Fire on the Dock

Sometimes life requires that we venture outside of our comfort zone. Last night was one of these times. We had the opportunity to attend the North Carolina Competition Dining Series. In case you haven’t heard of it, I am told it is very much like the Television series, Iron Chef. Each night two local chefs compete head to head in a cook-off with a North Carolina ‘secret ingredient’ – the chef doesn’t know this ingredient until one hour before they start to cook. Each chef cooks three dishes with the secret ingredient and the diners get to vote on the dishes.

 

The view from our table

As a non-adventuresome eater, I was filled with trepidation about attending this event. But, it was Jenn’s birthday and she LOVES eating dangerously. We arrived at Shell Island Resort on a beautiful evening. Each table sat 10 people.  Seeing that the joy of life’s adventures are often determined by those we share them with we were anxious to meet our fellow diners. Lady luck was shining on us as we soon discovered that all the participants of ‘Table 6’ were fun and outgoing.

My fears were somewhat lifted when they announced that the ‘secret ingredient’ for the night was flounder! Naturally, I had shared my concerns with our entire table. I could feel nine eyes on me when the announcement was made – I gave two thumbs up! Although seafood is not my favorite (a trait I got from my mother who eats no seafood); flounder is a mild fish and therefore one I often choose.

The two competing chefs last night were Chef Antoine Murray of the Cape Fear Country Club and Chef Pat Green of Elijah’s in downtown Wilmington. During the evening they played a short video of each chef telling why they wanted to compete. Chef Green really impressed me with her interest in stepping out of her comfort zone and her ‘in it to win it’ attitude. Secretly, I was cheering for her to win!

Warm Salad of NC Flounder

Warm Salad of NC Flounder

The first course was Warm Salad of NC Flounder. We had no idea which chef prepared each dish at the time they were presented for our tasting pleasure. I now know the first course was by Chef Murray. The salad was a toasted Couscous Salad with Herbs, Tomato Concasse & Truffle Vinaigrette. I scored it 15 out of a possible 30 points. We were told in the beginning to have each dish start at zero and score them up for what was actually on the plate. It was a nice way to approach things – looking for the positive and giving points rather than expecting high points and subtracting.

Margarita Marinated Wanchese Flounder

Margarita Marinated Flounder

The second course was Margarita Marinated Flounder over Slaw. It was delicious! The fish was cooked to perfection, the flavors were a nice combination and over-all I enjoyed this dish. I scored it a 18 out of 30 (had I realized that I could go back and change votes before committing my vote, I would have scored this dish higher). The plate could have used more color. However the aroma and flavor really made up for what was missing in presentation.

Blackened Flounder

Blackened Flounder

The third course was Blackened Flounder with Shrimp & Sweet Potato Polenta, Sweet Chili Butter, and Chive Oil. This course got my highest score of the evening (19 out of 30). The blackened flounder was delicious. I LOVED the crispy sweet potatoes on the top and everything had enough spice to be delicious but wasn’t overpowering hot. This dish would have scored higher had it not included the sweet potato polenta. Although it was not bad, sweet potatoes are not my favorite and the combination of sweet and hot didn’t work for me.

Flounder & Crab Cake

Flounder & Crab Cake

When the fourth course arrived I almost felt as if part of my food was missing. The dish was a Flounder & Crab Cake with Remoulade & House Pickled Vegetables. The flounder & crab cake was about the size of a quarter and appeared tiny in comparison to the other dishes. The flavor was good and I even enjoyed the pickled vegetables, even thought I was concerned when they were announced. I scored this dish 12 out of 30.

Flounder Roulade

Flounder Roulade

The fifth course had us all talking as soon as it was announced – a Flounder Roulade Stuffed with NC Shrimp & Flounder Mousse, Beet Risotto, Sofrito Braised Pork Shoulder. This competition also had professional food critics as the judges. Jenn astutely noticed that this was the only dish where the professionals ranked it higher than the ‘real people’. I can only say that has to be because this dish was NASTY to anyone other than a professional! I was able to pick out a shrimp and enjoy it but the beet risotto was awful and it permeated the entire dish! I ranked it 5 out of 30 but only because it did look pretty on the plate.

Southern Fried Flounder

Southern Fried Flounder

The last course was right up my alley – Southern Fried Flounder with Collard Greens, Crab-Asparagus Polenta, and Sweet Potato Cream Sauce. The Crab-Asparagus Polenta was amazing; I would definitely eat it again. Although I am not a big fan of collards, these had nice bacony chunks and were tasty. The flounder was good; unfortunately it was dry and needed some tarter sauce (or something). I scored it 12 out of 30. The presentation wasn’t beautiful and the execution was off.

Gayle & Jenn

Having a GREAT time

The winner for the evening competition was Chef Antoine Murray. The real winner of the evening was Jenn! She got me to step out of my foods comfort zone and it was a fun way to celebrate her birthday.

Fire on the Dock goes on through May 22nd and there are two more NC competitions coming up – one in Raleigh and one in Greensboro. If you get a chance to go, you won’t be disappointed!

 

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