Raleigh, N.C. — The Cooking for a Classic competition hit its stride Wednesday night, the third of eight opening-round matchups pitting area chefs against each others in a six-course, food-and-drink extravaganza. Ticket-bearing foodies are the direct beneficiary. Each gets to sample two appetizers – which must be vegetarian or vegan – two entrees and two desserts, each accompanied by a custom cocktail.
"Food-wise, it's clicking," the master of ceremonies told the sold-out house at 1705 Prime. (Tickets remain for next week's opening round competitions on Monday and Tuesday.)
Guests agreed with high scores – submitted via web form – for the six courses. Those votes combined with the contributions from three celebrity judges added up to a win Wednesday for Eric Gephart, of Kamado Grille, and his team.
After complaints at the first two competitions about the web form's appearance, organizers broke it into multiple pages, in effect grouping the stages of the dinner but hiding subsequent courses from curious diners until they were served.
Both Gephart and his opponent, Scott James of the Angus Barn, went starchy in their starters.
Gephart set the tone with a velvety sweet potato, coconut curry soup with just the right amount of heat.
But it was the entrees that distinguished this competition. Both men aimed high and hit their marks.
Gephart combined common Southern ingredients – seared scallops, cheese grits, pancetta and white wine/butter sauce – to a tasty effect that had some diners asking for the recipe.
James delivered a melt-in-your mouth beef short rib that suffered in the execution. Not every serving was as warm as it should have been, and many diners reached for their bread knives, having been provided with nothing else to cut it.
"I like the flavor," said one diner. "I would have liked it better if it was warm."
The dessert offerings were heralded by the arrival of Gephart's Beesting cocktail, a savory mix of prosecco, TOPO vodka, lemon, honey and thyme.
"I give it an 'A' for the drink," one diner said.
The lemony tang was a perfect accompaniment to the grapefruit Pavlova -- a meringue crisp to the spoon that looked like a poached egg when split.
Proceeds from tickets sold throughout the series benefit the nonprofit Lucy Daniels Center, which helps children with mental and emotional issues.
James followed with a dessert one diner said "tastes like my childhood," a ginger, apple upside down came swimming in cream.
The whiskey cocktail that accompanied it was voted too strong for those at my table.
"It was a long day, but we're really happy," James said after the scores were tallied.
Gephart thanked his team, guests and gave a shoutout to his nephew, a student at the Lucy Daniels Center, the beneficiary of ticket sales through the four rounds of Cooking for a Classic.
"Let's not forget why we're here tonight," he said.