July 1, 2014 - First Day of the Asheville Scene Chefs Challenge

The day started early for everyone. Sun was bright early and the chefs were ready for action! The big day is here! It is the first day of the Asheville Scene Chefs Challenge at the Century Room at Pack’s Tavern, downtown Asheville.


I sense that I have forgotten to do several things. Ok, I have the scoring forms for the audience. Scoring is so important. The whirlwind of small plates coming out of the kitchen at a rapid pace allows the forms to help everyone stay on track so they can judge by their senses, not just their feelings. The scoring spreadsheet is being brought by a professional accountant, so the scores of the 80 plus scorecards can be entered quickly and the results can be announced quickly after the last scorecard is collected!


Pack’s Tavern was ready (they are really organized!) The secret ingredient was ordered and the pantry was ready with several special ingredients just for this challenge. The Executive Chef (Chef Kevin Conrad) and the Chef Referee (Chef Daniel Wright) had each competed in previous 2013 challenge (Chef Wright was the winner in 2013) and they both knew the drill! What a relief for me!


So, the chefs and their teams (a chef and 2 sou chefs on each team) arrived at 11:00 AM with only their knives and skills! They were briefed on the rules of engagement (work together and make the audience swoon) and were told the secret ingredient. Then a tour of the pantry to see what ingredients would best bring out the flavor, uniqueness, and excitement of the secret Ingredient - CORN. Yes, fresh sweet corn!  It is summer and corn is appearing at farmers markets.  From appetizers to desserts, corn is wonderful.


So what did they do with corn? Thrilled everyone!


Chef Chris Brown of the Mountain Magnolia Inn in Hot Springs NC created the following dishes:


Toasted French Baguette with Brie; Blackberry Corn Compote with Muenster Grit Cake and Pickled Corn Reduction


Local Beer Battered Shrimp with Roasted Corn Salsa; Corn Chip Encrusted Crab Cake with Cream Corn Beurre Blanc


Cream Corn Ice Cream; Chocolate Corn Fritter; Salted Caramel


Chef Mike Fisera of the Lexington Avenue Brewery (LAB) In Asheville created these dishes: 


Sweet Cornbread Pudding with Purple Pepper Honey; Bacon and Sweet Potato Puree; Pickled Beet; Crispy Cornmeal Dredged Leek and Grilled Grapes


Corn Milk Marinated Monk Fish; Smoked Corn Ceviche; Fresh Summer Vegetable Salad; Corn Vinaigrette; Carrot Crisps


Sweet Corn Semifreddo; Blackberry Ice Cream; Strawberry Coulis; Mint


They only had ½ hour to devise the menus and the rest of the afternoon to prepare and get ready for the lightning fast plating g at 7:00 sharp! With a new dish coming out of the kitchen every 20 minutes, the great staff at the century room was on top of it!. Wine was flowing, beer was gushing, and everyone loudly proclaimed that each dish was the best and could not be topped.


After that last dish was collected, the chefs and their teams were brought out to talk about their passions – their food, and inspirations. This alone is enough to get me to a challenge, but the food and all the wonderful people who attended really made it a special evening.


But, who won? They both did! The highest scoring 4 chefs will compete at the Asheville Wine & food Festival on Saturday, August 23. So, until their scores are topped, they remain in the running.  The top course was the Sweet Cornbread Pudding with Purple Pepper Honey; Bacon and Sweet Potato Puree; Pickled Beet; Crispy Cornmeal Dredged Leek and Grilled Grapes by Chef Fisera. To see all the results, go to http://www.ashevillewineandfood.com/follow-food-fight

and to see more photographs go to http://silverbirchstudio.com/blog/2014/07/chefs-challenge/