring dish of the night: a Cornmeal-fried Jarrett Bay Oyster with slow-roasted Tomatoes and Rosemary Chimichurri was alongside pan-fried NC Grouper, Cauliflower puree sprinkled with OBX Sea Salt, and a Black Truffle, Sorrel and Langoustine salad.
Course 2
Course 3: Chef Martin's Maple Leaf Farms Duck Rillette was served with Jarrett Bay Oysters Two Ways: Pickled and on the half shell with Shallot Mignonette, Compressed Bread & Butter Pickles, Field Pea Succotash, Red Pepper Syrup, Caper Berry, OBX Sea Salt and a Ran-Lew Dairy Buttermilk Cracker.
Course 3
Course 4: Chef Conklin's Poached Jarrett Bay Oyster Duo sounds divine: Carolina Pork BBQ with a Celery Seed Cabbage Salad and Silver Queen Corn Chowchow; and a White Sweet Potato with Kale and Bacon Colcannon, sprinkled with OBX Sea Salt and Guinness Melted Leeks with a Parsnip Butter Sauce.
Course 4
Course 5: It's like Chef Martin is speaking right to me with his Roasted Pumpkin Cake with Spiced Marcona Almond Streusel, Cream Cheese Icing, OBX Sea Salt Caramel, Candied Pepitas, Cinnamon Shards and Pumpkin Gel. YUMMERS!
Course 5
Course 6: As if the next dessert couldn't sound any better, Chef Conklin comes out of nowhere with his Tres Leche Carrot Cake topped with a Saffron Mascarpone, Cloister Honey Frozen Custard, J&J Farms Apple Butter, OBX Sea Salt-Salted NC Strawberries, with a High Rock Farms Chestnut Flour Tuile. I'll have 4, please.
Course 6
It was finally the moment we've been working towards since January. And the winner of the Battle of Champions is...Chef Ryan Conklin! His score of 29.694 to Chef Martin's 27.088 secured him the title of champion. If you haven't been to a battle, what are you waiting for? See you next year, foodies! We'll start all over again with more hopeful chefs all across the region!