Asheville chef takes Final Fire crown
Posted November 24, 2013
Updated November 25, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — After thousands of dishes served this Competition Dining season, the final battle came down to truffles.
Fire on the Rock winner Chef Adam Hayes, of the Red Stag Grill in Asheville, was able to edge out Fire in the Triad winner Chef John Bobby of Noble's Grille in Winston-Salem during Saturday night's championship dinner by preparing a very tasty doughnut. (Find out more about that doughnut below.)
For the night's secret ingredient, each chef was given half a pound of frozen Black Winter Périgord truffles and a case of truffle honey from Keep Your Fork Farm in King, N.C. Martha Stewart has even featured the farm on her TV show. And you know it is big time when Martha makes a trip there.
Last year's Final Fire Champion, Weathervane's Executive Chef Ryan Payne, said the ingredient was a fitting one for the finals because of its difficulty.
Hayes might have had a slight edge going into the night. Asheville was the site of the 2012 National Truffle Fest, a weekend benefiting Raleigh's Frankie Lemmon School.
Noble was confident in his abilities as well, but came up short in a night that saw pork belly, s'mores and quail.
Here’s the course-by-course breakdown of the meal, along with reviews and results. In each round, the diners (the Joes) and the professional judges (the Pros) grade the dish on aroma, presentation, creativity, use of the ingredients and other factors. The Pros and the Joes are then averaged together for a final score – each one out of a possible 30 points. The pros for the night – Final Fire 2012 Champion Weathervane's Ryan Payne, Vivian Howard of Chef and the Farmer in Kinston and star of PBS' "A Chef’s Life" and Southern Living Deputy Editor Jennifer V. Cole – helped account for 70 percent of the vote.
Course 1: Certified Angus Beef® Brand Beef Carpaccio, Black Truffle Aioli, Cured Egg Yolk, Pickled Mushrooms, Crispy Shallots, Arugula, White Balsamic Truffle Gastrique, Smoked Sea Salt Grissini (Noble's, 14.11)
Payne liked the balance, but didn't taste the truffles. He wasn't the only one. Many diners really enjoyed it, but felt like something was missing.
Diner Emily Loftin said the crispy shallots really stood out for her. "Every ingredient complemented each other nicely," she said.
But she could have done with less of the Grissini - which is basically a pencil-shaped breadstick. "Less stick and more truffle," she said.
Course 2: Manchester Farms Stuffed Quail, Ashe County Marble Bleu and Shaved Truffle Asparagus Wrapped in Johnston County Ham, NC Baby Potato “Risotto” with Ashe County Romano, Noble Greens, Truffle Honey (Red Stag Grill, 17.49)
Hayes said his team started out very rocky with this dish. Several of the quail servings, including mine, went out undercooked.
While the team did a lot of prep work, when the dishes started rolling out to diners things just got rushed.
Many diners, however, got a correctly cooked quail and did enjoy it. Diner Steve Swienckowski really felt that the "honey and truffle honey really showed themselves."
Catherine Smith said the dish was big enough to be an entree and not an appetizer.
Course 3: Keep Your Fork Farm Truffle Honey Glazed Cheshire Pork Belly, Truffle Spoon Bread, Calvados Creamed Spinach, Mushroom Duxelle, Truffle Crema, Cipollini Onion Agrodolce, Yuca Chips (Noble's, 18.24)
This was one of the most tweeted about dishes. We could tell by the giant video screen sitting inside the ballroom, which displayed all diner comments featuring the hashtag "CompDiningNC."
"Nobody tell my mama that this spoonbread is better than her cornbread. She will cry," diner Sarah Miller tweeted.
She was right about the spoonbread, which is basically a cornbread pudding. Payne told me that if done right, it is really tasty. Chef Bobby and his team did it right.
"OMG, melt in your mouth, phenomenal," said Carrie at Table 12.
Despite the positive comments about the spoonbread and the pork belly, some people were still asking, "where's the truffles?"
Course 4: Sous Vide Lamb Loin, Wild Grains with Carolina Bison Oxtail, Pepper Jam, Keep Your Fork Farm Truffle Chermoula, Truffle Honey (Red Stag Grill, 19.30)
Chef Payne really liked the balance in this dish, calling it "beautiful."
Many diners agreed.
"Course 4 medley is music in my mouth," Emily Brumley tweeted.
Ken Idleman also loved the mix of flavors.
Hayes said the use of bison oxtail was a last minute decision. He was trying to find something to go with the grains and then discovered the oxtail in the cooler.
Course 5: Vanilla Sablèe, Keep Your Fork Farm Honey Truffle Peanut Puree, Dark Chocolate Cream, Toasted Black Truffle Marshmallow, Black Truffle Anglaise (Noble's, 15.87)
This dish had a lot of promise. Peanut butter, marshmallow, chocolate - what could go wrong? It even looked beautiful on the plate with the toasted marshmallows on top.
"My neighbor just tried to eat my marshmallow. Pray for her y'all," Sarah Miller tweeted.
Then, diners tried to eat it. The toasted marshmallows proved very difficult to cut with a fork. Some diners ended up having to use their hands or a butter knife.
In the end, the dish didn't taste as good as it sounded.
The sentiment at Table 14? "It was a s'more for rich people."
Course 6: Orange-Scented Brioche Doughnut with Truffle Honey Crème, Cashew Truffle Tuille, Saldo Zinfandel Gastrique, Caramelized White Chocolate Mousse, Keep Your Fork Farm Truffle Dulce de Leche (Red Stag Grill, 23.12)
This was the dessert we had been waiting for. The minute we saw "doughnut" on course description, we knew we were in for a treat. This dish delivered!
"This donut is in your face compared to the airy intellect of the prior course," C. Brian Jones said on Twitter.
Tim Gabel hailed it as "Stupendous! Flavors tied together great. Any truffle in there? Hope so, it was awesome!"
Caroline Brown tasted the truffles, tweeting that it was "undeniable."
"Oh. My. Yum. Orange scented brioche doughnut. Cashew truffle tuile. When did I die? I did something right, this is heaven!" tweeted Christian Froelich.
No surprise, this was the highest scored dish of the night.
As with previous nights, this battle had some big voting discrepancies between the Joe's and the Pros, sometimes as much as five points.
The average scores from the "Joe's" had the two chefs within a point of one another, while the professional judges had Hayes ahead by about six points.
Hayes credited his team with the win. He cited their balance and skills and ability to rebound after a rocky start. He said they "did not focus on anything other than victory."
As the Final Fire winner, Hayes received a $4,000 check from Mac Sullivan, chief executive officer of Pate Dawson-Southern Foods and Jimmy Crippen, event host and founder of the Got To Be NC Competition Dining Series.
He also won a custom, handmade set of chef knives from Ironman Forge in Charlotte.
Bobby and his team, which were competing for the third time in four days, had a blast and were pleased with their work. Bobby's team won a $1,000 check.