May 22 Chefs Challenge: Knife & Fork wins
By Maggie Cramer
What are the two teams charged with closing the 10-week Chefs Challenge series to do? (The semifinals and finals take place in August.) Wrap it up with a bang. A candied hog jowl, Thai potion, pineapple-mint syrup, 53-second ice cream bang!
Chefs Jesse Roque of Never Blue and Nate Allen of Knife & Fork and their respective teams used all the tricks of the trade for a sweet potato battle. The creative dishes made for a lively Q&A session after the meal, with diners asking, “What?” “How?”
The first dish of the evening came from Knife & Fork: a savory sweet potato donut with cheese, chicory, and candied hog jowl. Diners couldn’t wait to hear Allen’s explanation of what hog jowl is. He waxed poetic for a bit, pointing to his own jowl for demonstration, before cutting to the chase: “It’s face bacon.”
Diners were also eager to know how Allen and his team achieved a crystal-clear, potent mint sauce, which accompanied their sweet potato ice cream with maple cracklings and a Linzer torte. The key, he said, is starting with the freshest herbs possible. Simple syrup is reduced to the soft-ball stage—meaning the syrup has reached about 235°F—and the herbs are added and stirred in until they break down. Once the fresh, crisp herbs hit the boiling mixture, the “sugar sort of fries it,” Allen says.
Team Never Blue’s skills were equally enthralling and mysterious. A diner asked Roque, “What is Thai potion and where can I get it?” She served her trademark sauce, which is sold by the pint and quart at her Hendersonville restaurant, with the No. 1 dish of the night: sticky sweet potato Thai potion-drenched baby back ribs with sweet potato goat cheese gratin and a cilantro queso fresco gremolata. She wasn’t about to share the secret of the stellar sauce, but she promised to share the gratin recipe.
Roque revealed how to make her 53-second Guinness stout ice cream, which she and her team served atop the No. 2 dish of the challenge: a sweet potato candied pecan croissant bread budding with smoked sweet potato caramel. The process involves liquid nitrogen, which freezes the ice cream mixture in just 53 seconds.
Not all the dishes used culinary wizardry. Never Blue’s Lowcountry crab cakes impressed everyone, including discerning diners from Chesapeake Bay. And Knife & Fork’s haddock on a bed of farro with local spinach and roasted sweet potatoes struck all the right notes. Of course, the local, organic sweet potatoes from New Sprout Farms were a hit.
It was a truly close battle. Knife & Fork prevailed by the smallest margin in Chefs Challenge history, putting the team back into the semifinals for the second year in a row. I wonder what tricks he’ll use then.
For more information on the Asheville Wine & Food Festival, visit www.ashevillewineandfood.com.
May 22 Menu
Team Never Blue
· Lowcountry crab cakes over heirloom tomato and sweet potato salad with an arbol chile-sweet potato buerre blanc
· Sticky sweet potato Thai potion-drenched baby back ribs over sweet potato goat cheese gratin with a cilantro queso fresco gremolata (Voted No. 1 dish)
· Sweet potato-candied pecan croissant bread pudding with a 53-second sweet potato Guinness stout ice cream and smoked sweet potato caramel (Voted No. 2 dish)
Team Knife & Fork
· Savory donut with sweet potato, cheese, candied hog jowl, and chicory
· Haddock with roasted farro, spring onion, roasted sweet potatoes, spinach, arugula, and sweet potato velouté (Voted No. 3 dish)
· Maple crackling sweet potato ice cream with a sweet potato Linzer torte
Maggie Cramer is the communications manager at ASAP; 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.