If you follow the Carolina Bed & Breakfast on any of our social media then you have been hearing a lot about the Competition Dining Series “Fire On the Rock” lately. Along with the other 16 Inns of the Asheville Bed & Breakfast Association we have been offering a special dining and lodging package to our guests for this event. However, if there is one thing James and I are very careful about at our Asheville Bed and Breakfast it is never to offer anything to our guests that we haven’t tried ourselves. So this week we put on our “going out clothes” and went to get the inside story of Fire On the Rock.
We began with a call to Woody at the Asheville Car and Taxi Company. Woody is offering our guests at great deal with a $10 taxi ride to the Lioncrest in the heart of the Biltmore Estate. And right off the bat, we were having a good time. Woody is a character in the best tradition of Asheville. He is educated, articulate and tolerant. Don’t be put off by the cracked windscreen or the slightly aged car. Unlike so many taxis in Asheville, Woody will arrive on time, drive carefully and keep up a running commentary which manages to be amusing without being obtrusive or over the top.
He dropped us off at the entrance of the Lioncrest where we were directed to the “Veranda” for pre-dinner drink. Originally built as a barn in the 1930’s the Lioncrest was recently renovated as an event space and the Veranda is a beautiful glass enclosed space which opens onto the forests and vistas of the estate. Along with North Carolina Wines for sale by the glass, there was beer to sample from BearWaters Brewing Company, and Chuck Rutter, Regional Sales Director for Biltmore Wines, was offering samples of Biltmore Sparkling wine or Chardonnay. Chuck was our second great find of the evening. He kept my glass filled with “samples” of champagne while Abby and James wandered off to the bar to try some of the wines on offer.
Moving on to the dining room we were delighted to find that Chuck and his wife Ginny were among our table companions. (We were secretly also delighted by Chuck’s cooler full of wines which he generously shared with the table.) They are both food and wine lovers and Ginny won my instant admiration and awe with a story about going to a hunting cabin with Chuck and two other couples where they had their own cooking competition. The secret ingredient was squirrel and she won with a loin of squirrel rolled in grits which she prepared in 30 minutes. I find it difficult to imagine preparing anything in 30 minutes with no advance warning , let alone squirrel! Also at our table were Kathyrn and Liz, both of whom work in the events area at the Biltmore so Abby was happily conversing at her end of the table as well.
And then the show began. And it is a show. Jimmy Crippen, Emcee and the originator of the Competition Dining Concept, has borrowed liberally from the Iron Chef format with flames “burning” on a screen in the background while the chefs were introduced to us to the tunes of “Teenage Wasteland”. After lots of hype and drama, at last we learned what the secret ingredient was. Now, I am not going to lie to you here, my expectations were high. I knew that the night before they had goat cheese and the week before had featured shrimp and mushrooms. We had been joking with the others at the table about a previous dinner to which James and I had been that featured Lusty Monk Mustard. (It’s hard to build a dessert around mustard.) So I was somewhat taken aback by the announcement that the ingredients for our dinner were Kerela Curry and Hillsborough Cheese Company Labneh (a yogurt based cheese). We lived in Asia for more than 16 years and we know and love curry. It’s just not something I think of as being a North Carolina ingredient!
However, we picked this particular dinner with some foreknowledge of the competing chefs. Here’s something I bet you didn’t know: this is not the first time Stephen Goff and Michael Fisera have gone up against each other. They met last year in the quarter-finals of the WNC Food and Wine Magazine Chef’s Challenge. At the time, Chef Goff was working at Zambra (a much loved Asheville Tapas bar) and Chef Fisera was at LAB. Goff has since moved on to the King James Pub. My point being, these are serious chefs with solid credentials and the dishes coming out of the kitchen proved it.
But let’s talk about Chefs for a bit. It is true, chefs have tattoos, and mustaches, and they love to play with knives. But there is something appealing about the bad-boy persona that produces elegantly styled plates of subtly flavored food. It’s a kind of crazy zest for life and experimentation which is channeled into art. Onstage they stand with arms crossed in Iron Chef fashion, but back in the kitchen, it’s not about attitude, it’s about performance and there is nowhere to hide from a room full of hungry diners ready to judge you!
The whole package, great chefs, involved diners, and innovative food, makes for a special evening and we are thrilled that we will be going back to watch the winner of this night (Stephen Goff for King James Pub) take on another of our favorite chefs (Sam Etheridge for Ambrozia). If you can’t make it this year, consider coming to Asheville next March for an evening of fun and food!