One Night With Got to be NC Competition Dining Series

One Night With Got to be NC Competition Dining Series

 

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Participant judges are being seated at the March 31 Got to be NC Competition DIning Series event at Bonterra Dining and Wine Room. ©Rémy Thurston

“The sun is setting… It’s time to light the fire!” booms a voice over the loudspeakers at Bonterra Dining & Wine Room. There is a hush as the soon-to-be judges find their seats waiting for a flurry of food, fun and frivolity to take over their senses. The chefs are already slaving away not 50 feet from where the hungry participants are sitting.

If you are addicted to shows like “Top Chef,” “Chopped” or “Iron Chef America,” and you’ve never participated as a judge for the Got to be NC Competition Dining Series, you might be missing your true calling. For the culinarily adventurous, or even those that tiptoe around the unknown lurking on the edge of their plate, the opportunity to see local chefs transform local ingredients into plated gustatory works of art is a one-of-a-kind experience. The competition is set up in brackets. First, chefs in four different regions of the Carolinas compete amongst themselves for the top honor in their area for a berth in the statewide competition to decide who will represent the state in the national competition. These regional battles are the best value.

On March 31, we decided to check out what this event was all about. Two local chefs were selected—they both accepted. A throw down of delicious proportions was then nothing but inevitable as Chef Neil Bratton of Local Dish in Fort Mill and Chef Aaron Rivera of the Chrome Toaster food truck and the soon-to-be-open Tapas 51 (also in Fort Mill) were pitted against each other. Their motivation? A $2,000 prize, a set of custom-made knives from Ironman Forge and the coveted red chef’s jacket. Chef Ref Bobby Zimmerman was selected to make sure all the rules were abided by in the kitchen and dining room, graciously donated by Bonterra.

Each table was provided with two fresh loaves of La Farm bakery's breads: a rye and a white chocolate baguette to dip in the marinara—an odd but pleasant pairing. ©Rémy Thurston

Each table was provided with two fresh loaves of La Farm bakery’s breads: a rye and a white chocolate baguette to dip in the marinara—an odd but pleasant pairing. ©RĂ©my Thurston

“I enjoy the way it brings people together,” Bratton said. “It’s going to be great for me to see how I stack up against Charlotte’s best.”

The rules are simple. First, the chefs cannot cook any of their signature dishes, or anything resembling something on their current menus. Also, the chefs are confined to only use locally grown and raised North Carolina ingredients provided on the mobile pantry that travels with the competition. Lastly, the contestants must use the two secrets ingredients—only revealed one hour before starting to cook—in two of their three dishes. But all three dishes must have at least one of the secret ingredients in them, making dessert a treacherous adventure in the realm of taste. The secret ingredients that night were Joyce Farms whole rabbit and Windcrest Farms organic radishes—festive considering the Easter holiday. D9 Brewing Company provided two of the local beers to pair with the meal as well. Even the featured cocktail had local ingredients, including gin from Topo Distillery.

 

Chefs Rivera and Bratton wrap each other up in congratulatory hugs after a hard fought battle. ©Rémy Thurston

Chefs Rivera (right) and Bratton (left) wrap each other up in congratulatory hugs after a hard fought battle. ©Rémy Thurston

We sat with a trio of other eaters who arrived together (wine, beer and cocktails in hand) under a window that served as our only concept of time as the light dimmed during what turned out to be a pleasurable four-hour food whirlwind. The diners did not know who had cooked what dish, nor what order they were arriving in, so the process was blind, and the voting was completely digitized via the user-friendly app available on all smartphones. The categories were similar to those you would expect from the reality food shows: presentation, originality, taste and use of the secret ingredient were all present on the virtual scorecards, among others. By the time all six dishes were out, and a variety of music had played during each course (ranging from the Rocky soundtrack to James Taylor), all the diners were looking at each other and legitimately could not decipher a clear winner. Even personal friends of each chef had trouble distinguishing whose dish was whose, a testament to the competition administrators who had decided on the matchup. All we can really say with total confidence was that everyone had experienced something new (some more than others who were a bit squeamish around the rabbit rillettes and octopus tentacles), and that everyone left feeling completely satisfied with the experience.

Rather than individually comment on each dish, we encourage you to simply read the descriptions, look at the photos throughout this article and imagine. To truly experience what it’s like to be a part of this event, tickets can be purchased here for future competitions. We don’t like to pick favorites, so judging for us was difficult in and of itself. You can be the judge along with the other participants that night. We’ll reveal who won at the bottom of the page.

Here are the dishes in the order we ate them:

 

The first course was rabbit rillette, rabbit mousse, crispy plantain, sour cherry compote and a radish top chimichurri. ©Rémy Thurston

The first course was rabbit rillette, rabbit mousse, crispy plantain, sour cherry compote and a radish top chimichurri. ©Rémy Thurston

 

The second course was rabbit ravioli in an acorn-butternut squash bisque with benton's bacon croutons and crispy radish leaves. ©Rémy Thurston

The second course was rabbit ravioli in an acorn-butternut squash bisque with Benton’s bacon croutons and crispy radish leaves. ©RĂ©my Thurston

 

The third course was a rabbit chorizo meatball on braised venison sitting in Teleggio cheese grits with a radish slaw. ©Rémy Thurston

The third course was a rabbit chorizo meatball on braised venison sitting in Teleggio cheese grits with a radish slaw. ©Rémy Thurston

 

The fourth course was roasted rabbit, radish-corn salad, dehydrated fig gremolata and a rabbit demi glace. ©Rémy Thurston

The fourth course was roasted rabbit, radish-corn salad, dehydrated fig gremolata and a rabbit demi glace. ©Rémy Thurston

 

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The first dessert course was candied radish compote, torn carrot cake, carrot creamsicle ice cream and a bourbon and white chocolate crème anglais. ©Rémy Thurston

 

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The last course was rabbit liver ice cream, a radish sugar cookie, Guinness ganache and a berry coulis. ©Rémy Thurston

 

 

The winner of the competition, and only by a small margin, was Neil Bratton. Look for the opening of Tapas 51 (tentatively) on May 2. “I want it all,” Rivera said.

RĂ©my
My love affair with well-executed food, drink and service culminates in my writing, editing and photography.

3 Comments

  1. Lea

    Beautiful photos! What a great event.

  2. Neither Restaurant is in Rock Hill, they are both in Fort Mill, SC. And winner was NOT Aaron Rivera of Tapas 51, but was Chef Neil Bratton of Local Dish in Fort Mill,SC. Great Job Chefs

  3. I’ve been to several of these over the past few years. They are so much fun!

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