March 27 Chefs Challenge: Chocolate Love
Try this at home: Take 22 pounds of chocolate, a lot of pork ribs,apples, garbanzo beans, collards, strawberries, and bacon and see what you can cook up for 60 friends. This was the second cook-off of the WNC Chefs Challenge, held Tuesday night, March 27, at Pack’s Tavern Century Room in Asheville. With the assistance of two incredible teams, Chef Peter Fassbender of Season’s Restaurant at Highland Lake Inn in Flat Rock and Chef Stewart Lyon of Boca in Asheville thrilled us all.
The battle started with the chefs appearing bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, about 11 a.m. Tuesday morning. They began the day by unloading gear and going over the rules of engagement. I asked the teams what secret ingredient they had been preparing for. The reply was seasonal vegetables, mostly greens. But my job was to shake things up, and I revealed the secret ingredient would be chocolate—lots of chocolate. The battle was on.
Chef Fassbender’s team came out first with chocolate-covered bacon and apple-almond slaw over grilled pineapple. I must say the bacon was a wonderfully crisp, chocolaty, salty delight. The strips could’ve been placed it in a box, wrapped, and presented as my birthday gift.
Next, Team Boca brought out its first entrée, braised ribs mole negro with chocolate mac ’n’ cheese and collards. The mole was excellent, the ribs tender, the collards a perfect spicy complement to the dish. I was a bit lost with why they went with chocolate mac ’n’ cheese, but the audience was not.
I knew each team was serving ribs and needed to break things up to cleanse and refresh everyone’s taste buds, so I had Boca plate the next dish. Back-to-back plating is difficult, but Chef Fassbender and Chef Lyon are experts at their game. Chef Lyon presented a sweet potato chocolate bisque with sour cream ice cream. This is one of the finest dishes I’ve ever had the pleasure of bringing to an audience. It was simple, tasty, cleansing—quite a surprise. Many diners mentioned how each taste of the bisque was different from the spoonful before. From the saltiness, to the sourness of the cream, to the exquisite chocolate drops, it really delighted the audience and was the highest scoring dish of the dinner.
Chef Fassbender followed up with braised pork ribs with rice and garbanzo bean tart, poached and pickled shallot salsa, and spicy chocolate sauce. This composition was a fantastic chocolate sauce drizzled over perfectly cooked ribs. The salsa was a great complement to the flavors. To put these ingredients together on a fork, to savor the aroma, and to taste—it was an artistic delight.
Chef Fassbender plated the first dessert of the evening, a double chocolate layer sponge cake with strawberry coulis. The coulis is a sauce thickened through puréeing and slow evaporation. It was like a hammock of chocolate floating in a strawberry field.
For the last dish, Chef Lyon brought forward a sweet Southern biscuit, candied bacon with chocolate mousse, oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, and espresso mocha cream. It was almost too much. At this point, everyone was wide-awake and buzzing from chocolate, guaranteed not to sleep this night, and anxious to find out the final judgment.
The top two dishes were the sweet potato chocolate bisque with sour cream ice cream and the braised ribs mole negro with chocolate mac ’n’ cheese and collards by Chef Lyon of Boca. Taking third place was the braised pork ribs with rice and garbanzo bean tart with poached and pickled shallot salsa and spicy chocolate sauce by Chef Fassbender of Season’s Restaurant. The final score was in favor of Chef Lyon. He now moves forward to the May 8 next challenge and will face the winner of the April 3 battle.
Make your reservation now and come out next Tuesday, April 3, to see Chef Chad Gibson of 12 Bones Smokehouse and Chef Tommy Ward of Fig Bistro battle it out. Call (828) 225-6944.
Bob Bowles is the founder of the Asheville Wine and Food Festival.
March 27 Chefs Challenge Menu
Dish 1: Chef Fassbender of Season’s Restaurant
Chocolate-covered Bacon and Apple-Almond Slaw over Grilled Pineapple
Dish 2: Chef Lyon of Boca
VOTED No. 2 dish
Braised Ribs Mole Negro with Chocolate Mac ’n’ Cheese and Collards
Dish 3: Chef Lyon of Boca
VOTED No. 1 dish
Sweet Potato Chocolate Bisque with Sour Cream Ice Cream
Dish 4: Chef Fassbender of Season’s Restaurant
VOTED No. 3 dish
Braised Pork Ribs with Rice and Garbanzo Bean Tart with Poached and Pickled Shallot Salsa and Spicy Chocolate Sauce
Dish 5: Chef Fassbender of Season’s Restaurant
Double Chocolate Layer Sponge Cake with Strawberry Coulis
Dish 6: Chef Lyon of Boca
Sweet Southern Biscuit, Candied Bacon with Chocolate Mousse, Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie, and Espresso Mocha Cream