Sitting at 2013 Fire on the Dock’s first round last night, I sampled guinea hen liver cookies while looking at a picture of pine needle candy that a chef texted to one of my dining companions and reading my own text from a professional cook wondering why so many chefs take their craft over the top.
As I licked chocolate balsamic sauce from my fork and pondered the guinea hen cracklings crushed and used to dust a sweet guinea hen bread pudding, I wondered the same thing.
All that fuss under all that competition pressure — was it worth it?
The familiar, no-frills dish was my favorite of the night. Still, I must admit that seeing how far chefs will stretch their imaginations is exciting. How far is too far? Who can say? The guinea hen desserts that didn’t thrill me drove other diners wild.
That liver cookie helped Cape Fear Country Club chef Antoine Murray win the first round in the battle against Grimm. The thin cookie leaned against brown sugar-caramelized guinea hen, crème brulee-shortbread pudding with Italian meringue on guinea hen crème anglaise and a fried guinea hen nugget — all sprinkled with candied guinea hen crackling dust.
Each Fire on the Dock matchup is an experience of chefs trying to outdo each other — and themselves. That’s how the Competition Dining Series, which organizes Fire on the Dock and contests like it all over North Carolina, rolls.
I remember one chef in a past challenge who took sturgeon, one of Earth’s oldest fish, and turned it into chocolate cake and chocolate mousse. When the dessert landed in front of me, I thought, after so many years of survival and now facing extinction, did the sturgeon deserve to be put into a food processor and whizzed into a dessert?
Maybe I’m too sensitive, an empath to the sturgeon.
The perfect balance in my mind, is the cook who peppers his or her imagination with restraint. One of the contenders who did that last year was Rx Restaurant and Bar owner/chef James Doss, who competes tonight against Oceanic‘s Thomas Mobley.
Doss’ grilled bison flank steak and served the meat with a poached egg, green lentil snap pea salad and champagne vinaigrette. It was my among my favorite dishes of the event.
Fire on the Dock involves a secret ingredient revealed to chefs just before they begin cooking in one-on-one showdowns that lead to a final battle. Chefs have about six hours to prepare three courses for their contests. A handful of professional judges and about 100 diners at each dinner score the dishes to determine a winner. Last night’s ingredient was guinea hen.
Battles begin at 6:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday nights at Bluewater Waterfront Grill in Wrightsville Beach through April 3. Tickets start at $59. For more information, visit http://www.competitiondining.com