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