Raleigh, N.C. — Would you eat a dessert that combined chicken liver mousse with white chocolate? Diners Monday night at the Cooking for a Classic competition got the chance.
Sixteen teams from kitchens around the Triangle are donating their time and talents to create six-course food-and-drink menus for hungry ticket-holders. The teams will compete in a single-elimination, four-round bracket, and the winner will drive away in the grand prize: a restored 1969 Corvette Stingray.
Monday's matchup pitted Adam Pettigrew of Pup's Steakhouse in Wilson against Teddy Klopf of Provenance in Raleigh.
Each chef prepared three dishes: a starter, which was required to be vegan or vegetarian, a main with a protein and a dessert. Each food course was served with a chef-recommended drink pairing.
In an evening in which both teams pushed unexpected and unusual combinations, Pettigrew came out on top.
Klopf, who named each of his dishes, started the evening with "Wheat and beets" paired with a New Belgium sour beer.
While some diners were hesitant based on the printed description, one said, "It's not something I'd make at home, but that's why you eat out."
Pettigrew answered with something a touch sweet – a sweet potato mousse on a chewy honeyed cookie served with prosecco.
"The collard chips were a nice surprise," one diner said.
Klopf's chicken entree, with pickled cauliflower and a rich sauce was called "Chicken or egg" although no egg was apparent.
"There is more on the plate than what's in the description," one diner said. "I'd like to see the recipes."
Halfway through the six-course dinner, those at my table agreed that the creativity level was high.
Pettigrew's entree, pork belly served with braised Brussels sprouts, offered a bit of familiarity with the twist of mashed apples to accent the cider it came with. What could have been a home run was instead inconsistent across the room. Cuts of meat varied widely in size and level of fattiness, and the sprouts were soggy, what one diner called "a little overcooked."
Then came dessert and the chicken liver, a Klopf creation. Some diners declined it altogether, while the brave nibbled on bites that were sour and sweet all at once. Descriptions were "different," "interesting" and certainly a stretch. Many plates went back to the kitchen with some of the dessert left on the plate.
Pettigrew's pairing – a TOPO milkshake with strawberries and an almond cake topped with caramel buttercream – mixed for a Neapolitan flavor, although one too buttery rich for some guests.
Throughout the evening, guest rated each course on taste, presentation and other values using a website, and Pettigrew was named the winner once all the dishes were cleared.
There is one more preliminary matchup, and $50 tickets are still available. Troy Stauffer of City Club Raleigh will face RJ St. John of Bull McCabes in Durham on Tuesday.
The eight winning chefs from the opening rounds will move on to face off in the quarterfinals on Wednesday and March 13-15. With each successive round, the price of the tickets and the food budgets allotted to the chefs goes up.
Proceeds from tickets sold throughout the series benefit the nonprofit Lucy Daniels Center, which helps children with mental and emotional issues.