Raleigh, N.C. — The second battle of the Got To Be NC Competition Dining Series was held in downtown Raleigh Tuesday night, and it was a complete success. Diners turned judges, most of us novice judges, packed the venue at 214 Martin Street and the event began at 7 p.m.
I sat at a table of 10. It was a mix of friends, couples on date night, and one other single participant. Only one of the 10 had attended a battle previously. We talked amongst ourselves - constantly commenting on the amazing mix of sourdough and white chocolate bread from LaFarm Bakery in Cary while we all waited for the announcement of the night's two secret ingredients.
How it works
Bison and grains was the second of seven battles that will take place at the venue over the next two weeks. Each day, two local chefs - each armed with a team of other culinary experts - compete against one another to qualify for the final competition and $2,000.
The catch? The morning of the battle, the chefs are given two secret locally-sourced ingredients that they must somehow incorporate into their courses that night. At the battle, they prepare the meals as the waiters serve them, and the diners rate each dish on their phones to determine the winning team.
Tuesday's battle required team "Will Work 4 Food" and "Team Ironclad" to make use of Carolina bison and Carolina grains.
Competition Dining courses are served blindly, with diners uninformed of who made which dish until the end of the night. For each course, diners and local chefs grade the dish on presentation, aroma, overall flavor, secret ingredient flavor, execution, creativity, the use of the secret ingredient and accompaniments. All scores are out of a possible 40 points.
The scores shown below are the final weighted scores for each course.
Course 1: Sesame seed-crusted Carolina bison tartar, egg yolk confit, Carolina ground rye flour fried white anchovy, candied mustard seeds, lusty monk mustard, NC hydroponic greens and NC blueberry vinaigrette
This was my first experience at a Competition Dining event, and this dish started with a bang. As a table we discussed each dish, and our opinions were rarely differing. The mustard seeds gave the dish a great taste, but it was a little overpowering. "All I can taste is the mustard," was repeated over and over by my tablemates. I am personally not an anchovy fan, so I steered clear of the fried piece that was placed delicately on the top of the egg yolk, but otherwise the dish was unique and enjoyable.
Course 2: Carolina bison kefta, Carolina ground red wheatberry and quinoa salad, charred bab ganoush, Greek yogurt and local mint
I was impressed by the presentation - the way the sauce was drizzled around the plate made it feel extra fancy. After a few seconds, I took my first bite and the dish did not disappoint! Following the tartar, the sight of cooked bison was a welcomed one. The sauce was incredible, and overall the dish has a combination of delicious flavors. There was also a spicy aftertaste, which was I not expecting, but definitely enjoyed.
This dish was a crowd pleaser.
Course 3: Carolina ground malt flour-crusted Carolina bison flank steak, white acre field pea and ponzu risotto, mixed herb chimchurri and toasted pine nut dust
Reading the ingredients of the dish made me excited. Steak...risotto. Delicious! However, the flank steak was a little on the well-done side for me, but the dish incorporated a mix of flavors. A woman at the table looked slightly confused when trying the risotto and asked, 'Is this what risotto is supposed to taste like?' The table gave a resounding 'No.' The risotto was very thick, sort of an oatmeal consistency, something that as a table we decided we did not enjoy.
Course 4: Braised Carolina bison oxtail, Carolina ground rye flour pasta, truffle pan sauce, celery confit and truffle fingerling chips
By course four I realized I needed to stop trying to picture the dish before it arrived. This dish looked nothing like I expected, but ended up being incredible! The bison oxtail was inside of a ravioli - something I never imagined. The sauce reminded me of gravy and had a strong, excellent flavor. The pasta was a little on the tough side, but it tasted fresh - not like the store-bought box I am used to. Overall, the dish had a comfort food vibe - something that the table was very much a fan of. I think this ended up being everyone's favorite (non-dessert) dish.
Course 5: Carolina red wheatberry and rye flour summer pudding, cloister honey lavender honey, creme anglaise, pickled local blueberries and pine nut brittle
My first thought was 'Wow! This presentation is incredible!' I was extremely unsure of what I was looking at, but it was daring and colorful. However, as I looked around the table, the presentation was inconsistent. Some people had some sort of leaf covering the majority of their dessert, but mine was relatively small.
This was the only dish where my thoughts differed from the majority of the table.
The texture was interesting. It was grainy - which is not typical of a dessert, but it tasted fresh and I think it worked. I loved the pieces of fruit that were in the dish, but the majority of the table was not pleased. I saved the brittle for last, but I wish I hadn't - it left a burnt taste in my mouth.
Course 6: Coffee and doughnuts: Carolina ground malted rye flour apple cider churros, chocolate espresso pots de creme, wheatberry pecan honey brittle and berry jam
OK, this was amazing! My favorite (and the table's favorite) dish of the night. The presentation was adorable - who doesn't love things in jars? And the espresso pots de creme was to die for. This dish left the entire table wanting more. At one point a waiter came by and joked that this was the first time he heard our table silent. It was that good! The berry jam added a fresh, sweet flavor, and paired great with the churros. The brittle on this dish, unlike dish 5, was sweet and had a great flavor, however it was quite sticky and could have seriously messed up someone's dental work.
Voting in the battles is incredibly easy, and everyone in the room had submitted their ballot 10 minutes after the meal. In addition to the "joes" or diners, there were three "pros" who also judged each dish.
The chefs were finally able to come out from their busy kitchens, and they were welcomed by a sea of applause. Within minutes we quickly found out who made each dish as the scores went live on screen.
The winner of the second battle (with a score of 33.652) was team "Will Work 4 Food," a group of chefs representing Ironwood Restaurant in Pinehurst. "Will Work 4 Food" created the delicious rendition of coffee and doughnuts, along with the Carolina bison kefta and the bison oxtail ravioli.
The runners up, Team Ironclad (with a score of 26.24) were a group of chefs from Greensboro. They represented the Iron Hen Cafe. They made the creative sesame seed-crusted Carolina bison tartar, the bison flank steak and the beautiful wheatberry and rye summer pudding.
The end of the battle was a proud moment for both sets of chefs, and diners, and their families!, as everyone congratulated them, and thanked them for the meal.
Upcoming Raleigh battles
Battle 3 continues Thursday (the event is sold out) with a whole new set of chefs and secret ingredients, but you review all the battles left in the Raleigh series and make your reservation online.