Fire on the Dock master of ceremonies Jimmy Crippen advises the cooking competition’s attendees not to try to guess which chef is putting out which dish at the contests. “Mothers have been wrong,” he’ll often say.
Sometimes, there’s a giveaway. Last night, it was a biscuit.
I recognized the biscuit from one Wilmington’s most popular spots, Rx Restaurant and Bar, which won the second 2013 Fire on the Dock battle Feb. 19 at Bluewater Waterfront Grill in Wrightsville Beach.
Rx chef/co-owner James Doss and his team make hundreds of those buttermilk biscuits each week.
The homemade treats were placed atop creamy root vegetable soup that helped Doss and his cooks beat The Oceanic chef Thomas Mobley, who, by the way, made my favorite dish of the night: porcini-crusted rare filet sliced oh so thinly and topped with mixed salad greens in truffle-buttermilk dressing. Balsamic onions and fried capers garnished the dish. Yum!
The biscuits signify what has made Rx so well-loved in Wilmington. When Doss competed in the 2012 Fire on the Dock, the restaurant he and James Novicki own was just under development in a tough neighborhood where crime has been an issue.
Still, Doss and Novicki remain steadfast in their efforts to serve homey yet stylish dishes using local ingredients, some of which are grown on Rx’s rooftop garden.
Biscuit-making has become a lost art diners seem happy to leave to processed food companies that supply frozen biscuits or huge bags of pre-blended biscuit mix to large chain food operations. Conduct a side-by-side tasting of a from-scratch biscuit and a prefabricated one and you’ll likely discover that your favorite fast food sausage biscuit is lacking.
Biscuits were once a staple of home kitchens in the South. They have never been difficult to prepare, unless you’re stamping out hundreds, as Rx cooks do. I talk about biscuits and their history on my downtown Wilmington food walking tour and then oftentimes sample biscuits at the breakfast hotspot Dixie Grill.
Along the way, I tell tour-goes an easy recipe for biscuits: 2 cups of self-rising, unbleached, all-purpose flour, about ¼ cup of lard or butter. Cut the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles cornmeal and then gently stir in about a cup of buttermilk.
Flour a board and gently roll out the dough, being careful to not incorporate more flour; simply keep a coating of flour on the dough to prevent it from sticking. Alternately, flour your hands, and pick up pieces of the dough and form into disks about ¾-inch thick.
Either way, handle gently. Overworking the dough leads to hard biscuits. If the dough seems too sticky and you don’t want to risk rolling or handling, drop tablespoonfuls of dough onto a pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes.
As I always tell tour-goers, if your biscuits come out ugly, no worries. Put them on a plate, smother them with sausage gravy and call them a “Southern specialty.”
Doss and I have been talking about a Castle Street food tour that would involve a biscuit making class. Stay tuned for details.
See Doss compete again at Fire on the Dock March 11, when he meets the Feb. 18 battle winner, Antoine Murray of Cape Fear Country Club.
The bracket-style cooking tournament resumes tonight when Blockade Runner chef Mark Lawson goes up against chef Joanie Babcock of Southern Exposure in Faison. For tickets and information, visit http://www.competitiondining.com/