WNC Chefs Challenge Semifinals
On August 14, Lexington Avenue Brewery and Knife and Fork went head-to-head in a fiery cook-off for the WNC Chefs Challenge Semifinals. Read all about the food fight involving peaches.
Written by Maggie Cramer
The August 14 Chefs Challenge semifinal between Nate Allen and team Knife & Fork and Jason Roy and team LAB (Lexington Avenue Brewery) was truly an homage to summer. The secret ingredient—peaches delivered fresh from J.E. Cooley Farm in South Carolina—screamed of the season, and the competition was as intense as the scorching heat only summer can deliver.
Team Knife & Fork, who won the 2011 Chefs Challenge, came ready to secure a repeat spot in this year’s finale, while team LAB came equally ready to snag themselves a space. The two teams had never competed against each other prior. Organizer Bob Bowles passed the intensity on to the crowd before kickoff by pointing out that the provided pencils didn’t have erasers. In other words, everyone judging was to “get it right; no fractions, no decimals,” he said with a hint of a chuckle.
Service began with a play on dessert from Roy and team LAB: a peach and crab parfait with avocado mousse, peach gelée, and candied bacon. When asked how they came up with the idea to serve the first dish in a champagne flute, Chef Roy wittily replied, “It was a fluke!”
Team Roy’s second offering was voted the No.2 dish of the evening: peach and ginger glazed duck breast with pulled duck confit, peach sticky rice, and fried shallots. When describing the dish, Roy shared that it involved a lot of duck fat, not shying away from calling it “fat kid food.” Their final preparation was voted No.3 dish of the night: a peach tart tartin served with chai ice cream, peach bourbon sauce, and a praline cookie, which Roy admitted to making for the first time ever that evening.
The No.1 dish of the night came from team Knife & Fork: hand-rolled phyllo crisps with peach Chantilly (pastry cream), spiced peaches, and a dusting of ground spices and bitter almond-like kernels obtained from cracking open the peach pits. The dessert also included an unusual local element: elaeagnus berries, handpicked for Allen by Scott Paquin of Firefly Farm in Burnsville. Chef Allen shared that he chose the dish to “take things down a notch” for a light, refreshing taste of summer.
Team Knife & Fork’s other dishes offered not only a taste of summer but also a taste of the region, as the restaurant is known for serving local food from within a 20-mile radius when possible. For their first dish, they prepared peach fritters served with locally foraged chanterelle mushrooms, marinated eggplant, and goat’s milk blue cheese from local producers Spinning Spider Creamery. Their second dish featured grilled tilefish along with a tile ceviche, cannellini bean puree, grilled peaches, and local banana peppers. These provided a surprising spicy kick.
The heated competition surely came out in the food, with both teams producing unique, fearless dishes in hopes of that coveted appearance in the final bout. Ultimately, team LAB prevailed and will compete against the winner of the second upcoming semifinal heat on August 16. But despite the stakes, both teams shared that they enjoyed themselves and that the mood wasn’t too serious back in the kitchen after all. There were jokes, and, of course, a lot of signing about peaches. “Millions of peaches…”
August 14 Menu
Team Knife & Fork
Peach fritters, chanterelle mushrooms, goat’s milk blue cheese, and marinated eggplant
Grilled tilefish, cannellini bean puree, grilled peaches, tile ceviche with red onions and banana peppers
Phyllo crisp, elaeagnus berries, peach jam, spiced peaches, and peach pastry cream (voted No.1)
Local peach and crab parfait with avocado mousse, peach gelée, and candied bacon
Peach and ginger glazed duck breast with pulled confit, peach sticky rice, and fried shallots (voted No.2)
Peach tart tatin with chai ice cream, peach bourbon cream, and praline cookie (voted No.3)
--Maggie Cramer is the communications manager at ASAP; ASAP’s Growing Minds Farm to School program is the beneficiary of the Asheville Wine & Food Festival. She can be reached at 236-1282 ext. 113 or firstname.lastname@example.org.