Last Wednesday, I had the absolute pleasure of being invited to be a guest judge at the "Got to Be NC" Competition Dining Series Fire on the Rock event, in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Not only was I honored to be invited to the event, but I honestly feel my life is richer for having gone. I make this bold, and unequivocal statement, because it's true. I had never been to a food event or "battle" like it, full of so many wonderfully gracious and kind people. The jubilant evening was full of passion, creativity, excitement, community, and amazing culinary creations, all in support of North Carolina's chef talent, their restaurants, and local ingredients from the farms that support them.
Honestly, before receiving my invitation to the April 10th event, taking place at Blowing Rock's Meadowbrook Inn & Suites now through April 30th, I had never heard of Fire on the Rock or any of the other regional dinning series that make up the yearlong event. It's a dining experience unlike any other in the country, comprised of 15 dining competitions that take place throughout five different regions of North Carolina, where each evening two restaurant chefs battle it out in a format similar to "Iron Chef" and those in attendance (you) cast their votes to determine the victor. Each course is scored on overall presentation, aroma, flavor, and accompaniments as well as the creativity and execution tied to using the evening's secret ingredient(s).
During the six-course meal, three from each chef without knowing whose food you're tasting, the menu is centered around a "secret" ingredient(s), produced in North Carolina. Here's the kicker, the chefs and their teams have no idea what the featured ingredient(s) will be until noon, the day of their battle. This particular evening, John Dean of Twigs and Clark Barlowe of Heirloom, had to use Daikon, Beets, and Strawberries from Wise Farms in each of their respective courses.
Needless to say, both John and Clark are unbelievably creative and talented chefs, as each of the courses they plated were unique, dynamic, and full of great flavor. From the Braised Pork Shoulder with Golden Beet and Asian Pear Mostarda, Pickled Pepper-Daikon Slaw, and Cornmeal Hoe Cake to the Beet-Cured Certified Angus Beef Flank Steak with Daikon studded Potato Purée, Strawberry and Heirloom Tomato Boursin Petit Pain, with Wild Mushroom Demi to the Strawberry Cake with Beet Ice Cream with Beet-Strawberry Balsamic Reduction and Strawberry-Mint Chutney, I thoroughly enjoyed every one of chef Dean's and chef Barlowe's creations.
My wife and I had such a wonderful experience at Fire on Rock, an evening spent with fellow North Carolinians in full support of the Old North State's culinary artistry and ingenuity, restaurants, small businesses and local farms. To learn more about the "Got to Be NC" Competition Dining Series, Fire on the Rock, or how to get tickets for future events, visit the Competition Dining Series website at CompetitionDining.com. I highly recommend you attend an upcoming event in Greensboro, Raleigh, and Charlotte, and hope you find them as enjoyable and as memorable as I did!
Photo credits belong to Amanda Lugenbell & the Competition Dining Series