Raleigh, N.C. — Chef Gerry Fong is known as the guy who always smiles, and he has a lot to be happy about.
Diners love the dishes he sends out from the Persimmons restaurant kitchen where Fong works in New Bern. He was a runner up in the 2012 Competition Dining Series' coastal leg, Fire on the Dock in Wrightsville Beach. Earlier this year, he won the second Fire on the Dock contest, putting him in the Competition Dining Series statewide finals this week in Raleigh.
"My competitive advantage is in the fact that I love food, people and challenges. I feel that I can make people smile with my food," Fong said.
Fong will compete in the Final Fire against Red Stag Grill chef Adam Hayes before a sold out crowd Friday, Nov. 22, at Renaissance Raleigh North Hills Hotel.
Fong describes his cooking style as "Southern Asian Carolina cuisine."
"The local ingredients help people remember where they are from," he said.
From there, Fong said, "I take my (Asian) roots and training and have fun."
"My parents were in restaurant business forever," he said. "They taught me how to eat – they taught me how to eat well. Then, I went to culinary school. They taught me how to taste there."
Fong has produced various Fire on the Dock dishes that diners still talk about: For instance, Fong's off-the-wall pork dessert, which helped him win the April 18, 2012, Fire on the Dock Battle Pork.
Fong served pork-infused chocolate ganache cake with mascarpone ice cream, beet and dried fruit compote, and pork crackling candy. The cake was intensely chocolate without a hint of pork flavor. The crackling candy, a sheet of sugar glass perched atop the cake, tasted like sugar-coated pork rinds.
During Fire on the Dock 2013, Fong wowed guests during Battle Strawberries and Sweet Potatoes with a Pepsi balsamic reduction. The sweet, tart syrup was the perfect counterpoint to Fong's sweet potato ice cream.
Strawberry bacon jam he served alongside braised pork butt with a sweet potato trio (fried, pureed and a fritter) was another favorite.
"We're always looking for new ingredients, always trying to figure out how to do things with the same ingredients and make them better. Just a lot of experimenting," Fong said of his general cooking and his Competition Dining series strategy.
The statewide Competition Dining series is a bracket-style tournament featuring regional contests that culminate in a final battle to pick an overall N.C. winner. A secret ingredient, from North Carolina, must be used in each of the three courses chefs prepare during each contest.
All rounds are sold out, but Out and About is the official blogger so check back for complete coverage of each round.
Here is Fong's popular Korean-inspired pork shoulder recipe from the April 2013 Fire on the Dock Battle Pork.
Korean-style Braised Pork Shoulder from Team Persimmons
For the seasoning liquid:
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced ginger
1/4 cup mirin
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 small onion, shaved
1 small bunch of cilantro, chopped
For the pork:
Salt and pepper
2 1/2 pounds pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1/2 celery stalk diced
Prepare seasoning liquid: Place garlic, ginger, mirin, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, onion and cilantro in a small saucepan. Cook mixture over medium heat until flavors meld, about 3 to 5 minutes. Set aside.
Prepare pork: Season pork with salt and pepper. Place a brazier, Dutch oven or large, heavy frying pan on the stove over medium-high heat. When pan is hot, add oil. Brown pork chunks in hot oil, working in batches, if necessary, to avoid crowding the pan.
Remove meat from pan and set aside.
Add onion, carrots and celery to the pan. Saute vegetables until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.
Return meat to the pan along with half of the seasoning liquid. Add enough chicken stock to the pan to come about halfway up the sides of the meat. Lower the heat, cover pan and simmer gently until pork is tender, about 2 hours.
Before serving meat, simmer remaining seasoning liquid over medium heat until liquid has thickened slightly. Use as a sauce for the meat.
Want to know where to eat or find the Cape Fear region's best chefs? Want to know a great place for sushi or a cooking class? Liz has been covering Wilmington's food and dining scene for nearly a decade. Her food blog, Daily Dish, tracks restaurant openings and closings as well as chef comings and goings and lots of other tasty nuggets. Liz also leads delicious food tours via Culinary Adventures with Liz Biro. Read Liz's work and find out about her food tours at www.lizbiro.com.