Bistro at Biltmore wins with asparagus
A frittata steals the show for guest blogger Mark Rosenstein
By Mark Rosenstein
Competition is never my thing. I hate being on the wrong side of the scoreboard. Though, in reality, as a cook, I competed every day and the cash register was my scoreboard. I have to say, you learn a lot from that scoreboard, so from that perspective, a chefs challenge is an opportunity to learn and raise your game, which is a good thing for chef and client.
I got a call from Bob Bowles yesterday morning about needing someone to sit in and write about the evening’s cook-off between Chef Greg King of Pomodoros and Chef Michael Gonzalez of Bistro at Biltmore. So off I went, and happily. I don’t need to explain the drill—the secret ingredient was asparagus. It’s in season and the locally grown vegetable should be on your table for the next month and a half. Guess what? Asparagus is in everything. (Please, can we move on from bacon everywhere?)
I felt I was in a good position to evaluate the dishes. Not knowing the style of either team, I could be fair. My criteria for judging is grounded in the idea that cooking is a craft and occassionally an art. Cooking requires good handwork—precision in portion and placement. Dishes should reflect season and locality. The best meals are ones where an emotional impression is made, something that ties the taste to a place or person, and creates a memory that haunts one—creating a desire to return to that moment in time. In the language of Star Trek, it’s a return to the Nexus. I never anticipate it; it happens or it doesn’t.
These types of events are aptly named challenges, as indeed they are challenging! Imagine going over to your neighbor’s house at noon today, being tossed a pile of food and told you’re going to cook for 60 to 100 of your friends, who will arrive in six hours. And by the way, those other three people on the opposite side of the kitchen want your friends to become their friends, and they intend to do it by making a better impression with their food. You have to play nice and share your toys.
If you’re wondering who came out on top, I’ll spare you further reading. The Bistro at Biltmore. But that’s not what I want to write about. I want to write about one dish that almost took me to the Nexus. It also had, yes, a bit of bacon in it in the form of crispy pancetta.
Here are my notes: FRITATTA —festive, fun, really well presented. Lots going on, harmoniously—texture, flavor, balance. Too soon to tell, could be the best dish of the evening. Each bite—a new blend of flavors and textures. Worthy of any menu. (One attendee, who has been at all the events said: “This is the best dish of the whole year.”)
The asparagus ricotta fritatta with pickled oranges, pancetta cracklings and asparagus emulsion—just say the name a few times: asparagus ricotta fritatta, asparagus ricotta fritatta. It’s sort of like “a rose is a rose is a rose.” Good start, sounds good.
Next, the eyes. It was a springtime carnival—young seedling greens (aka micro-greens) looked like little organic jewels sparkling with the juice of pickled orange. All of this relaxing on a fritatta egg pillow in which a small quenelle of ricotta was hidden, waiting to surprise. The asparagus emulsion set to the side was an abstract composition with a bull’s-eye of grapefruit emulsion, exemplifying great precision of placement.
The nose—I can’t say I could close my eyes and smell much, so a few points off.
And now the pudding’s proof—the taste. Ah ha, the carnival set in motion! Five bites, five new flavor combinations in each one. Citrus, greens, creamy cheese. Orange, pickle, and tender egg. Asparagus on a quickening breeze, definite, intense, focused—then gone. Minty, crunchy, crispy, soft. I’m tasting it again as I write.
In art school, one of my instructors, Aaron Siskind, said: “I think maybe I have taken 10 really good photographs in my life.”
The final outcome of the evening matters in this way: In the challenge of the creative moment, this wonderful little dish made its appearance. All of us were able to experience it—the chefs who produced it, the chefs who didn’t and could learn from it, the guests that tasted it and enjoyed. As in all good craftsmanship, maybe the chef who produced it will practice it, play with it, and it could become one of his “10 really good photographs.”
I will be writing again on May 23.
Biltmore at Bistro was the victor, creating the top three dishes of the evening. The team moves on to compete May 30 against the winner of the May 9 Challenge between Lexington Avenue Brewery and The Chef’s Table. Visit www.ashevillewineandfood.com to purchase tickets.
Special thanks to Asparagusto Farm for providing the secret ingredient.
Chef Greg King, Jennifer Shuford, and Anthony Cole
Smoked asparagus with béchamel gratin, truffled eggs, and house-cured bacon
Saffron risotto with asparagus and seared scallops, thyme-infused shiitakes, and asparagus sauce
Creole-encrusted salmon with shaved asparagus salad, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus fries, and brandy lemon-ginger vinaigrette
Bistro at Biltmore
Chef Michael Gonzales, Sean Carroll, and Rachel vom Orde
Voted #3 Dish: Asparagus ricotta fritatta with pickled oranges, pancetta cracklings, and asparagus emulsion
Voted #2 Dish: Asparagus chorizo and scallops with whipped sweet corn, smoked asparagus, and ancho-cherry syrup
Voted #1 Dish: Lemon cake with candied asparagus, white chocolate and asparagus ganache, and marcona almond praline