Competition Dining: Battle Beaufort Olive Oil and State Farmers Market Vegetables.
Posted October 31, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — North versus South played out in the ballroom at the Renaissance North Hills Friday night. Two chefs led the charge in this semi-final event in the Battle of the Champions series. Chef Brent Martin of The Summit Room in Charlotte faced off against Chef Todd Warden of The Cliffs-Valley in Greenville, SC, in Battle Beaufort Olive Oil Company (BOOC) & State Farmers Market Vegetables.
Usually, chefs are informed of a secret ingredient and told to come up with a plan. For this battle, the teams chose their own vegetables to work with during a trip to the State Farmers Market in Raleigh. Each team had $500 to spend at the market on items they could pair with infused oils and vinegars from the Beaufort Olive Oil Company.
Each chef prepared three courses, using both ingredients in each course. Because they had so much choice in the secret ingredient, the diners at my table suspected the food would be even better than usual. We were not disappointed.
Course 1: Barbeque Fresh NC White Shrimp, Herb Corn Pudding, BOOC Sweet and Spicy Jalapeno White Balsamic Vinegar Agrodolce, Crispy Okra, BOOC Chive Persian Lime Oil (Summit Room) Score: 31.7
To call this first course “well-received” would be like calling a standing ovation, “polite applause.” The room fell silent as everyone savored the flavors and textures combined on this plate. The shaved, crispy okra was a unique and brilliant way to bring okra to the dish without the texture issues it can present to some. The barbecue shrimp and corn pudding played well off each other.
Chef Brent Martin received the highest scores of the night for this pairing with a 31.7 out of 40 points. In a rare twist in Competition Dining, the Pro judges (33.250) rated this dish even higher than the average diners (30.207).
Course 2: BOOC Herbs de Provence Oil Marinated Quail, BOOC Milanese Gremolata Oil-Turmeric-Kabocha Squash-Sweet Potato Risotto, BOOC Sicilian Lemon Balsamic Marinated Shiitakes, Red Radish and Green Onion Salad, BOOC Sicilian Lemon Vinaigrette, Muscadine Cider Verjus (The Cliffs) Score: 27.7
Chef Todd Warden had a tough act to follow after the shrimp, and he definitely held his own.
This was Competition Dining Director Jimmy Crippen's favorite dish of the night. It was definitely the more challenging culinary feat of the two, due to both the quail and the risotto; however, the flavors didn't blend quite as nicely for me, and the quail was slightly too salty.
A table of supporters in town to cheer on Chef Warden found the dish to be just right, without knowing who cooked it.
“This was a creative dish,” said Andrea Skillman, marketing director for The Cliffs Communities. “The vegetables and vinegars in the vegetable salad were light bright and delicious, and the risotto was impressive.” Others at the Cliffs table said the “flavors popped,” the “quail was well accomplished” and that this was “definitely more creative than the first dish.”
Course 3: BOOC Harissa Olive Oil Braised Heritage Farms Cheshire Pork Belly, Chorizo and BOOC White Peach Balsamic Collard Greens, Buttered Field Peas (Summit Room) Score: 27.6
This was my least favorite of all the dishes served. Pork belly is not something I will seek out, so I admit, my standards are high. The presentation of each plate was pleasing, but looking around the table, it was not uniform. The aroma was a little too heavy on the charcoal for me. The highlight of this dish was the collard greens for me, and the interesting flavor lent to them by the peach balsamic.
Knowing that I'm not a pork belly aficionado, I turned to the expert, Lisa Prince with the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. You might know her from the “Local Dish” segment on WRAL News. She said, “The pork belly made me think of a Southern New Year's meal, and the aroma captured you and brought you in as soon as they placed it in front of you.”
Course 4: Pink Peppercorn Crusted Venison Loin, BOOC Herbs de Provence Oil Infused White Turnip Puree, BOOC Cranberry Pear White Balsamic Collards, Cranberry Pear Balsamic Beet Gastrique, Golden Beet Chips (The Cliffs) Score: 30.2
The shrimp got the points, but this dish got all the word of mouth. The venison blew people away, prepared perfectly and presented uniformly across the tables. The white turnip puree provided a contrast both in taste and in presentation. I could taste the hint of cranberry in the collards, and more than one diner suggested that the chef market the beet chips as a snack food.
This is the point in the night when I try to talk to as many diners at as many tables as possible to get their thoughts on the savory courses. That's because dessert tends to make people forget the details of the other courses they've eaten that night. Not only did my informal poll show that people's favorite courses at this point were the venison and the shrimp, the venison impressed them enough that they were still talking about it as they left the event. Well done, Chef Warden.
Course 5: BOOC Wild Fernleaf Dill Olive Oil Bread Pudding, Outer Banks Sea Salt Salted BOOC Red Apple Balsamic Caramel, Candied Pecans (Summit Room) Score: 27.7
Bring on the desserts! Both chefs used olive oils in their final courses, and their flavors stood out to my palate. When I read the description of this dessert, I was intrigued. Bread pudding is a favorite of mine, and Chef Martin did not disappoint. The hint of dill left behind after each bite of bread pudding was just enough to entice you to take another bite, and the balsamic in the caramel cut the sweetness just a touch. This was the higher-scoring dessert, and deservedly so.
Course 6: BOOC Mushroom Sage Olive Oil Dark Chocolate Brownie, BOOC Espresso Balsamic Ice Cream, Oil and Vinegar Macerated Strawberries, Hazelnut-Espresso Brittle, Strawberry Gastrique (The Cliffs) Score: 25.8
Chef Warden had a lot going on for this dessert plate, which meant there was something there for everyone. I was a huge fan of the Espresso Balsamic Ice Cream and the Strawberry Gastrique. The brownie was dry, and that led the mushroom sage flavors to stand out even more. It almost felt as though the sage was too heavy or the chocolate not dark enough, because I left the brownie unfinished. The hazlenut-espresso brittle was a delicious concept, but the pieces were too thick and hard to bite. Two of us were slightly concerned for our fillings.
This was one of the first times I can remember a dessert receiving the lowest scores of the night. Juliet from Carrboro summed it up this way: “(The brownie course) was edgier, but (the bread pudding) was simply delicious. With the bread pudding, I forgot that it was 'fine dining' and just enjoyed every bite.”
Overall, I have to say that this was one of the strongest nights of Competition Dining that I have attended, and I've attended quite a few. Seated next to me was one of the pro judges, Mark Allison.
Allison is currently the Director of Culinary Nutrition at the Dole Nutrition Institute in Charlotte. He is also the former dean of culinary arts at the Charlotte campus of Johnson & Wales, and frequently judges Competition Dining in the Queen City. He commented, “This was the best combination of dishes that I've seen at an event, and I've been judging Competition Dining for about four years.”
No matter how good the food, someone has to walk away the winner. When the scores were revealed, Chef Brent Martin of The Summit Room advanced to the Competition Dining finals. That sets up a Raleigh versus Charlotte final battle as Martin takes on Chef Ryan Conklin from Rex Healthcare Saturday at the Renaissance North Hills.