Enjoying beautiful plates, balsamic caviar at Cooking for a Classic semifinals
Posted March 21
Updated March 22
Raleigh, N.C. — Two area chefs battled it out in the Cooking for a Classic semifinals on Monday with six courses that were as beautiful as they were delicious.
The featured chefs at the March 20 competition included Rich Carter from Catering Works and Trey Cleveland from Top of the Hill. The competition is bracket-style -- these chefs had already competed twice before, in the preliminary rounds, and the winner from this dinner would compete in the championship round on March 27. It's like the NCAA tournament, but way more delicious.
Each chef was required to prepare one appetizer, one entree and one dessert -- each paired with a beer, wine or cocktail -- on-site at 1705 Prime, the event venue. Chefs could prepare whatever dishes they desired, but their ingredients were limited to a well-stocked pantry -- and their time to plan and prepare was limited to just one day.
Like the other voters in the dining room, I had no clue which chef had prepared which course until the end of my meal. After each appetizer, entree and dessert pairing, I used my smartphone to rate the dishes based on appearance, taste, creativity and quality of the drink that accompanied them. The lucky chef that wins the competition gets a vintage, classic car.
With tickets priced at only $50 per person in the preliminaries and $100 to $125 per person in the finals, each Cooking for a Classic dinner is an incredible value -- and, even better than that, proceeds from each event go directly to the Lucy Daniels Center, a school and program that helps children experiencing emotional, mental and social challenges.
My favorite thing about these competition dinners is that, in them, I try things I never imagined I would try. The oddest thing I tried at this dinner, for example, was wakame, or seaweed, salad. I love sushi, where the seaweed is hidden in rice, but this seaweed actually looked like seaweed -- long, lime green, translucent strips that were chewy.
The dish was beautiful, though, and I loved it! In fact, it was one of the most loved dishes at my table. Served with radishes, mushrooms, sesame and mozzarella pearls with a sweet, miso dressing, it didn't taste "fishy" at all.
The appetizer I tried before that was my favorite, though -- and it was also a sight to see! Cauliflower puree, which tasted a lot like creamy cheese, was spread across my plate with king mushrooms, roasted carrot sticks, brussel sprout petals and balsamic caviar on top. Those last four foods are four of my favorites, so this dish was my top pick of the evening.
See what I mean? Where else will you get to try balsamic caviar?
The two entrees were seafood dishes, and they were both delicious. The first was low-country catfish roulade with crab, shrimp, cornbread stuffing, creole sauce, swiss chard with bacon vinaigrette, fried hominy and pickled chard stems. This dish was gorgeous -- the little pink, purple and green chard stem on my plate was too beautiful to eat.
It was paired with a clementine mint julep -- which, of course, was also awesome.
The next entree was seared low-country spiced golden tile fish, crab-bacon-roasted tomato-scallion relish, arugula and meyer lemon cream. The fish tasted very fresh, and the crab was delicious, but my favorite part was coming up next -- dessert.
The appetizers and the dessert were the best parts of the evening, my tablemates agreed.
The first dessert was a white chocolate mascarpone mousse with pistachio phyllo crisp, raspberries, meyer lemon curd and blueberry thyme sauce. The beer it was paired with had been combined with thyme infused lemonade for a sweeter dessert experience.
The final dish was a carrot cake with coconut mousse. It was surrounded by a carrot gelle and topped with pineapple and cinnamon dusted walnuts. This one was paired with a cocktail -- a ginger carrot gin breeze -- which matched the plate perfectly.
Celebrity judges and attendees gave the final win to Chef Rich Carter, though both chefs were praised equally for their menus. As tradition goes, diners were invited to mingle with the chefs after dinner and to stick around to see who won two raffle prizes.
Tickets are still available for the championship round.