Competition Dining: Battle Joyce Farms Poulet Rouge & Foy Farms Nameko Mushrooms
Posted February 25, 2015
Updated October 21, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — The competitors in the last 2015 Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series quarterfinal had plenty of adversity.
Weathervane’s Spencer Carter and Michael’s Seafood’s Brandon Stark were originally supposed to meet on February 17, but a rare winter storm in the Triangle wiped out that week’s Competition Dining events.
After a seven-day delay, the event was threatened by another winter storm. Snow started flying overnight, but Stark made the trip from Carolina Beach.
Working with a skeleton crew, as worsening weather kept kitchen staffers home, the two chefs weren’t given a break when the secret ingredient was unveiled, either.
The chefs were given two featured ingredients: Joyce Farms Poulet Rouge and Foy Farms Nameko mushrooms. Poulet rouge is a farm-raised French bird, judged to produce the best chicken in the world. Namekos are gelatin-covered orange mushrooms with a slightly fruity, forest flavor.
Both are outstanding ingredients in many dishes, but it provided a creative and tactical challenge for the chefs to construct a six-course meal, including desserts, featuring chicken and mushrooms.
“It was a little more stressful than the first time,” Stark, who had apples as his featured ingredient in the opening round, said, “but we got through it. Both ingredients were complicated to put into a dish.”
“At first, it caught me off guard, but I got my game plan together,” Carter, who had chocolate in round one, said. “I’m not a mushroom fan.”
Carter had a secret weapon. It was tough to imagine on a frigid, snowy Raleigh evening, but baseball teams have started spring training in Florida. Every successful baseball team has an outstanding closer, and Carter had Competition Dining’s version of Mariano Rivera in dessert chef Vanessa Haydock.
Haydock was on the Weathervane team that won the 2012 Competition Dining title for the Triangle, then went on to win the Final Fire for the state. Weathervane’s chef at the time, Ryan Payne, won seven of the 12 appetizer and main courses he competed in during Weathervane’s run to the title. Three times, in 2012, Payne went into the dessert course trailing his competition.
Haydock was a perfect 6-0 on desserts, in 2012, beating the opposing dessert by an average of 12.4 percentage points.
Haydock kept up her dominance in this year’s opening round, winning dessert by 8.7 points to clinch a win for Carter, who succeeded Payne at Weathervane. Payne was in the dining room, Tuesday to watch and taste the rest of his championship team compete.
As with all Competition Dining events, the dishes are served and no one knows who made what until after the scores are tabulated. Here's a rundown of each course, reviews and results. In each round and overall, diners (the Joes) and local chefs (the Pros) grade the dish on aroma, presentation, creativity and other factors. All scores are out of a possible 40 points. The score shown is the final weighed score for each dish.
Course 1: Joyce Farms Poulet Rouge Liver-Foy Farms Nameko Mushroom Pate, House-Made Foccacia, Smoked Blackberries, Nameko Mushroom Brown Butter, Pickled Pink Peppercorns (Carter) Score: 26.46
The opening course set the tone for the evening. Poulet rouge and Nameko mushrooms may be delicious, but they are far from colorful. Presentation was a challenge for the chefs, as the dishes suffered from a lack of color, matching the barren winter landscape outside. What they lacked in bright hues, they made up for in warm, comforting taste—perfect for the intrepid diners that braved the cold to attend. Carter used the Poulet rouge livers to make a pate’ that went well with his mushroom butter. Perhaps knowing that he had Haydock cued up for the final course, he didn’t worry about creativity and produced tasty, risk-free dishes for both of his courses.
Course 2: Foy Farms Nameko Mushroom Braised Joyce Farms Poulet Rouge Thigh, Butternut Squash-Nameko Mushroom Purée, Crispy Poulet Rouge Skin, Braised Collard Greens (Stark) Score: 29.95
No one knew it at the time (which may explain the relatively low scores), but Stark produced the course of the night. The sweetness of the mushroom/squash puree complemented the braised chicken thigh perfectly, producing a roller coaster of tastes. The crispy chicken skin also gave diners buried treesure at the bottom of the puree.
Course 3: Chicken Fried Joyce Farms Poulet Rouge, Confit of Poulet Rouge Thigh, Slow-Cooked Swiss Chard, Potato Purée, Foy Farms Nameko Mushroom Gravy (Carter) Score: 26.44
Again, Carter was willing to keep it simple and tasty, frying up some of the chicken and putting it on poulet rouge confit, potatoes and mushroom gravy. The Swiss chard was crunchy, leading some of the pros to speculate that it had been fried instead of slow-cooked, as promised, but, on the strength of the accompaniments, Carter’s main course was a highlight.
Course 4: Roasted Joyce Farms Breast of Poulet Rouge, Foy Farms Nameko Mushroom-Vegetable Medley, Poulet Rouge Liver Risotto, Poulet Rouge-Nameko Mushroom Gravy (Stark) Score: 21.41
Stark took a risk, and it backfired on him, costing him the lead. The gravy was explosively spicy. It worked well with the liver risotto and vegetable medley, but it overwhelmed many diners. People that (inexplicably) aren’t fans of spicy hot food were sent scrambling for their water glasses after the first bite, and few, if any diners were able to finish the powerful combination of spice and taste, regardless of how good it was.
Course 5: Meyer Lemon-Foy Farms Nameko Mushroom Monkey Bread, Nameko Mushroom Honeycomb Crumble, Blueberry Cream Cheese (Carter) Score: 25.46
Carter had a slim lead heading into dessert, and it was time for Haydock to lock it down. Both chefs left the chicken out of the dessert course, as was allowed in the competition rules, and Haydock buried the mushroom taste. “(Competition referee Bobby Zimmerman) said something about the mushrooms having a lemon flavor, so I played off of that,” Haydock said. She created a fruity bread and cream dish, adding honeycomb crumble to further hide the mushroom taste. The use of blueberries also gave the only splash of color to the night’s plates.
Course 6: Foy Farms Nameko Mushroom & High Rock Farms Chestnut Flour Pound Cake, Lemon-Nameko Mushroom Mousse, Lavender-Nameko Mushroom Ice Cream (Stark) Score: 20.36
Stark took another risk, and it produced another dish that many diners couldn’t finish. The ice cream and mousse both had a heavy mushroom taste, and the pound cake didn't have a powerfully sweet taste to overwhelm it. Had Stark decided to bury the dish in fruit or honey, it might have worked, but as a stand-alone, it was too much mushroom for a dessert.
Carter survived and advanced, with a 26.12 to 23.91 victory over Stark that seemed much closer than the final scores indicated.
Carter advances to the semifinals for the first time since he was part of the Final Final champion Weathervane team in 2012. He’ll take on Chef Curt Shelvey of Curt’s Cucina, with a berth in the finals at stake, on March 3. Tickets are still available.