Well folks, we’ve made it about as far as we can go this year with this one. I’ve been to first round challenges, quarterfinal challenges and finally to the semi-finals. I’ve eaten good food, bad food and in-between food, met interesting people and less memorable ones. All told, the Western North Carolina Chef’s Challenge which starts in the winter months here Asheville and ends at the Asheville Food and Wine Festival in August was a wonderful way to spend a Monday evening and I shall miss it now that it’s over.
With each round the food got better and the quality of the Chef’s improved. After suffering through cold eggs and too much mustard, Abby and I landed on our feet at the quarter-final round two weeks ago where we enjoyed, for the first time, food I would go looking for. (You can read about it in my blog posting of May 29). Based on that experience I decided that James and I would have to go to the semi-final round with the winning chef, Nate Allen, so that James could experience his food too.
The week before the dinner, James and I decided to try a local restaurant, Posana,overlooking Pack Square Park. Our guests at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast are often in that area and we like to try the restaurants ourselves so we can give people a first-hand review. At the time, we didn’t know that the chef from Posana would be up against Nate Allen of Knife and Fork for the semi-final round. Posana is a well situated restaurant with outdoor seating and it has a reputation for good food. We were not overly impressed. The chef clearly has ambitions and likes to experiment with food but he needs to learn to edit his dishes a bit and to integrate them better (in my opinion!).
I was pretty sure that Nate would win. And he did! I’m not going to bore you with a play-by-play of all the dishes. Instead I am going to lay out for you the winning ones, all three of which came from Nate.
The chef’s phones were taken away from them the morning of the challenge when they were told the secret ingredient, peaches. They had 30 minutes to plan, then they picked their proteins and started cooking, and here’s what we got:
|Grilled Rock Shrimp on Peach Salsa with Oven-Roasted Spiced Peaches|
|Breast of Duck on a bed of Dandelion and Kale with Basil-Peach Sauce|
|Deep-Fried Peach Pie with Gruyere Ice Cream, Boozy Bourbon Peaches and Mint Sauce|
The dishes were well balanced and interesting, looked and smelled great and tasted delicious.
I especially loved the duck with the basil sauce. I was longing for some bread to soak up the sauce and would have licked my plate if I could. I have been experimenting with basil this summer and had already noted its affinity for peaches and blackberries.
Fruit pie and cheese is another classic combination as is pie and ice cream. I thought Chef Allen was very clever in marrying the two together in this dessert. I am not a fan of fried food and I did think the pie was a bit heavy but overall it was amazing.
It was at the end of this meal, when I was telling my daughter Sarah about it, that we suddenly remembered a time last summer when we were at a farmer’s market here in Asheville and we tasted some salmon which a chef was selling as a way to get people interested in his restaurant. When he told us where is restaurant was, we remarked that it was worth driving an hour for! It was Nate Allen!
Here is a link to a video of Nate talking about food and his restaurant. How can you not love a chef who says he is “excited about peppers, tomatoes and eggplant”?
So that’s it. The finals are here in Asheville on August 13. The doors open at noon. I certainly hope to be there! How about you?