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

Chefs

Oyster ice cream: A surprising scoop of American food history

America's early history included lots of oysters -- lots of them turned into ice cream.

America’s early history included lots of oysters — lots of them turned into ice cream.

Liz Biro’s note: This is a piece I wrote recently for Coastal Review Online, the news blog published by the N.C. Coastal Federation, a non-profit group working to protect North Carolina’s coastal environment.

Warm weather marks the end of oyster season on the North Carolina coast, which might cause ice cream-maker Karel Blaas to scratch his head and wonder why.

Blaas’ from-scratch ice cream, made with local ingredients, is known far beyond his downtown Wilmington-based Velvet Freeze shop. He’s played with lots of interesting flavors: herb concoctions made with leaves grown at Leland’s Shelton Herb Farm, bourbon bacon chocolate pecan and olive oil with toasted pine nuts.

Sometimes, restaurant owners ask for custom flavors, like the beer chocolate toffee ice cream Blaas recently churned for a commercial brewery.

One of the oddest ideas Blaas encountered was oyster ice cream.

The oyster ice cream flavor stemmed from a conversation between Blaas and Chef Mark Scharaga. Scharaga was planning a multi-course wine dinner at the Asian restaurant Tamashii, which Scharaga once operated in Wilmington.

Scharaga used local seafood at the restaurant, where Blaas had been supplying Asian-inspired ice cream flavors such as ginger apple and sesame honey banana. The two men were joking about off-beat flavors they could serve for the dinner’s dessert when oyster ice cream came up, Scharaga said.

Karel Blaas' gave his oyster ice cream, right, a swirl of Texas Pete hot sauce. For the Tamashii chefs dinner, the ice cream was accompanied by fennel panna cotta, center, and chocolate ganache cake, left.

Karel Blaas’ gave his oyster ice cream, right, a swirl of Texas Pete hot sauce. For the Tamashii chefs dinner, the ice cream was accompanied by fennel panna cotta, center, and chocolate ganache cake, left.

“As crazy as I thought it was, it wasn’t really so far-fetched,” Scharaga said.

Oyster ice cream is popular in Japan, but when Blaas researched the idea, he was surprised by the American food history connection.

“People actually ate this,” Blaas said. “It was once a big deal in America.”

Ice cream, which probably originated in China, started appearing in American colonies in the first half of the 1700s, according to the Colonial Williamsburg Journal. The treat took off after Thomas Jefferson in the late 1700s sampled ice cream in Paris. Jefferson brought a recipe home, built an ice house at Monticello and then one at the White House when he became president, the Journal reported. On Independence Day 1806, Jefferson tasked a servant with making ice cream, starting a summertime tradition that probably earned Jefferson credit for bringing ice cream to America.

Vanilla, strawberry, raspberry and apricot were popular flavors. Coffee, tea, pistachio, spicy chocolate and parmesan cheese were other flavors. “Perhaps the strangest flavor is found in Mary Randolph’s cookbook—oyster ice cream,” the Journal reported.

Karel Blaas, owner and chief ice cream maker at Velvet Freeze in Wilmington.

Karel Blaas, owner and chief ice cream maker at Velvet Freeze in Wilmington.

Mary Randolph wrote The Virginia Housewife in 1824, one of that century’s most influential cookbooks and the first American cookbook with an ice cream section (by the way, Randolph’s son married Jefferson’s daughter). Her oyster ice cream recipe was really strained, frozen oyster chowder.

Historians claim First Lady Dolley Madison served oyster ice cream at the White House. Oyster ice cream is also mentioned in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

One story historians agree is a myth claims that oyster ice cream was George Washington’s favorite flavor.

Those early oyster ice creams were probably more savory than sweet, as Randolph’s recipe suggests. Blaas made his version sweet. He poached N.C. oysters in cream, added sugar and a couple other ingredients before freezing the blend.

The resulting ice cream provided enough oyster flavor to let diners know this was not Blaas’ usual rich, silky, oh-so-creamy vanilla. The ice cream, with a swirl of Texas Pete, was served with fennel panna cotta and chocolate ganache cake.

Blaas didn’t get another request for oyster ice cream, and Scharaga didn’t move much of it after the wine dinner. However, the men’s collaboration continues. Blaas scoops flavors these days at a new Velvet Freeze location in a space Blaas shares with the sushi take-out shop, Mega Maki. Scharaga runs Mega Maki with business partner Josh Thaxton. The shops are at 10B N. Front St. in Wilmington.

MAKE IT AT HOME

Attempting oyster ice cream at home is not difficult. Simply do as Blaas did by poaching fresh shucked oysters in a vanilla ice cream base. The amount of oysters will dictate the intensity of oyster flavor. A chef at 54twenty Guestaurant in Hollywood, Calif., demonstrates a slow cooking process called “sous-vide” in an online video

Mary Randolph’s efforts were simpler, as evidence by these recipes, shown as written, from The Virginia Housewife.

OYSTER CREAM

Make a rich soup, (see directions for oyster soup,) strain it from the oysters, and freeze it.

OYSTER SOUP

Wash and drain two quarts of oysters, put them on with three quarts of water, three onions chopped up, two or three slices of lean ham, pepper and salt; boil it till reduced one-half, strain it through a sieve, return the liquid into the pot, put in one quart of fresh oysters, boil it till they are sufficiently done, and thicken the soup with four spoonsful of flour, two gills of rich cream, and the yelks of six new laid eggs beaten well; boil it a few minutes after the thickening is put in. Take care that it does not curdle, and that the flour is not in lumps; serve it up with the last oysters that were put in. If the flavour of thyme be agreeable, you may put in a little, but take care that it does not boil in it long enough to discolour the soup.

Posted on by lizbiro in Chefs, Downtown, downtown Wilmington, food history, Ice cream, Restaurants Leave a comment

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

Chef Clarke Merrell may not have won the 2014 Fire on the Dock, but one of his dishes has been the competition’s highest scorer to date.

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 root beer float.

A traditional Black Cow involves a squirt of chocolate syrup in the bottom of a float glass. That gets topped with a couple scoops of vanilla ice cream. Pour root beer into the glass and prepare to sing the combination’s praises. So good.

For his plated dessert version, Merrell prepared root beer vanilla ice cream. He placed a scoop next to a crumble of coffee/root beer dark chocolate cake. Salted caramel, cashew candied bacon and root beer drizzle garnished the dessert. The treat evoked an old-fashioned soda fountain while providing an upscale feel. And the candied bacon? What fun!

Chef Clarke Merrell's put the Black Cow root beer float on a plate, earning high marks at Fire on the Dock (Photo courtesy of Competition Dining Series).

Chef Clarke Merrell’s put the Black Cow root beer float on a plate, earning high marks at Fire on the Dock (Photo courtesy of Competition Dining Series).

The sweet earned Merrell 32.21 points. We’ll see if anyone beats that in tonight’s final 2014 Fire on the Dock battle, where Cape Fear Country Club chef Antoine Murray meets 1900 Restaurant & Lounge chef Kirsten Mitchell.  The winner will move on to the statewide final later this year.

Merrell has competed in Fire on the Dock since the first competition in 2012. He and his loyal fans travel all the way from Morehead City for Fire on the Dock, staged at Wrightsville Beach. Cape Fear region fans who discovered Merrell at Fire on the Dock now travel to Morehead City, where Merrell not only operates Circa 81 but also Beaufort Olive Oil Company in Beaufort, N.C.

Posted on by lizbiro in bacon, Chefs, Fire on the Dock, Restaurants Leave a comment

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

Southern Collards should be the new kale

Kale. Blah, blah, blah. Ya, it’s good for you, but so are collards, the preferred greens among Southerners, at least the ones I grew up with on the North Carolina coast.

Down here, we love collards, and don’t really get all the fuss about kale. For many of us, kale is just curly edged collards that don’t taste as good as “our” greens.

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.

Chef Kirsten Mitchell's Collard Soup at the 2014 Fire on the Dock. (Photo courtesy of Competition Dining Series).

Chef Kirsten Mitchell’s Collard Soup at the 2014 Fire on the Dock. (Photo courtesy of Competition Dining Series).

Tonight marks Fire on the Dock finals at Bluewater Waterfront Grill in Wrightsville Beach. The winning chef moves on to the Final Fire contest later this year in Raleigh. There, regional Fire winners battle for the title of best chef of the annual statewide Competition Dining Series.

One of tonight’s competitors can thank collards, in part, for a place in the 2014 Fire on the Dock final. 1900 Restaurant & Lounge  chef Kirsten Mitchell won her first challenge with a menu that included collard soup. It has been one of the most talked-about dishes served during this year’s Fire on Dock.

Mitchell seasoned her soup with Cha!, a new sriracha hot sauce from Texas Pete. She topped the soup with battered and fried quail from Manchester Farms in Columbia, S.C., and swirls of Cha! crème fraiche.

Diners, whose Fire on the Dock votes help pick contest winners, were divided on the soup’s texture — some thought it should be smoother — but nearly everyone I spoke with agreed the soup was delicious.

So step aside kale. Collards are moving up. Making a soup similar to Mitchell’s is not difficult. A recipe follows, and you can top the soup with fried chicken breast that was just-cooked, left over or purchased from a restaurant. Blend a little Cha! into some sour cream or Greek yogurt, and you’ll approximate Mitchell’s Cha crème fraiche.

Collard Beats Kale Soup

1 large russet potato, peeled and diced

1 small bundle of fresh collards, washed, stems discarded, and leaves chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil or bacon grease

1/2 carrot, shredded

1/2 small onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, smashed

4-5 cups chicken stock

½ cup half-and-half

Salt and pepper to taste

Boil the potato in water and ½ teaspoon of salt until potato is soft (about 8-10 min).

Meantime, steam the collard leaves for 10 minutes, until collards are soft. Set aside.

Drain potatoes, reserving about 1 cup of the potato cooking water. Set aside the potatoes and, in a separate container, the reserved cooking water.

Let collards and potatoes cool.

Set a medium stock pot over medium-high heat. When pot is hot, add olive oil or bacon grease. Add the carrot, onion and garlic to the pot and sauté 5 minutes. Add stock, 1 teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon of pepper and half of the cooked potatoes.

In a blender or food processor, blend the other half of the potato and the collards in 1 cup of the potato cooking water until smooth.  Add to the stock pot and stir until mixture is well combined.

Simmer soup for 5 minutes. Stir in half and half and heat gently for 3-5 minutes.

Serves 2.

Source: Adapted from In My Vegan Life blog.

Posted on by lizbiro in Chefs, Fire on the Dock, Restaurants, Uptown Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach Leave a comment

Food touring in Carrboro with Taste Carolina

When I’m not eating out, writing about restaurants and leading food tours in Wilmington, I’m dreaming about eating out, writing about restaurDashboardants and taking food tours in other cities. As I often say, “I’m eat up with it,” and Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours fed my obsession quite well this past weekend.

The company is based in North Carolina’s Triangle area, and it offers tours in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and Hillsborough as well as Greensboro and Winston-Salem.

I chose the Carrboro brunch tour, which visited the community’s farmers market and some interesting restaurants. I found a lot of delish stuff along they way, as you’ll see here. A list of links is below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Here are links to the places I mention in the slide show:

Neal’s Deli

Carrboro Farmers Market

Chapel Hill Creamery

The Pig

Chickenbridge Bakery

Sweetwater Pecan Farm

Al’s Burger Shack

Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe

Open Eye Cafe

Posted on by lizbiro in Bakery, Brunch, Farmers markets, Local food, Restaurants Leave a comment

Root beer & N.C. “Italian” wine at Fire on the Dock

I learn something at nearly every annual Fire on the Dock chef competition I attend. Last night, at the 2014 kick-off event, the lessons were how well root beer works with sweet potatoes and that North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley produces a sangiovese wine.

Although Wilmington home team Hops Supply Co. didn’t win the first Fire on the Dock round at Bluewater Waterfront Grill in Wrightsville Beach, the restaurant’s chef, Tiffany Eslien, produced my favorite dish of the night: a pan-seared scallop atop sweet potato hash and root beer demi-glace, the whole crowned with nut-enriched gremolata,

Scallop and sweet potatoes with root beer demi-glace by chef Tiffany Eslien of Hops Supply Co. in Wilmington. (Photo courtesy of Competition Dining Series)

Scallop and sweet potatoes with root beer demi-glace by chef Tiffany Eslien of Hops Supply Co. in Wilmington. (Photo courtesy of Competition Dining Series)

The sweet potato and root beer was a just-right match, balanced by the scallop’s caramelization and the gremolata’s garlic and lemon zest. A tablemate suggested root beer in pumpkin pie or pecan pie as my mind went to root beer candied yams this Thanksgiving.

Eslien didn’t ask for root beer; it was the secret ingredient she and the night’s winner, chef Clarke Merrell of Circa 81 in Morehead City, had to use.

Fire on the Dock is one of four regional contests Competition Dining Series stages across North Carolina each year.

The bracket-style tournaments culminate in a final battle to select the best restaurant chefs from among regional winners. A secret N.C. ingredient is presented to chefs just before cooking begins. Last night, it was Uncle Scott’s All-Natural Root Beer made in Mooresville, N.C.

Cellar 4201 sangiovese. (Photo courtesy of Cellar 4021)

Cellar 4201 sangiovese. (Photo courtesy of Cellar 4021)

As I pondered root beer for my 2014 Thanksgiving dinner plans, contest organizer Jimmy Crippen placed a surprise bottle of Cellar 4201 sangiovese on the table for guests to sample and discuss.

Cellar 4201 is in East Bend, N.C.

I’m used to rustic, dark sangioveses, but the Cellar 4201 version was light and fruity, an easy drinking wine for the “I don’t like red wine” group that made up most of my table.

It’s quaffability reminded me of a little of beaujolais nouveau. That got me thinking about Thanksgiving again, and a local Thanksgiving at that: N.C. sweet potatoes, N.C. root beer, N.C. wine and perhaps a duck from Maple Leaf Farms, also on last night’s menu.

Weather has postponed tonight’s Fire on the Dock round until next week. Visit the Competition Dining website for schedule and reservation details.

Posted on by lizbiro in Chefs, Fire on the Dock, Local food, Midtown Wilmington, Restaurants, Wrightsville Beach Leave a comment

Impromptu Wilmington Wine Trail Part 2

Caviar blini at The Fortunate Glass.

Caviar blini at The Fortunate Glass.

I’ll never forget the look of rapture on General Lorens Lowenhielm’s face when he tasted that first forkful of caviar-topped blini and first sip of accompanying champagne in the movie “Babette’s Feast.” I wonder if mine looked the same during the Super Star Pairing this week at The Fortunate Glass wine bar.

That on a cold weeknight after work I was eating something long on my culinary bucket list and sipping NV Bollinger Special Cuvee Brut was as unexpected as Lowenhielm’s discovery that the humble, village meal he was expecting would turn out to be a much more.

Nuevo Nicoise.

Nuevo Nicoise.

The Fortunate Glass event on Wednesday featured four top-shelf wines matched with thoughtful dishes, starting with chef Fenix Nelson’s colorful take on classic caviar and blini. Streaks of pomegranate glaze played with the champagne’s fizz.

One of my favorite wines of the evening was the second-course Chateau Montelana Chardonny 2011. Crisp but full and just enough fruit to balance Nelson’s Nuevo Niscoise salad with chicken confit, diced potatoes, sweet yellow cherry tomatoes, fluffs of boiled egg yolk and the savory crunch of pistachio-laced goat cheese.

Shatter Grenache 2011 was another stand-out for me and diners I overheard complimenting the vintage. Concentrated but easy to drink, full with summer berries, this is one to have in home racks for comforting winter meals, perhaps a riff on the duck confit stroganoff with caramelized onions and portobello mushrooms in blackberry sauce The Fortunate Glass paired with the wine.

One of the things I love about The Fortunate Glass is its approachability. This is a serious wine bar with a light touch, as evidenced by the playful cola-braised pork butt Nelson served with the final wine, Hollywood and Vine Short Ends Cabernet Sauvignon 2009. It’s a big wine that needs a big love. All that plum, mocha, earth and spice found it in the fork-tender pork Nelson married to cremini mushrooms and super-buttery potato puree. Cherry cola demi-glace further sweetened the relationship.

Cola-braised pork butt.

Cola-braised pork butt.

The Fortunate Glass offers a lot of interesting wine, and sometimes beer, events. Each Tuesday, the wine bar hosts a free 6 to 8 p.m. tasting. Check for updates at The Fortunate Glass Facebook page.

Posted on by lizbiro in Chefs, dinner specials, Downtown, downtown Wilmington, Restaurants, Uncategorized, wine bar Leave a comment

Impromptu Wilmington Wine Trail Part 1

Rx chef/owner James Doss paired housesmoked lardo and beets with my favorite wine of the night, bonarda.

Rx chef/owner James Doss paired housesmoked lardo and beets with my favorite wine of the night, bonarda.

I had plans to eat at home last night — lentil and barley stew — until someone said malbec, smoked lardo, Bollinger and caviar.

A couple hours later I was on a Wilmington wine-tasting trail, hitting a free food and wine pairing featuring Altos Las Hormigas malbecs at Rx Restaurant and Bar and sophisticated sips and nibbles at The Fortunate Glass wine bar.

On my Culinary Adventures with Liz Biro food and cocktail tours, I often tell guests that they’ll find a free wine tasting in and around Wilmington just about every night of the week. Rx took the idea further, serving one- and two-bite noshes with Altos Las Hormigas wines.

Altos Las Hormigas is known for malbecs, and the winemakers’ obsession with scientifically decoding the soil secrets of terroir has produced tasty vintages at prices in the $10 range, a couple up to $20ish.

The evening’s star was Altos Las Hormigas’ Malbec Reserve 2011 — classic malbec berry notes yet silky and refined — but I leaned toward Altos Las Hormigas’ Malbec Terroir 2010. Displaying a bold nose and light, juicy berries, the wine feels both fireside and fancy. It’s sweetness was balanced by Rx chef/owner James Doss’ “duck confit grilled cheese” highlighting slightly salty duck with Chapel Hill Creamery’s Calvander cheese on fresh wheat bread made at the Rx sister restaurant Pembroke’s.

Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Terroir.

Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Terroir.

Much as I loved the malbecs, my favorite wine of the evening was the lesser-known Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda Argentina 2012.

Bonarda grapes are usually purposed for wine blends or low-grade bulk wines, as the grapes produce big yields that provide color and fruitiness. Given interest and care by Altos Las Hormigas, the grapes resulted in Colonia Las Liebres’ soft, just sweet, fresh and light personality. The wine was so easy that I could imagine taking it to the beach in summer for a late-afternoon or evening picnic.

The bonarda works for people who think they won’t like red wine and for those who love reds. Consider it for upcoming Valentine’s Day and Easter dinners. I think it would be especially lovely with a glazed ham. In my favorite pairing of the night, Rx’s Doss put the bonarda with a ultra-thin slice of house smoked lardo atop a crescent of blood orange-marinated beet. Locally grown, organic Garden Cress was the garnish.

With thoughts of travel to Argentina in mind, I headed out to The Fortunate Glass Super Star pairing showcasing top wines and refined food. Check the menu below, which I’ll be posting about later today. For now, I’m off on another path — hunting down Brunswick stew for an upcoming story in Wrightsville Beach Magazine.

Super Star menu

Posted on by lizbiro in Chefs, dinner specials, Downtown, downtown Wilmington, Restaurants, Uncategorized, wine bar Leave a comment

Girls! Girls! Girls! Female chefs at Fire on the Dock

That professional kitchens remain male-dominated is surprising, considering women do much of the world’s everyday cooking. Remember in late 2013 when Time magazine left out any mention of female chefs in its Nov. 18, 2013, “Gods of Food” cover story and in the accompanying “chef family tree” that traced how great chefs are linked?

Despite the exclusions, women run or are key staffers in restaurant kitchens (Alice Waters, Dominique Crenn, Cat Cora, Elizabeth Falkner, Lidia Bastianich, Nancy Silverton, Amanda Freitag, Alexandra Guarnaschelli, Traci Des Jardins, to name a few).

Women are among Wilmington’s best chefs, three of whom will be in the mix of eight competitors when the annual cooking contest Fire on the Dock returns this month to Bluewater Waterfront Grill in Wrighsville Beach.

Fire on the Dock 2014 chefs ready for action.

Fire on the Dock 2014 chefs ready for action.

The female lineup includes Kirsten Mitchell of 1900 Restaurant Lounge, Tiffany Eslien of Hops Supply Co. and Katie Carter of The Olive Cafe & Wine Bar, all in Wilmington.

Other Wilmington-area contestants are Josh Petty of Sweet & Savory, James Rivenbark of South Beach Grill and Antoine Murray of Cape Fear Country Club. Coming from out of town are Clark Merrell of Circa 81 in Morehead City and Michael Barns of Prime 1079 at DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in Atlantic Beach.

I can’t recall a time when such a large number of female chefs took part in Fire on the Dock or any of the sponsoring Competition Dining Series’ contests. Each year, the Competition Dining Series stages regional professional cooking contests featuring restaurant chefs. The bracket-style tournaments culminate in a final battle to select the best chef from among statewide competitors.

Women have certainly marked Fire on the Dock. Mitchell made the final four in 2012′s event. And I’ll never forget the Cheerwine-braised collards that 2012 competitor Erin Wiley created when she was part of the YoSake restaurant team. Find Wiley at Pembroke’s these days. My favorite dish of the 2013 tournament was by Manna pastry chef Rebeca Alvarado Parades. As part of the YoSake team that year, she served super silky, intensely chocolate Texas Pete and cocoa cheesecake with Texas Pete gastrique, Texas Pete chocolate glaze, whipped mascarpone cream and a spicy almond lace cookie.

While I’m thrilled to see so many women in this year’s Fire on the Dock, which starts Jan. 27, I’m as excited about the guys, especially Josh Petty of Sweet & Savory.

Petty was the last Wilmington chef standing in the 2013 Fire on the Dock, and my money was on him to win thanks to push-the-envelope dishes he crafted along the way, namely as Asian-inspired soup. When my spoon broke into a deep-fried wonton, a soft egg yolk inside the package enriched the veal, lobster, black rice and vegetable soup. During a later battle, Petty’s Five Spice Peanut Tempura Shrimp, a crispy, sweet, spicy creation drizzled with Pepsi chili glaze, earned the night’s highest score.

The dishes weren’t perfect  — cooking competition offerings seldom are — but I’m hoping Petty’s experience with the contest will up his game.

Whoever wins is mostly up to diners. They score dishes along with professional judges. Seven Fire on the Dock 2014 battles are set each Monday from Jan. 27 to Feb. 17, and tickets are on sale. Preliminary battle tickets cost $74.78; final battle tickets cost $87.46.

Posted on by lizbiro in Chefs, dinner specials, Fire on the Dock, Restaurants, Uncategorized, Wrightsville Beach Leave a comment

Just a few of Liz’s favorite 2013 food pictures!

Posted on by lizbiro in Chefs, downtown Wilmington, Local food, Restaurants, Uncategorized Leave a comment
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