What's on Tap

What's on Tap

Rex Healthcare chef takes Competition Dining Triangle title

Posted March 9, 2015
Updated March 10, 2015

— The Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series crowned a winner in the Triangle Monday night.

From the very first dinner, Rex Healthcare's Ryan Conklin was the chef to beat. His high-scoring dishes had diners changing their impressions of hospital cuisine.

Conklin continued his Competition Dining Cinderella-story by narrowly defeating Curt Shelvey of Curt's Cucina in Southern Pines to take home the Triangle title.

The chefs had a challenge Monday night when taking on the night's secret ingredients - Certified Angus Beef short loin and Charlotte's Uno Alla Volta cheeses. Each ingredient had to be in two of the chef's three dishes.

The night's featured brewery was Crank Arm of Raleigh. The brewer brought along two great selections for diners - the Rickshaw Rye IPA and the Flying Scotsman Scottish Ale. Before the battle, diners snacked on La Farm Bakery bread.

The Meal

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: Uno Alla Volta Ricotta & Arugula Gnudi, Winter Vegetable Fricassee, Parmesan Brodo, Peppered Certified Angus Beef® Brand Charred Rare Tenderloin, UAV Hay-Smoked Mozzarella (Curt's) Score: 28.367 Competition Dining: Battle Beef and Cheese

Last year's Competition Dining Triad winner Tim Thompson, a pro judge for the evening, described the night's featured ingredients as a chef's dream. "These are two lucky guys," he said of the competing chefs.

Thompson was also a fan of the first course saying he was glad he wasn't cooking against it.

Diners were a little confused when the dish came out though because the original description, which was shown on large screens throughout the dining room, said the meat was being served Carpaccio or raw. Host and founder of Competition Dining Jimmy Crippen verbally corrected that to "charred rare" while diners were enjoying the course.

The parmesan brodo had a great flavor. The beef was one of the best prepared and served of the night and the Gnudi was a wonderful way to showcase the cheese.

The only complaint I heard from some diners was that the dish wasn't warm. Mine was lukewarm but many at my table said their meal was cold.

Two-time Competition Dining Triangle champion Dean Thompson, another pro judge for the evening, must have gotten a warm first course. He described it as a "well-rounded" and a good start to the evening.

Course 2: Bourbon Barrel Smoked Salt & Pepper-Horseradish Rubbed Certified Angus Beef Brand Strip Loin, Uno Alla Volta Hay-Smoked Mozzarella Logan Turnpike Grits, Béarnaise, Asparagus-UAV Burrata Whey Purée, Fennell & UAV Ricotta Little River Crab Salad, Tangerine (Rex) Score: 25.140

Competition Dining: Battle Beef and CheeseThis dish was a little bit of a let down after the first course. Tim Thompson noted inconsistencies among the elements and portion sizes of this dish at his table.

The crab salad and grits were the stars of this dish. The grits were good enough to turn several non-grit fans into supporters. While the cheese got its moment through the grits, the beef wasn't as well-seasoned as the first course.

Course 3: Whole Roasted Certified Angus Beef® Brand Strip Loin, Fingerling Potato Confit, Uno Alla Volta Mozzarella-Shallot Fondue, Green Tomato Salsa Verde, Natural Jus (Curt's) Score: 22.148 Competition Dining: Battle Beef and Cheese

By the time the third beef course hit the tables, many diners were having beef fatigue. Each dish seemed to have a chunk of beef.

Dean Thompson said the beef was cut too thick and undercooked.

While the salsa verde was praised by diners, the rest of the elements just blended together into a fondue stew in the bowl.

Course 4: Braised Certified Angus Beef® Brand Tenderloin, Uno Alla Volta Ricotta-Lusty Monk Original Sin Spätzle with Bacon & Brussels Sprouts, Pickled Onion-Perry Lowe Orchards Apple Salad, Melted Leeks, Fried Parsnip (Rex) Score: 24.223  Competition Dining: Battle Beef and Cheese

Couldn't the chefs have come up with a different way to serve this beef? After three courses of beef, diners were rejoicing when they saw this tenderloin cut up and braised.

But the flavors in this dish overpowered each other. The spatzle, a traditional German egg noodle pasta, was a nice accompaniment and great way to incorporate the cheese. The sprouts got a little lost for me, something I would have liked more since I am a sprout fan. The beef was good but the pickled onions, leeks and bacon were all just too strong. 

Course 5: Marcona Almond-Logan Turnpike “Polenta” Cake, Vanilla Scented Uno Alla Volta Ricotta, Chocolate Soufflé Glacé, Black Pepper Anglaise, Pomegranate-Strawberry Compote (Curt's) Score: 26.505 Competition Dining: Battle Beef and Cheese

Diners didn't know it, but going into dessert - less than .02 points separated the chefs. As with many Competition Dining battles, it would all come down to dessert.

Finally, something without beef! This dish had so much potential. The polenta cake was a little too dry, but the souffle and compote were delicious. The ricotta, however, got lost under the mountain of chocolate.

Still a good dish, just not one that highlighted the secret ingredient.

Course 6: Uno Alla Volta Ricotta-Toffee Cornmeal Upside Down Cake, UAV Ricotta Semifreddo, Meyer Lemon-Blueberry Compote, UAV Ricotta-Vanilla Bean Cannoli Cream, Pine Nut Crumble, Balsamic-White Peach Coulis (Rex) Score: 28.546 Competition Dining: Battle Beef and Cheese

"Another cornmeal cake?" some diners said. But this dish was able to showcase the cheese in a Cannoli cream and frozen custard or semifreddo. The cake wasn't as dry as the first dessert and benefited from the lemon-blueberry compote.

Overall, it was a solid dessert that helped propel the Rex team to victory.

The Results

Conklin won by three-tenths of a point. He attributed the victory to "keeping calm" and "putting good food on the plate."

"Win, lose or draw, there are no losers in this," Shelvey said. The former Marine said he loved meeting the other chefs and getting exposure for his restaurant.

Host and Competition Dining founder Jimmy Crippen praised Shelvey as the embodiment of "good sportmanship" and noted that he was always smiling back in the kitchen.

Conklin and his team were awarded red chefs jackets, $2,000 and a handmade Ironman Forge custom knife. Conklin and his team will compete against winning chefs from the Triad and Charlotte rounds in the Final Fire in late October.


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  • Charles Ratliff Mar 10, 2015
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    Rex Healthcare. That's one dining venue I have absolutely NO desire in ever visiting.

  • Roy Hinkley Mar 10, 2015
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    Well done Chef Conklin!