Oyster ice cream: A surprising scoop of American food history

“People actually ate this...It was once a big deal in Read more

Chocolate, ice cream and N.C. root beer!

In my favorite round, Battle Uncle Scott's Root Beer, Merrell, who runs the tapas restaurant and "cocktaileria" Circa 81 restaurant in Morehead City, prepared one heck of a riff on a Black Cow, that famous chocolate, ice cream and Read more

Cooking lessons learned at 2014 Fire on the Dock

As the contest moves into its final battle tonight, I'm thinking back to the ideas I got during the 2014 tournament, part of the statewide Competition Dining Series that ultimately crowns an overall North Carolina winner from four regional Read more

Southern Collards should be the new kale

Will collards be the new kale, darling of diners seeking farm-to-table fare? If the 2014 Fire on the Dock chef competition is any indication, maybe. Read more

Food touring in Carrboro with Taste Carolina

As I often say, "I'm eat up with it," and Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours fed my obsession quite well this past weekend. Read more


Cooking lessons learned at 2014 Fire on the Dock

Everyone loves to eat at the Fire on the Dock cooking competition. After all, that’s what diners are there to do, but one of the my favorite things about the contest is discovering ingredients and learning from chefs.

As the contest moves into its final battle tonight, I’m thinking back to the ideas I got during the 2014 tournament, part of the statewide Competition Dining Series that ultimately crowns an overall North Carolina winner from four regional contests.

Each cook-off features a secret, local ingredient that chefs must use. My favorite so far this year was Uncle Scott’s Root Beer. Hops Supply Co. chef Tiffany Eslien used it for a luscious demi-glace she successfully paired with seared scallops and sweet potato hash. Do yourself a favor this Thanksgiving: Find a way to use root beer with sweet potatoes, whether its pie, candied yams or something else. The flavors meld so well.

chaIn that same root beer battle, chef Clarke Merrell of Circa 81 in Morehead City featured creamed collards with truffle oil. I’ve seen truffle oil on collards in previous years’ Competition Dining Series matches, but in this creamed dish, the humble greens truly reached sophistication.

Collards always appear at Fire on the Dock, this year also brought collard soup and deep-fried chiffonade of collard leaves used to garnish fried trout.

Texas Pete is another favorite ingredient that pops up at Fire on the Dock. This year, the company provided a new twist with its tangy, spicy, sweet Cha! sriracha sauce. I see Cha! Buffalo wings in my future as well as Cha!-seasoned brownies.

I sampled elk for the first time at Fire on the Dock. The super lean meat needs little cooking time to avoid tasting dry, which suits my rare preferences. Try it at home, but don’t cook it beyond medium rare.

I know I’ll learn more when Fire on the Dock ends tonight. 1900 Restaurant & Lounge chef Kirsten Mitchell meets Cape Fear Country Club chef Antoine Murray.

Competition Dining Series battles move on to Asheville in March and other parts of the state in coming months. Tickets are on sale for tonight’s final Fire on the Dock and future regional battles.

Posted on by lizbiro in Chefs, Cooking classes, Fire on the Dock, Midtown Wilmington, Recipes, Restaurants, Uncategorized, Uptown Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach Leave a comment

Make cream puffs like a professional pastry chef

Who you calling a cream puff?

Delicate, airy and light as they are, those little round pastries that encapsulate cream are in no way weaklings. They’re among the most capable and dependable — and easy — elements of great cocktail and dinner parties, whether served as a savory or as a dessert.

Pate a choux filled with pastry cream for a classic cream puff.

Pate a choux filled with pastry cream for a classic cream puff.

I was reminded of this recently while helping out in the Hot Pink Cake Stand kitchen. Owner and chief pastry chef Jody Carmichael was preparing gougeres, pronounced “goo-ZHAIR” for a recent wine tasting at the downtown Wilmington bakery. The nibbles require the same dough used for cream puffs. It’s called “pate a choux,” pronounced “pat-a-shoo.” For gougeres, finely shredded Gruyere cheese is blended into the dough and sprinkled on top before baking.

Years ago, I read a book that described how a kitchen intern working in France was required to stir the pate a choux. In his memory, the task was difficult. No doubt, he faced a huge bowl. Home cooks needn’t panic at his experience. Stirring small batches takes little time and strength while still producing professional pastry chef results.

The process is simple.

Put butter and water, sometimes milk, into a saucepan. Heat until the butter melts. Stir in a near equal portion of all-purpose flour. Take the mixture off the heat and then add eggs one at a time, stirring well after each addition. The resulting dough is soft and silky. Drop or pipe spoonfuls onto a sheet pan and bake or freeze to bake off later.

Pate a choux recipes may call for small amounts of sugar. Mostly, the flavor is mild, allowing cooks to imagine all sorts of fillings, perhaps seafood salad, chocolate mousse or ice cream.

A 1970s-era Betty Crocker recipe box just like the one from my childhood. (Photo from http://wholeykale.blogspot.com/)

A 1970s-era Betty Crocker recipe box just like the one from my childhood. (Photo from http://wholeykale.blogspot.com/)

I feel in love with pate a choux as a child pulling recipes from a Betty Crocker recipe card box. One of my favorite recipes (because my mother liked it so much) was named Danish Pastry Puffs. Almond-flavored pate a choux gets spread atop a shortbread-like cookie crust and baked. Thin almond icing glazes the pastry and sprinkle of sliced almonds goes on top.

The pate a choux for this recipe became my go-to formula for cream puffs, which my mother loved filled with simple, sweet whipped cream and then completely covered with chocolate cream.


Danish Pastry Puffs


1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cold butter

2 tablespoons ice water


1/2 cup butter

1 cup water

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

3 eggs


1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

2 tablespoons butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 to 2 tablespoons warm water or milk

1/2 cup sliced almonds

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place 1 cup flour in medium bowl. Cut in 1/2 cup butter, using pastry blender (or pulling 2 table knives through ingredients in opposite directions), until particles are size of coarse crumbs. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons water over mixture; toss with fork.

Gather pastry into a ball; divide in half. Pat each half into 12-by-3-inch rectangle, about 3 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
In 2-quart saucepan, heat 1/2 cup butter and 1 cup water to rolling boil; remove from heat. Quickly stir in almond extract and 1 cup flour. Stir vigorously over low heat about 1 minute or until mixture forms a ball; remove from heat. Add eggs; beat until smooth.

Spread half of the topping over each rectangle.

Bake about 1 hour or until topping is crisp and brown; remove from pan to cooling rack. Cool completely.

In medium bowl, mix all glaze ingredients except nuts until smooth and spreadable. Spread over top of pastry; sprinkle with nuts.

Makes 10 servings.

Source: Adapted from a recipe by Betty Crocker.

Posted on by lizbiro in Bakery, Brunch, Chefs, downtown Wilmington, Ice cream, Recipes, Uncategorized Leave a comment

Biscuit story at Fire on the Dock

The Rx biscuit atop root vegetable soup with duck, crispy cracklin, fresh ricotta and cashew gremolata. Photo courtesy of Competition Dining Series.

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.

The Oceanic's porcini-crusted filet with mixed greens, truffle-buttermilk dressing, balsamic onions and fried capers.

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/

Posted on by lizbiro in Downtown, downtown Wilmington, Fire on the Dock, Recipes, Restaurants, Uncategorized, Wrightsville Beach Leave a comment

Cooking classes galore!

Making risotto on Culinary Adventures with Liz Biro's Top Chef Farmers Market Tour & Cooking Class.

Back to school is not just for kids. Sharpen your cooking skills with some of Wilmington’s best chefs.

Keith Rhodes of Catch restaurant and Phun Seafood Bar, Roberta Campani of La Gemma Fine Italian Pastries and Kyle Lee McKnight of Manna are among those sharing their skills during various classes at The Seasoned Gourmet, Lumina Commons Suite 105, 1930 Eastwood Road.

McKnight, rooted in local, organic ingredients, focuses on seasonal cooking Oct. 30 with dishes like speckled trout over root vegetable hash with crab, herbs and pecan bacon emulsion.

The $45 class, including food and wine, begins at 6:30 p.m. To reserve seats, call 256-9488 or check The Seasoned Gourmet website at www.theseasonedgourmet.com.

You can also work alongside McKnight during Culinary Adventures with Liz Biro’s Top Chef Farmers Market Tour & Cooking Class Saturdays mornings.

Rhodes, a past James Beard Award nominee, and Campani are among many chefs who regularly teach classes at The Seasoned Gourmet. Campani also offers cooking classes at La Gemma, 2323 S. 17th St.

Kyle Lee McKnight shows students how to plate like the pros during Culinary Adventures with Liz Biro's Top Chef Farmers Market Tour & Cooking Class.

Want to know more about wine and olive oil? Check out Taste the Olive at The Forum, 1125-D Military Cutoff Road.

Monthly, free olive oil classes discuss the history of olive oil, how it is made and how to taste the oil to determine quality. Wine classes range from tasting seminars to training sessions on how to judge wine. For dates and times, call 256-6457 or visit Taste the Olive’s website at www.tastetheolive.com/events.

Margaret Shelton, the woman who many Wilmington chefs consider their culinary mother, opens her Shelton Herb Farm, 340 Goodman Road in Leland, to foodies this fall for classes on cool-season gardening and how to use what’s grown.

Area chefs depend on Shelton’s knowledge to stock their larders. They turn to her when they want specialty herbs (she was the woman behind Wilmington’s microgreens trend a few years ago). They also call Shelton when they are not sure how to use an herb.

Classes for individuals and groups will include home gardens for salad-making and probably how to use herbs in vinegars and other preparations, Shelton said.

“Tentatively, plan for Wednesdays,” she said.

For details and booking, call 253-5964 or sign up for the Shelton Herb Farm newsletter at Sheltonhf1986@atmc.net. Read the newsletter, too, at www.sheltonherbfarmnc.com. Tours of the farm are also available.

Posted on by lizbiro in Cooking classes, downtown Wilmington, Farmers markets, Local food, Recipes, Restaurants Leave a comment

Wilmington chefs, humble celery get their day at Fire on the Dock

Kirsten Mitchell's mincemeat pie from Fire on the Dock's Battle Certified Angus Beef.

Wilmington chefs are out of the running in the Fire on the Dock cooking tournament, which crowns a winner next week, but they showed off so many talents that verify why the Port City has earned its chops on North Carolina’s burgeoning food scene.

Cameo 19 Hundred‘s Kirsten Mitchell — the last “woman” standing in the Wilmington chef mix — lost Wednesday night to chef Gerry Fong of Persimmons in New Bern.

Mitchell had a good run in her three tournament battles. She wowed diners with her sauce-making skills and went so far as to produce a mincemeat pie for Wednesday night’s Battle Certified Angus Beef.

Like other Wilmington chefs who participated in Fire on the Dock, Mitchell didn’t just boil water. She pushed herself to provide diners an experience, whether it was their first taste of sauce choron or the host of garnishes she placed atop a cheese soup made with beer.

Those two dishes were standouts (Kirsten will supply that soup recipe soon). Others I’ll never forget: Cape Fear Country Club Antoine Murray’s sweet potato polenta and former Yo Sake sous chef Erin Wiley’s Cheerwine-braised collards.

Rx James Doss' grilled bison flank steak from Fire on the Dock's Battle Bison (photo by Competition Dining Series)

My favorite dishes by Wilmington cooks were Rx chef James Doss’ grilled bison flank steak with a poached egg, green lentil snap pea salad and champagne vinaigrette; Kyle Lee McKnight‘s juusto cheese sponge cake with blueberry mascarpone mousse and red wine blueberry gel; and Marc’s on Market chef Marc Copenhaver‘s bacon-braised quail ravioli carbonara alongside a poached quail egg crowning arugula salad dressed with white truffle oil.

McKnight and Marc’s on Market sous chef Tyson Amick will always hold title to what I consider perhaps the contest’s greatest moments: They each took the most humble, overlooked ingredient — CELERY! — and turned it into something special.

Normally, cooks relegate celery to crudites or as the basis for seasoning a dish, as in the holy trinity of celery, onions and carrots that form the basis for soups. These two cooks, however, each turned out pickled celery and gave the component a key role in their dishes.

Lucky us!! They share their recipes below.

Amick prepared a quick, fresh, crisp pickled celery seasoned with dill that gave the perfect acid balance to rich butter-poached shrimp with silky celery root puree during Battle N.C. Shrimp.

Marc's on Market's Tyson Amick's pickled celery with butter-poached shrimp at Fire ont he Dock's Battle N.C. Shrimp (photo by Competition Dining Series).

The celery would be just as pleasing on a burger, pork  taco or fried flounder sandwich.

Amick was also responsible for one of Fire on the Dock’s most popular dishes: coffe-cumin-rubbed bison flank steak, which he provided a recipe for after Battle Bison.

During Battle Ashe County Cheese, McKnight used his pickled celery with what may have been the most complex of Fire on the Dock dishes to date: sharp cheddarwurst with pickled celery, sauce vert, marinated beets and three-cheese crackers. The pickle was just the contrast the dish needed, and its seasonings complimented the wurst. With just himself and one helper rather than the usual two in Fire on the Dock kitchens, McKnight made each of the dish’s components from scratch for nearly 100 individual plates. He was baking crackers minutes before the dish was to be served.

Kyle Lee McKnight's pickled celery on cheddarwurst during Fire on the Dock's Battle Ashe County Cheese.

Congrats to all the Wilmington cooks in the contest. You guys and gals rock!

And diners, support these passionate chefs and their independent restaurants: Bento Box, YoSake, Rx, Manna, Elijah’s, Pilot House, Pine Valley Market/Cafe Johnnie, Cameo 19 Hundred, Big Thai and Marc’s on Market.

Fire on the Dock finishes next week when Fong meets Chefs 105 restaurant’s Andy Hopper of Morehead City. The face-off happens at Shell Island Resort in Wrightsville Beach. 

Alas, the show is sold out, but Fire on the Dock is part of the statewide Competition Dining Series contests, and you may attend events in the Raleigh-Durham and Greensboro areas.

The Competition Dining Series is a bracket-style tournament featuring regional contests that culminate in a final four battle to pick an overall N.C. winner. A secret ingredient, from North Carolina, must be used in each of the three courses chefs prepare during each contest. The competition started earlier this year with Fire on the Rock in Blowing Rock.

Pickled Celery Amick

1/2 bunch celery

1 Vidalia onion or other sweet onion, peeled and halved

1/2 cup champagne vinegar

1 tablespoon dry dill

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar (optional)

Take celery stalks from the outside of the bunch. Trim leaves and discolored areas.

Cut stalks into 3- to 4-inch lengths using mandolin. Amick likes the Benriner mandolin from Japan. Find it, Amick said, for about $25 at Saigon Market, Kerr Avenue near Market Street. “Sharp and inexpensive! Obey the box and WATCH YOUR FINGERS!” Amick warned.

Set the mandolin blade to a very thin slice. Celery should be tissue-paper thin, so you can see through it. The inside of the stalk should face the blade, so after slicing about 80 percent of the stalk, the outside can be discarded. This is to ensure that only the most tender part of the celery is utilized, and the stringy outer skin is thrown away, or saved for stock, etc.

Shave the onion on mandolin to the same thickness as the celery.

Toss together the celery and onion so that the ratio is about 75 percent celery, or more onion if you like a little bite or just love onions.

About 30 minutes to an hour before serving, combine celery and onion with champagne vinegar, dry dill, kosher salt and sugar, if desired for a sweeter pickle.

Note: This pickle does not keep particularly well, as it is a quick pickled item. It gets soggy and turns an unpleasant green after sitting overnight. To avoid this, only add vinegar and seasoning to the amount of celery you think you will use. The raw celery and onion cut on the mandolin together will keep very well in the fridge. Just wait until just before serving to add seasonings and acid.

Makes about 2 cups.

Source: Tyson Amick

Pickled Celery McKnight

1 tablespoon fennel seeds

1 tablespoon black mustard seeds

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

1 tablespoon pink peppercorns

1 tablespoon juniper berries

2 cups white balsamic vinegar

2 cups champagne vinegar

10 cups water

1/2 cup kosher salt

1/2 cup sugar

2 celery bunches, ribbed and cut into 1 1/2 by 1/8 julienne (reserve trimmings)

8 garlic cloves

4 bay leaves

1/2 bunch fresh thyme

Toast and crack fennel seeds, black mustard seeds, black peppercorns, pink peppercorns and juniper berries.

Prepare brine: Place white balsamic vinegar, champagne vinegar and water in a large stockpot set over high heat. Bring liquid to a boil. Add salt, sugar, celery trimmings, garlic, bay leaves and thyme. Bring mixture back up to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer liquid until seeds fall to the bottom of the pot. Taste and correct seasonings.

Place julienned celery in a large, deep, heavy bowl or pot. Pour brine through a fine strainer over celery to completely cover vegetable. Cover container tightly and let celery sit in brine for at least 2 hours.

Makes about 2 quarts.

Source: Kyle Lee McKnight

Posted on by lizbiro in Fire on the Dock, Recipes, Restaurants, Uncategorized Leave a comment

Winning classic French sauces

Pitted against the clock in an unfamiliar kitchen and forced to use ingredients of someone else’s choosing, chefs in the heat of competition might be tempted to trade fine sauces for doctored-up bottled salsa. That’s not been the case during the Fire on the Dock cooking tournament at Shell Island Resort in Wrightsville Beach.

More than one time during the contests, diners have had to ”Google” the names of sauces that classically trained chefs know by heart. The béchamel-based crayfish sauce Nantua  showed up during Battle Asparagus and Strawberries on April 17. Rich, brown demi-glace, albeit flavored with cherry soda, was featured at Battle Cheerwine on March 27.

Last night, winner Kirsten Mitchell, executive chef at Cameo 19 Hundred featured the tomato-tinted béarnaise sauce named Choron.

Sauce Choron with pork helped Cameo 19 Hundred chef Kirsten Mitchell win the April 25 round of Fire on the Dock.

Chefs, like Mitchell, who have been trained in classic French cooking techniques build their saucier skills around what legendary chef Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935) termed “the five mother sauces.” The list includes milk-based, roux-thickened Sauce Béchamel; white-stock-based, roux-thickened Sauce Velouté; the emulsified egg yolk, butter and lemon Sauce Hollandaise; fortified veal stock known as Sauce Espagnole; and tomato sauce.

The saucier’s world opens wide from those recipes. Béarnaise spins off Hollandaise. Béchamel is the basis for Nantua and the cheese sauce Mornay.

How important is it for good cooks to know their sauces? Ask Mitchell. Her breaded pork dish with Sauce Choron was the second-highest scoring dish among professional judges working the April 25 battle.

Hollandaise and Béarnaise can be intimidating to home cooks. The recipes require heating while whisking egg yolks, water and lemon to create a fluffy emulsion. Next, melted butter is whisked in to create another emulsion. The combination of heat, delicate eggs and just-right whisking add up to one big challenge.

The savior? Internationally acclaimed chef Jacques Pépin. The French master, of course, knows his mother sauces, but he doesn’t mind a few shortcuts, like making Hollandaise in a blender. The Chicago Tribune turned to that technique to create this easy Sauce Choron.

Blender Sauce Choron

Combine 2 tablespoons each tarragon vinegar and white wine and 1/3 cup finely chopped shallots in a saucepan over medium heat; cook until all but 1 tablespoon of the liquid has evaporated. Let cool.

Melt 2 to 3 tablespoons butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add 1 peeled, seeded, chopped tomato; cook, 5 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon tomato paste; heat to a boil. Mash well; let cool. Stir in 1 tablespoon each finely chopped tarragon and parsley.

Heat 3 sticks butter in a small saucepan over low heat until bubbling but not brown. Put 4 egg yolks, 2 tablespoons water, 1/4 teaspoon each salt and white pepper, and 11/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice in a blender. Cover; blend on high. Immediately, with blender running, add hot butter in a steady stream. Stir in shallot mixture and tomato mixture. Serve warm.

Source:  Chicago Tribune. The recipe was adapted from Jacques Pepin’s “Essential Pepin” (Houghton Mifflin, 2011).


Posted on by lizbiro in Fire on the Dock, French, Recipes, Restaurants, Uncategorized Leave a comment

Crackling candy, chocolate bacon and sugar-coated pork rinds

Gerry Fong's pork-infused chocolate ganache cake with pork crackling candy.

Fire on the Dock chef referee Laurence Willard always gives competing cooks this advice: “Dessert wins this thing.”

OK, but what if the mystery ingredient is pork?

Doesn’t matter, Willard says. “I’m telling you. Dessert wins this thing.”

Looks like chefs took Willard’s word for it during the cooking competition’s Battle Pork last night at Shell Island Resort in Wrightsville Beach. Desserts were two of the six courses prepared by contenders Smokey Masters of Wilmington’s Pine Valley Market and Gerry Fong, the evening’s winner, of Persimmons in New Bern.

So how does a pork dessert taste? Well, like dessert.

Fong offered pork-infused chocolate ganache cake with mascarpone ice cream, beet & dried fruit compote and pork crackling candy. The cake was intensely chocolate without a hint of pork flavor. The crackling candy, a sheet of sugar glass perched atop the cake, tasted like sugar-coated pork rinds.

Masters put forth sweet potato cornmeal cake with chocolate-covered bacon and sweet fried pork rinds that were crumbled on whipped cream crowing the creation. The pork rinds added interesting texture with the slightest hint of pork flavor.

Desserts, as Willard predicted, wowed diners, but many also zoomed in on Fong’s Korean-style braised pork shoulder with snap peas, broccoli, crispy herbed goat cheese polenta and mushroom duxelles. Bright Asian seasonings enlivened the fork-tender pork, causing many “mmm’s” to rise across the dining room.

Gerry Fong's Korean-style Braised Pork Shoulder. (Photo by Competition Dining Series)

“The onions really make it,” Fong revealed, explaining that shaved onions give the dish a certain zest without being overt. See the recipe below.

Fire on the Dock, which happens weekly through May 22 at Shell Island Resort in Wrightsville Beach, is attached to the N.C. Department of Agriculture’s statewide Competition Dining series. Two chefs face-off in each contest in the bracket-style tournament. A secret ingredient, from North Carolina, must be used in each of the three courses chefs prepare.

The competition started earlier this year with Fire on the Rock in Blowing Rock. From the coast, it moves to the Triangle and the Triad before ending with a final four contest. Diners may purchase tickets to any or all of the contests.

Korean-style Braised Pork Shoulder Team Persimmons

For the seasoning liquid:

2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 tablespoons minced ginger

1/4 cup mirin

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

1/4 cup soy sauce

1 small onion, shaved

1 small bunch of cilantro, chopped

For the pork:

Salt and pepper

2 1/2 pounds pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small yellow onion, diced

1 carrot, diced

1/2 celery stalk diced

Prepare seasoning liquid: Place garlic, ginger, mirin, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, onion and cilantro in a small saucepan. Cook mixture over medium heat until flavors meld, about 3 to 5 minutes. Set aside.

Prepare pork: Season pork with salt and pepper. Place a  brazier, Dutch oven or large, heavy frying pan on the stove over medium-high heat. When pan is hot, add oil. Brown pork chunks in hot oil, working in batches, if necessary, to avoid crowding the pan. Remove meat from pan and set aside.

Add onion, carrots and celery to the pan. Saute vegetables until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.

Return meat to the pan along with half of the seasoning liquid. Add enough chicken stock to the pan to come about halfway up the sides of the meat. Lower the heat, cover pan and simmer gently until pork is tender, about 2 hours.

Before serving meat, simmer remaining seasoning liquid over medium heat until liquid has thickened slightly. Use as a sauce for the meat. 

Serves 6. 

Source: Gerry Fong of Persimmons

Posted on by lizbiro in Fire on the Dock, Recipes, Restaurants, Uncategorized Leave a comment

Ramp it up

Ramp-stuffed chicken roulade.

Every great chef starts somewhere. Maybe it’s a home kitchen, maybe it’s in front of a McDonald’s deep-fryer, maybe it’s under the whip of a harsh French chef. The lucky ones who begin at North Carolina’s new culinary school, The Chef’s Academy in Morrisville, showed off what they learned during a ramp challenge Friday at the school.

As a contest judge, I tasted many dishes. All of them had their merits, but two stood out.

Cory Owen of Cary and Jesus Grijalva of Raleigh prepared a simple ramp-filled chicken roulade. Easy to prepare, it’s a great introduction to cooks who have never tried ramps.

Students Jessica Vittoria and William Delgado, both of Durham, and Kenley Newsome of Raleigh served purple potato, carrot and ramp hash on risotto. Putting starch-on-starch is a risk. A carbohydrate overload can leave diners full before they have a chance to fully experience a dish, but the trio’s combination worked — proof that the best cooks are not afraid to take chances.

Ramp-stuffed Chicken Roulade Team Slammin’ Salmon

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

20 ramp leaves, washed and cut into chiffonade

Salt and black pepper

4 6-ounce boneless chicken breasts, butterflied

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

Blend together cream cheese and ramps. Season mixture with salt and pepper.

Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Spread one-fourth of cheese mixture on each chicken breast. Roll each chicken breast around filling. Secure rolls with kitchen twin or toothpicks.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and butter to the pan. When fats have heated, place roulades in pan, working in batches to avoid crowding the pan. Brown roulades on all sides. Remove browned roulades to a baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven until chicken is cooked through, 15-20 minutes.

Serves 4.

Source: The Chef’s Academy students Cory Owen and Jesus Grijalva

Sweet Potato, Carrot and Ramp Hash Team Excellence

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 to 4 cups purple sweet potatoes, cut into small dice

1 cup carrots, cut into small dice

1 cup sliced white mushrooms

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 to 2 tablespoons minced ramps, white portion only

1 teaspoon chopped parsley

Place a large, heavy skillet on medium heat. When pan it hot, add olive oil. Saute sweet potatoes and carrots in olive oil until halfway cooked.

Add mushrooms and ramps to the pan. Season with salt and pepper and continue sauteing until potatoes and carrots are cooked through. Add parsley to hash and toss to distribute herb evenly.

Serves 4.

Source: The Chef’s Academy students Jessica Vittoria, William Delgado and Kenley Newsome.


Posted on by lizbiro in Recipes, Uncategorized Leave a comment

Curry for dessert? That’s how Fire on the Dock rolls

“Is curry really an ingredient?” was the question around the Fire on the Dock dining room Wednesday night when curry was revealed as the secret ingredient for the evening’s battle.

Ingredients are defined as components of a mixture, especially in cooking, those components usually thought of as food. Curry’s meaning runs the gamut from curry powder or a dish seasoned with curry powder to a spicy dish, a spicy sauce or a spicy relish.

Curry dishes are many, showing up in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Japan, the Caribbean and Southeast Asia. England has adopted all manner of curry preparations, Germans make a currywurst and the Irish like curry sauce on their “chips.”

Precise combinations of spices are chosen for each curry dish, further widening curry’s range.

That scope was evident during Fire on the Dock’s Battle Curry at Shell Island Resort on Wrightsville Beach. Competing chefs Kyle Lee McKnight and Zackery Grant were given various curry products — relishes, pureed sauces, curry spice blends and the cracker-like Indian bread pappadam – supplied by Kerala Curry of Pittsboro, N.C. 

Fire on the Dock is part of the N.C. Department of Agriculture’s statewide Competition Dining series. Two chefs face-off in each contest in the bracket-style tournament. A secret ingredient, from North Carolina, must be used in each of the three courses chefs prepare. The competition started earlier this year with Fire on the Rock in Blowing Rock. From the coast, it moves to the Triangle and the Triad before ending with a final contest to select the best chef among all the competitors.

Both Battle Curry chefs took curry in fresh directions.

Grant's phyllo-wrapped shrimp with vindaloo coconut sauce.

Grant, of downtown’s waterfront Pilot House restaurant, paired vindaloo coconut sauce and curried pecans with shrimp wrapped in crisp, shredded phyllo. Braised pork shoulder landed on mango curry polenta. For dessert, he curry-seasoned marscapone cheese and blended it with Bing cherries, the mixutre dolloped on a plate beneath a sugared pappadam circle.

McKnight, last at downtown Wilmington’s Circa 1922 and moving into a new, mysterious restaurant venture billed Swim with the Fish, won the contest.

He started diners with a single, from-scratch ravioli filled with citrus goat cheese, garnished with curried broccolini and set in a vindaloo vegetable jus.

McKnight’s second course, which many diners agreed was the overall best-in-show and won the most points of any dish, featured masala-rubbed leg of lamb over coriander curry farro salad, curried pickled vegetables and spicy tomato sauce.

McKnight's mango curry lemon sauce coloring honey lavender panna cotta.

Mango curry lemon sauce brightened McKnight’s honey lavender panna cotta dessert. Use his sauce recipe to give curry your own definition. Not too sweet and just tangy enough, the sauce, like the word “curry,” suits assorted preparations, from a pound cake accompaniment or ice cream topping to a basting sauce for grilled shrimp or roast pork.

Mango Curry Lemon Sauce McKnight

2 cups water

1/2 cup sugar

Juice of 4 lemons

Juice of 2 limes

Juice of 1 orange

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup mango chutney

Pinch of kosher salt

Bring water and citrus juices to a boil in a heavy saucepan over high heat. Whisk in sugar until dissolved. Whisk in chutney. Reduce heat to medium low. Simmer sauce for 30 minutes. Season with salt. 

Remove sauce from heat. Let sauce cool. Puree and strain sauce, if desired. Makes about 2 cups.

Source: Kyle Lee McKnight  


Posted on by lizbiro in Fire on the Dock, New restaurants, Recipes, Restaurants, Uncategorized Leave a comment