April 3 Chefs Challenge: Savoring Spring
By Maggie Cramer
The moment attendees sat down at Pack’s Tavern for Chefs Challenge No. 3 between FIG Bistro and 12 Bones Smokehouse, guesses started flying about the secret ingredient. There were a couple of clues. As guests ordered glasses of wine, T.J. Gardner from Empire Distributors (the event’s wine providers) shared it was challenging to pick options that would pair well with the menu—tannins were definitely to be avoided. And when going over categories on the score card, the evening’s emcee, Bob Bowles, stopped on aroma—promising the dishes would be, ahem, distinctive.
Got your guess? The night’s attendees did, too, and many guessed correctly: ramps, along with spring and Vidalia onions. FreshPoint provided the ingredients; ramps were sourced from Madison County and the onions from nearby in South Carolina. Once revealed, the guessing turned to the dishes themselves. Would one of the teams dare to attempt a ramp or onion dessert—an onion crème brûlèe, maybe?
The 12 Bones team dared, and its sweet onion and bourbon gelato with bacon brittle and honey-spring onion coulis was the runaway hit of the night. Surprisingly, it even ranked well in the aroma category. Who knew ice cream could smell, well, really smell at all? During the chef Q&A after the meal, one diner asked, “So, we can buy that bacon brittle at 12 Bones tomorrow?”
Of course, there were many more standout moments. FIG achieved a perfect temperature on its seared strip, which they served with grilled ramps, potato puree, and a red wine jus. Chef Thomas Ward applauded his team for the feat, noting that it’s not every day they cook for 100 people all at once. And, the team’s potato puree had a silky smooth texture diners couldn’t wait get to the bottom of. According to Ward, all it took was “lots, and lots, and lots of butter.” FIG was also the only team to pickle ramps—a traditional preparation of the Appalachian favorite—which topped their first dish, a shaved asparagus salad.
In addition to their dessert, 12 Bones’ hand-crafted ricotta gnocchi was a hit. The pillowy pasta served as a bed for a piece of sunflower and sweet onion encrusted haddock and could be used to sop up the delicious ramp vin blanc. It was voted the No. 2 dish of the evening. See the full menus of both teams below.
Ultimately, 12 Bones’ dessert and other dishes—all prepared with fatback, the star in their “secret bag of tricks”—came out the victor. But, both teams certainly deserve equal credit for turning pungent into extremely palatable.
April 3 Menu
Competing chef: Thomas Ward
· Shaved asparagus salad with pickled ramps, crispy salami, and flatbread croutons
· Butter-poached shrimp with spring onion confit and Tasso ham over polenta
· Seared strip steak with grilled ramps, potato puree, and a red wine jus
Competing chef: Chad Gibson
· Grilled ramp and fingerling potato salad with hardboiled egg, shiitake, and a country ham-sherry vinaigrette (voted #3 dish)
· Sunflower and sweet onion encrusted haddock with ricotta gnocchi, caramelized roasted spring onion, and ramp vin blanc (voted #2 dish)
· Sweet onion and bourbon gelato with apple-smoked bacon brittle and honey-spring onion coulis (voted #1 dish)
Up next: Red Stag Grill vs. Sunburst Trout Company on April 10. For tickets, visit http://wncchefchallenge2012.eventbrite.com or call (828) 225-6944.
—Maggie Cramer is the communications manager at Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project. ASAP’s Growing Minds Farm to School program is the beneficiary of the Asheville Wine & Food Festival. She can be reached at (828) 236-1282, ext. 113, or email@example.com.