Got the Blues!
May 15 Challenge: Lab Wins!
By Cat Kessler
One has to imagine that in the course of the weekly WNC Chef’s Challenge dinners—in which two competing teams of three spend nine hours cooking for 100 people in a small catering kitchen—things have the potential to get messy. And the mess this week may have been particularly colorful—at the end of the night all that was left of roughly 15 gallons of blueberries was a pile of purple-stained towels, and one team now headed to compete in the semifinals this August.
Blueberries were featured as the secret ingredient for 2012’s ninth challenge, this one between two experienced teams led by Chef Charles Hudson of Sunburst Trout Farms and Chef Jason Roy of Lexington Avenue Brewery. From blueberry sauce to blueberry ice cream, blueberry butter to blueberry rice, chocolate-covered, candied and pickled, the bright berry provided a rainbow of combinations both sweet and savory.
Although the teams are not required to prepare any particular types of dishes, the blueberry battle remained fairly straightforward with an appetizer, entrée and dessert presented by each team. Team Sunburst set the bar high in the presentation category, plating up a brightly-colored grilled green tomato with a dollop of fluffy yellow homemade saffron ricotta and avocado crab salad over a stunningly purple bed of blueberry butter sauce.
Team Sunburst’s subsequent dishes offered diners a taste of traditional comfort foods, matching the sharp bowtie mac and cheese to the piquant Lusty Monk mustard asparagus in their pork entrée, and creating a petite blueberry turnover from an old family sugar cookie recipe for dessert. Sweet vanilla ice cream and blueberry caramel accompanied the turnover, which also featured a chocolate-covered blueberry perched atop a toothpick.
Team LAB debuted with the second dish of the evening, which was voted diners’ favorite and had everyone feeling they were eating their dessert first. A cool orange blueberry sauce surrounded a warm puff filled with creamy gorgonzola cheese and more blueberries and reminiscent of an insanely good breakfast Danish. Green and purple microgreens stepped up the color, and each plate was garnished with a striped pennant of crispy blueberry flatbread sticking out of the top.
For their entrée, Chef Roy and Team LAB—who regularly feature Asian-inspired dishes on the restaurant menu—went for a creative take on surf-and-turf. An impossibly tender cut of beef short ribs, braised in Pisgah Blueberry Ale, was paired with slices of spicy shrimp roll, made with blueberry-soaked rice and tempura-fried in ginger ale. Team LAB ended the evening with a delicious blueberry chocolate strudel, topped with white chocolate blueberry ice cream and candied blueberries covered in shimmering sugar.
Even when all the votes where in, there was little reason for anyone there to feel blue. Team LAB proved victorious and is now on the way to the next round. Both teams more than successfully negotiated the overt sweetness of the secret ingredient by pairing it with complementary and often unexpected flavors. And after nine hours, those six cooks emerged from the tiny kitchen to the cheers and applause of 100 satisfied diners.
Chef Charles Hudson & Team Sunburst Trout Farms
• Grilled Green Tomato with Bacon, Crab & Avocado Relish, Saffron Ricotta, Crouton, Blueberry Buerre Rouge
• Blueberry Roasted Pork Loin, Spring Vegetable Mac & Cheese, Lusty Monk Asparagus, Pickled Blueberry
• Baked Blueberry Cream Cheese Turnover, Vanilla Ice Cream, Blueberry Caramel Sauce, Chocolate-covered Blueberry
Chef Jason Roy & Team LAB
• Gorgonzola Blueberry Puff, Citrus Blueberry Cream, Bacon-Candied Cashews, Blueberry Lavosh (Voted No. 1 Dish)
• Blueberry-Ginger Short Ribs Braised in Pisgah Blueberry Ale, Ginger Ale Tempura-Fried Blueberry Spicy Shrimp Roll, Sesame-Glazed Asparagus
• Blueberry Chocolate Strudel, Blueberry White Chocolate Ice Cream, Candied Blueberries, Caramel Chocolate-Covered Almond