Chefs Challenge April 24: Never Blue Wins
By SG Séguret
Like visitors in Alice’s Wonderland, guests at the sixth episode of this year’s WNC Chefs
Challenge entered a winding path of unknown surprises when they climbed the stairs of Pack Tavern’s on Tuesday.
As at each challenge, two top chefs had been tapping into their culinary prowess since early morning, creating dishes for diners with a common ingredient woven in each plate.
This week, chefs Jesse Roque of Never Blue Tapas Bar and Grill and Anthony Cerrato of Strada Italian Restaurant and Bakehouse and their teams made magic with eight variants of the mushroom family, including oyster, shiitake, cremini, morel, black trumpet, portobello, maitake, and the ever-present button sourced from Tojo Mushrooms and Sunny Creek Farms.
Guests sipped from glasses of specially matched wines as heady scents wafted from behind the kitchen doors and the anticipation swelled. The first dish to grace the table was a ragout of mushrooms by Never Blue’s team. All varieties were melded together in a huge pot with herbs and spices, spooned over thin slices of toasted baguette, and sprinkled with a touch of queso fresco and scissored cilantro. The composition posed jauntily on a swash of poblano-chocolate mole, a reduction of 42 ingredients.
Next up was Strada’s single succulent morel butter-poached shrimp, accompanied by a sweet onion, honey, and maitake slaw, and surrounded by a smoked red pepper coulis. The bitterness of the pepper offset the sweetness of the poached shrimp, and the maitake was the subtle visitor that added a touch of foreign class.
Next, two slices of portobello and goat cheese corn bread sandwiched a mélange of baby beet greens, arugula, and lettuce thinnings. Hidden in the greenery were slivers of portobello, and the leaves were coated in a candied shallot vinaigrette. This dish by Never Blue was flanked by tasso brittle dust sporting a hint of citronella and pearls of port caviar.
Fortifying themselves with more wine, moving from a French pinot noir to a California cabernet sauvignon, guests prepared their palates for Strada’s pork loin, topped with an oyster and cremini mushroom roulade, with grilled fingerling potatoes, asparagus bouquets, and a peppery purée of fennel.
As if this were not enough of a feast, petit filet was the next in succession, served with a potato-mushroom hash, and wild mushroom-malbec demi-glace, and sprinkled with Gorgonzola. The filet by Never Blue was spicy and punctuated with translucent green chips of deep-fried spinach.
Strada offered the only dessert of the evening, a black trumpet, morel, and cashew baklava with cranberry-orange compote and citrus-sprinkled sweet cream, which diners ranked the meal’s No. 2 dish.
Never Blue’s bacon chipotle-seared mushrooms on crispy baguette earned the top spot and petit filet over two potato-mushroom hash took third place, earning the team the overall win. Rogue and her teammates, including her husband, Edson, advance to compete against last year’s defending champion, Chef Nate Allen of Knife & Fork in Spruce Pine, on May 22. Next week, the Inn on Biltmore Estate goes head-to-head with Storm Rhum Bar and Bistro. To reserve seats for upcoming Chefs Challenges at Pack’s Tavern, visit www.wncchefchallenge2012.eventbrite.com.
Susi Gott Séguret directs the Seasonal School of Culinary Arts, with sessions in Asheville, Ithaca, New York, Sonoma, California, and Paris, and writes The Oenophile reviews for WNC magazine. Find more at www.schoolofculinaryarts.org.
Team Never Blue: Executive Chef Jesse Roque, with Edson Roque, and Jason Nichols
Team Strada: Executive Chef Anthony Cerrato with Christopher Bangert, and Cameron Langston
April 24 Challenge Menu
Never Blue’s Dishes
Bacon and chipotle-seared mushrooms on crispy baguette with poblano-chocolate mole and a sprinkle of queso fresco (Voted No. 1 Dish)
Portobello and goat cheese corn bread salad with candied shallot vinaigrette, mushrooms, tasso brittle dust and port caviar
Petit filet over two potato-mushroom hash, topped with wild mushroom-malbec demi-glace and crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (Voted No. 3 Dish)
Morel butter-poached shrimp with a slaw of apple, sweet onion, honey, and maitake mushrooms and smoked red pepper coulis
Pork loin, oyster and crimini mushroom roulade with grilled fingerlings, asparagus, and braising jus
Black trumpet, morel, and cashew baklava with cranberry-orange compote and sweet cream (Voted No. 2 Dish)