Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Got To Be NC Competition Dining: Battle Beets & Trout

Last night's Got To Be NC Competition Dining battle was one of the strongest I have ever been to. The energy in the room was palpable - everyone was delighted with the courses from both teams. When it came time for the scores, we all waited in anticipation to see who would advance to the final battle. But let me start at the beginning...

The Culinary Crushers (from Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro) took on The Natives (from Native Kitchen & Social Pub in Asheville) in one of the closest battles in the history of Competition Dining. We were all twiddling our thumbs, dying to know the secret ingredients. I had been pondering all day! And FINALLY, it was time for them to be revealed.

An obvious pair, no?! Who knew that Sunburst Farms Trout (Waynesville, NC) and The Specialty Farmer Beets (Waxhaw, NC) are a match made in heaven? I could not have been more intrigued. I was eager to see the creative ways each team utilized these ingredients. My table quickly started throwing out ideas they hoped to see: smoked trout mousse, beet chips...but we didn't have time to brainstorm long - out came course #1! (All photos are courtesy of Bolt PR).

An ode to the classic British snack, The Natives prepared a Trout Sausage Scotch Egg. It sat beautifully atop The Specialty Farmer Beet & Leek Slaw, and was drizzled with a Caperberry Lemon Beurre Blanc. I loved this use of the Trout! Why aren't there more fish sausages? The chilled beet and leek slaw had a marvelous tang, and was a nice, bright fuchsia color. The caperberry lemon beurre blanc sold me on this dish, though. I would have loved another few ladlefuls!
Course #1
The Culinary Crushers responded with a Bourbon Honey-Glazed Trout, Mixed Grain Salad, TSF Beets and Potatoes, Chardonnay Vinaigrette, and shaved Chapel Hill Creamery Calvander Cheese. I would eat this every single day. I didn't pick up on the smoky, sweet notes typically promised from bourbon and honey, but the trout was cooked perfectly. The potato rounds and cheese shavings added to the heartiness of the dish. I would have liked to see a few more beet cubes, but otherwise I was very pleased with this light, autumnal dish. And now I'm addicted to Chapel Hill Creamery Cheese.
Course #2
I could smell dish #3 as it departed the kitchen - someone smoked the trout! The Natives presented us with a Buttermilk-Marinated Smoked Trout, with TSF Warm Beet and Potato Salad, and a Jalapeno Beet and Cranberry Chow Chow. I loved the idea of the smoked trout, but the smoke was a bit heavy-handed, masking all of the buttermilk notes. The accouterments totally made up for it. The potato salad is better than anything I've had at a church picnic or holiday dinner (sorry, Grandma) and the spicy, acidic pop from the jalapeno beets and cranberries really balanced the smokiness nicely. The crunch and salinity of the Trout Skin was like a fancy man's Pork Rind. Clever.
Course #3

I was hoping to see another funky trout preparation (trout nuggets, anyone?) but the Culinary Crushers delivered my favorite savory course of the night with their preparation of Pan-Seared Trout. The grilled Peach and Plum relish on top made me thrilled it's summer. The Porcini Powder-dusted Beet Chips were a perfect salty bite. The White Cheddar Curd Polenta and Goodnight Brothers Country Ham and Rosemary is soul food at its finest. My table mates and I tasted all ingredients separately, then got a bite of everything together, and our eyes collectively rolled into the back of our heads. Outstanding. The Pattypan Squash scattered about the plate seemed like an afterthought, but there wasn't a lot of thinking thanks to the food coma we were in after this rich dish.
Course #4
Dessert is my favorite part of Competition Dining battles. It makes or breaks a competitor, and with a fun, versatile ingredient like beets, I couldn't wait to see what was in store! The Natives came out strong with a Beet & Cherry Semifreddo, Beet and Nut Cake, Candied Beet Syrup, Sugar Plums and Ran-Lew Dairy Buttermilk Whipped Cream. I ranked this high on the creativity scale, because I never would have paired a fruit-forward, semi-frozen dessert with a spice cake, reminiscent of a carrot cake, but I am SO glad they did. The buttermilk whipped cream was killer, a nice compliment to the tangy beet syrup.
Course #5
The Culinary Crushers had big shoes to fill, but they held their ground with a Blackberry and Preserved Lemon Pound Cake, though the sponge was more like a muffin. A drizzle of Spiced- Candied TSF Beet Puree, and Hickory-Smoked Syrup Cream rounded out the dish. Again - I never would have thought to pair these flavors together, but I ate every bite! I preferred this to the previous dessert, but this did not honor the beet as well. It's easy to judge using your own palate, but you have to judge based on the Competition Dining ballot! (Rhymes are fun.)
Course #6
'Twas the hour we'd all been waiting for. Ballots were submitted, chefs popped champagne (thanks to the generosity of the pro judges) and it was time for the results. By 0.05 of a point, The Culinary Crushers came out on top! They'll go to battle against the Wiley Pickle Weasels from Undercurrent Restaurant in Greensboro tomorrow night. There's still time to get your tickets, folks - this is the most fun evening you will have, with some wonderful people. Don't miss out! Get your tickets for the finale here!

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