My Evening as a Judge for WNC Chefs Challenge: The Competition, The Menu, My Personal Take
Zambra Moves Forward Backed by Super Corn!
Behind this week’s WNC Chefs Challenge Quarterfinal Round was “super corn” in the form of Troy & Sons “keeper” moonshine, the secret ingredient of the evening’s creations. According to Mary Rich Hill of Asheville Distilling Co., producers of T&S Platinum, Oak Reserve, and Blonde Whiskey, the Crooked Creek white corn that is used to make T&S spirit mash in the local distillery is of superior quality to yellow, neutral-grain corn.
This open-pollinated corn grows on six foot tall stalks and produces just one fourteen inch ear of corn per stalk. When lab tested, this variety was found to be extinct in all other locations but on Peaceful Valley Farm where sixth generation grower John Mcentire first introduced the corn to Troy Ball, currently the only female legal moonshiner in the U.S. This unique heirloom variety of white corn, which Mcentire claims is only fit for human consumption, whereas all yellow corn should be delegated to feeding animals, thrives in the Carolina mountains on its lengthy, delicate stalks.
The quality of Troy & Sons products was apparent in the cocktails served throughout the evening, as well as in each dish that Zambra chef, Steven Goff, and LAB chef, Mike Fisera created for the April 23rd Chefs Challenge round with this unique trio in mind. From the Blonde Whiskey Salmon that rested atop Lime Brown Butter laced T&S Platinum Whiskey Sticky Rice, that occupants of the judges’ table were certain contained raw coconut oil, the exotic flavors were so richly mellow, to the Blonde Whiskey Tinted Apple Cobbler with berries and whiskey crẻme anglaise, T&S added something special. Troy & Sons Blonde was particularly impressive in the one-two punch diners received in the Blonde Whiskey Stout Float with T&S Whiskey cream that accompanied the cobbler.
So significant was the pleasing addition of Troy & Sons spirits to the menu that voting resulted in a 50/50 tie between the Zambra and LAB teams. The dish that ranked highest in overall votes for the evening decided the winner, T&S Blonde Whiskey Tinted Apple Cobbler with T&S Blonde Whiskey Anglaise, Vanilla Ice Cream, Macerated Berries, T&S Blonde Whiskey Stout Float, T&S Blonde Whiskey Cream. Zambra’s team creation was the tie breaker. A super close race thanks to some super corn!
Chef Steven Goff of Zambra:
T&S Platinum Whiskey Cured Salmon with T&S Whiskey Pineapple Chutney, Roasted Spaghetti Squash, Brown Butter T&S Platinum Whiskey Emulsion, Marcona Puree
T&S Oak Reserve Whiskey Marinated Strip Loin with T&S Oak Reserve Whiskey Glazed Shrimp, Confit Potatoes, Braised Kale, T&S Oak Reserve Whiskey BBQ
T&S Blonde Whiskey Tinted Apple Cobbler with T&S Blonde Whiskey Anglaise, Vanilla Ice Cream, Macerated Berries, T&S Blonde Whiskey Stout Float, T&S Blonde Whiskey Cream
Chef Mike Fisera of Lexington Avenue Brewery
Chestnut Pork Tonkatsu, T&S Blonde Whiskey and Ramp Grits, T&S Oak Reserve Whiskey Glazed Pineapple, T&S Blonde Whiskey Sour Sauce, Pan Jus
Blonde Whiskey Ginger Salmon with Grilled Squash, Lime Brown Butter, Crispy Ramp Leaves, T&S Platinum Whiskey Sticky Rice
Cinnamon Waffle with T&S Oak Crẻme Anglaise, Lavender Ice Cream with T&S Blonde Whiskey Mint Julep Redux and Mint Salt
My Personal Take:
Well, personally, this whole experience has thrown me for a loop. From the first email from Bob Bowles of Asheville Wine & Festival to having him tell me as I worked my way through course one of Chefs Challenge that I was not just a guest blogger, but a judge for the evening. I sat up straighter in my chair and REALLY paid attention to what I was eating after that, let me tell you!
The first course was amazing, though I couldn’t pick out the flavors of Troy & Sons in any portion of it. I especially liked the marcona puree in combination with the pineapple chutney. We cooked so much salmon in culinary school that I’m no longer a big fan, but after sampling it prepared with so many different elements and surprising flavors, I was not complaining. The spaghetti squash was cooked perfectly. I am a huge fan of all the squashes so was delighted by this addition.
I thought the whiskey bbq sauce that accompanied the strip loin was a little predictable, but, oh my, was it good! Other diners at our table commented that the potatoes were much too salty. I had to agree and thought the same of the shrimp. An unexpected element was the spiciness of the braised kale. Such a nice touch.
I’d assumed that the event would be a serious affair, and was so nervous about that date on my calendar that I couldn’t sit still. A warm greeting from Bob Bowles at Chestnut and a friendly chat with Lindsey Grossman, social networking and p.r. person for Asheville Wine & Food Festival, had me settling comfortably in my chair for the culinary adventure. Other guests began to arrive and take their seats at the judges’ table. Once cocktails were served, and a sampling of Troy & Sons products passed around the table, polite chit chat turned more lively.
And four courses later…the desserts began to arrive. Yes, desserts. Plural. My three favorite things about the desserts that night: 1) The whiskey stout float. Yup. That’s all it was. Whiskey, Stout, whiskey cream floating on the surface. Like a very naughty root beer float. 2) The crunchy topping on the apple cobbler with macerated berries. 3) How the minted salt from LAB’s dessert mingled with the Oak Reserve creme anglaise. The only disappointing thing about dessert was that lavender ice cream has been on my list of must-try culinary delights. Though lavender ice cream was served, either all the other flavors drowned out the lavender or it just wasn’t prevalent enough to be tasted. Back on my list it goes. What I seriously disliked about dessert #2 was that it signaled the end of a fabulous evening. Not that I could have eaten another bite!
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