Fire on the Rock Challenge Heats Up

My last Blog got me so pumped up about the Fire on The Rock Challenge that I talked myself in to going to Crippen’s last night for the matchup between Monte Weber of the Painted Fish Cafe in Banner Elk and Hunter Hallmark of Restaurant G at Gideon Ridge. These two are veterans of Fire on the Rock, Hallmark was actually on the team that won last years competition. I thought this would be a nice early Valentine’s Day surprise for my girlfriend, Grace.

As we arrived we were not quite sure what to expect. We were seated promptly by owner, creator and MC of Fire on the Rock Jimmy Crippen. As we waited for everyone to be seated a member of the Crippen’s staff came to every table and explained the voting. Most voting was done on a smartphone or tablet with an app that you could easily download and broke the scoring down into 6 categories worth five points each for every dish. there were 30 possible points for every dish. The categories were: Presentation, Aroma, Flavor, Accompaniments, Creativity and Execution.
After a short introduction to the challenge and a little information about the chefs, the night’s secret ingredient was revealed: Guinea Fowl
The night’s six courses were: 
  • FIRST COURSE (Hallmark) — Guinea Fowl Flautas, with picuilla salsa fresco, cotisa cheese, and cilantro oil
  • SECOND COURSE (Weber) — Nicoise Spring Roll, with Guinea Fowl confit, haricot vert, kalamata olives, grape tomato, roasted potato, baby spinach, red wine–anchovy viniagrette
  • THIRD COURSE (Hallmark) — Rich Guinea Fowl Rissotto, with mozzarella, balsamic vinegar, brown butter, and porcini mushrooms
  • FOURTH COURSE (Weber) — "Spaghetti & Meatballs", featuring Guinea Fowl meatballs, duo of sweet potato angel hair, agrodole sauce
  • FIFTH COURSE (Hallmark) — Guinea Fowl Surf & Turf,  featuring Guinea Fowl sausage, purple potato cake, scallop, asparagus salad, and guinea fowl jus
  • SIXTH COURSE (Weber) — Guinea Fowl Stuffed Beignet, with bing cherry ice cream, brandied caramel sauce
I should preface and say that I watch Top Chef on TV every week and consider myself to be very picky. Here were my scores and thoughts on the courses:
1- Tasty appetizer, I thought that the level of difficulty was not great and that the dish left something to be desired. Perhaps a little heat would have really set the dish off. I gave this course 17/30 points.
2- What an interesting spring roll! The confit preparation of the fowl gave this dish a lot of flavor. While i admittedly do not like olives and pushed them off to the side of my plate, the roll was delicious and the baby spinach with red wine-anchovy vinaigrette scored big points with me. I gave this dish 23/30 points.
3- This risotto had good flavor but lost a lot of points because the key ingredient, Guinea fowl was not showcased well. Risotto is admittedly a difficult to cook and a big risk when making it for a cooking competition. This has been the downfall of many great chefs on Top Chef. I gave this course 17/30 points.
4-A modern take on spaghetti and meatballs, this dish had a delicious sweet and sour sauce over the two sweet potato angel hairs that really contrasted well with the savory meatballs providing for a refreshing plate. The acid in the dish really set off my taste buds. I gave this dish 24/30 points.
5- A rustic and filling dish. The earthiness of the purple potato cake meshed well with the Guinea foul sausage and the 2 scallops on top were a nice addition. This dish lost a couple of execution points because one of my scallops was slightly undercooked. But overall, a delicious and inventive dish. I gave this dish 22/30 points.
6- This was my top scorer from the evening and really took the competition to a whole other level. When I heard the dish announced I had my doubts as you can imagine, and not being a dessert person myself I did not go into this course with high expectations. Whatever Chef Weber did, it worked! The beignet was delicious and the cherry ice cream was amazing and all capped off with a delicious brandied caramel sauce. I gave this dish the best score of the night, 28/30 points.
All in all it was an amazing night with great food and what a wonderful experience. Monte Webber of Painted Fish Cafe ended up winning the battle of the evening. You can see how the judges and others scored the dishes here. It was a dream for me to live out my roll as a Top Chef judge for an evening. I would highly recommend attending one of these competitions if you happen to be in Blowing Rock. I think it would even be worth the trip just for one of these events alone! Here are the remaining battles:
February 8 – Michael Foreman (Bistro Roca) vs. Josh Grogan (Hearthstone Tavern & Grille)
February 21 – Guy Thomas (Glidewell’s) vs. Matt Barlow (Table at Crestwood)
February 22 – Randall Isaacs (1861 Farmhouse Restaurant & Winery) vs. Gina Paolucci (Paolucci’s Italian Bar & Grill)
February 28 – Sam Ratchford (Vidalia Restaurant & Wine Bar) vs. Matt Martin (Café Portofino)
February 29 – Matt Franklin (Jackalope’s View) vs. Andrew Long (Storie Street Grille)