Chef’s Challenge Wrapup #5
There's Only One Fish in This Sea
We’re a month and a half into the Chefs Challenge dinners and you’d think think we’ve seen it all, but that wasn’t the case at contest number five, which pitted Chad Campbells' team from Chelsea’s Café and Tea Room from Biltmore Village against the team from Nico’s Café from Waynesville that had Juancarlos Martinez as its captain.
Until now, some of the weekly special ingredients have been rather easy to work into each dish, but these teams showed a great level of creativity when dealing with this week’s required ingredient: Trout and trout caviar from Sunburst Trout Company (www.sunbursttrout.com) in Canton. Yes, trout—the staple of almost every dinner entrée menu in Western North Carolina. You’ve eaten it broiled, baked, and encrusted, but these two teams served it up in some very new ways.
Team Nicos opened the night with a delicious and light trout salad served over arugula and finished their offering of three dishes with a wonderful take on surf and turf. Their trout and hanger steak was served over a shitake risotto, making this probably one the richest dish of the evening. When the scores were tallied, this was the dish that scored the most points for the whole evening.
Team Chelsea’s main entrée was trout served over gnocchi, where the Bolognese sauce made with fresh oregano stole the show. But it was their dessert (yeah, I said a dessert in a trout competition) that really won me over. When emcee and Asheville Wine and Food Festival Founder announced to the audience that their sixth dish of the night would be a panacotta, I’ll admit the news was received with a tentative smattering of applause. But the dish showed as much flavor as it had guts. The creamy dessert was topped with finely minced peach that included small a amount of orange caviar that added a delicious hint of saltiness. In the end, this dessert scored many approving nods, plus the second-most points of the night.
Team Nico’s Dishes:
Trout, bacon & arugula salad.
Candied hazelnut encrusted trout, sweet potato mash, apple relish, truffle butter, honey.
Trout and hanger steak w/ shitake risotto & chive buerre blanc
Team Chelsea’s Dishes:
Tea marinated pork, White’s Mills popcorn grits, honey-lavender thyme vinaigrette & smoked trout salad.
Trout, gnocci w/ country ham Bolognese, manchego & Greek oregano
Trout, pineapple basil & buttermilk panacotta. Peach & trout caviar compote.
When it was time to tally the scores, Team Nico’s edged Chelsea’s by only 85 points. That’s only a 1.8% difference, showing just how competitive the night played out. And we all learned that (despite its name) Chelsea’s is serving much more than just tea, and Waynesville’s culinary scene can stand up to Asheville’s.