The competitions are held in heats which lead up to a grand finale — the final battle between the two remaining restaurants, to be held at the WNC Magazine Asheville Wine & Food Festival Grand Tasting at the Expo Center on the WNC Agricultural Grounds Campus in August.
Highlights of the Chefs Challenge competitions thus far include the so-called battle of the even-toed ruminants (well, maybe only a couple of nerds like me were calling it that). For a recap of the competition between the Red Stag and Deerfield's retirement community — battle coffee — click here. That particular blog post also gives a good summary of how the challenges work.
To sum it up rather succinctly, however, this is essentially how it played out for me: I sampled six delicious courses, all created to highlight coffee, got extremely wired on a veritable speedball of wine and caffeine, voted for my favorite dishes, was surprised that a retirement community edged out the Red Stag — and then went home to lie awake until 2 a.m., jacked on coffee.
The second challenge was much closer; the Grove Park Inn just barely slid by the Corner Kitchen for the win in battle: honey. In my recap of this competition, I let my dining companions field the commentary. Here's a sample from the peanut gallery, in response to a particularly ailing dish of turbot with a carrot sauce:
“My god, what did they do to this fish? It’s mealy.”
“Mine fell apart when they set the plate down.”
“You know what they should have served on top of this dish? Some unopened dental floss.”
“Maybe they water-boarded it. Maybe Dick Cheney’s back there. It seems stressed and ready to confess to anything.”
The third challenge was decided by a hair's breadth. The battle between Pomodoro's and the Admiral was one of the hottest tickets in town — and I mean that literally. About 140 people, more or less, stuffed themselves into a rather stifling dining room to sample some of the best food this competition has seen yet. Here's the complete menu, via WNC Magazine:
The Admiral’s Dishes:
Duck breast and duck confit, served with apple chevre, arugula, hazelnuts and parsnips
Pork tenderloin and pork belly, served with apple chutney, bacon, farro, apple butter
Apple cobbler, cheddar biscuit, whipped cream, peanut butter
Team Pomodoros’ Dishes
Apple-tarragon haddock sausage with truffled white asparagus mousse arugula, salted caramel.
Braised chicken seasoned with ras el hanout, served with apple butter mushrooms, potatoes and canelli beans
Orange-scented wildflower and honey-soaked semolina cake, served with lavender-apple sabayon and honey-orange tears.
As WNC Magazine editor in chief Eric Seeger pointed out, against any other restaurant, Pomodoro's likely would have killed it. I'm paraphrasing, of course; Seeger's way too dignified for that, at least in writing. This is, after all, the same man who announced to the table in week one that quinoa reminded him of baby toenail clippings. Sorry Seeger — still funny.
I had to miss last week's competition, but you can read Seeger's recap of battle: sweet potato, by clicking here. The fight pitted the Early Girl against Moveable Feast catering, and the results were reportedly fantastic.
There were less people in attendance for that particular event, and by all accounts, likely made both the pacing of the courses and the quality of the food a bit more appealing. Therein lies a good case for purchasing tickets to the competitions between the lesser-known players: Space and speed. This coming Tuesday is a good example: Chelsea's Tea Room from the Biltmore Village vs. Nico's Cafe from Waynesville.
What else can we look forward to?
I'm especially excited for Cucina 24 vs. Tupelo Honey on Tuesday, the 22nd of this month, then Sunset Terrace vs. the Admiral on Tuesday, July 6. The latter battle marks an exciting fight between two of the finalists who have had the strongest showings thus far. Tickets for this one will likely go fast.
Interested in playing critic for the night? It's a deal: 6 plates of food for $39, not inclusive of tax and gratuity. Make reservations to the WNC Chefs Challenges by clicking on this link, or calling the Flying Frog directly at 254-9411.