Winning chefs (from left) Stephen Hertz, Michelle Bailey and Todd Mallin sporting their scarlet chef’s jackets. Bailey is holding the handmade chef’s knife by Ironman Forge in Charlotte. Master of ceremonies Jimmy Crippen can be seen in the background. Photo courtesy of D.K. Communications Group
In a series of Fire on the Rock cooking competitions in Wilmington, Asheville, Greensboro, Raleigh and Charlotte, North Carolina’s top culinary talents are vying for the title of the state’s best chef. A crowd of 125 foodies assembled at Biltmore Estate’s Lioncrest on Monday, March 31 to indulge in a sumptuous, six-course feast. Chef Michelle Bailey of Season’s at Highland Lake Inn & Resort in Flat Rock and her team went up against Chef Sam Etheridge and his team from Ambrozia Bar & Bistro in Asheville.
Each chef prepared an appetizer, entrée and dessert course. They were required to include two local mystery ingredients — Lusty Monk Mustard and Beulah’s Bavarian Pretzels — which were revealed to them at noon on the day of the competition. Chefs were required to incorporate mustard in all three dishes and pretzels in at least two dishes.
Judges rated each course on presentation, aroma, originality and effective use of the secret ingredient. They did not know which team prepared each course until the event’s conclusion when tallied scores were announced by master of ceremonies, Jimmy Crippen.
Etheridge’s highest-scoring creation combined a trio seafood delicacies: lobster sausage with arugula, drizzled with a citrus honey-mustard dressing, Beulah’s Bavarian Pretzel beer-battered smoked shrimp with a chipotle mustard tartar sauce slaw and a blue crab cheesecake with a pretzel crust and champagne mustard cream.
Bailey’s top-scoring entry was a chipotle-mustard chocolate cake served with Altar Boy buttermilk ice cream over a Beulah’s Bavarian Pretzel tuile, garnished with fizzy blackberries and lemon relish. The dessert also incorporated a Lusty Monk mustard flavored raspberry coulis and salted pretzel caramel sauce.
The results were close, but Bailey took home the prize. She is the first female chef to lead a team to victory in a Fire on the Rock competition. She was assisted by teammates Stephen Hertz and Todd Mallin. Last year’s champion finalist, Adam Hayes, executive chef at the Grand Bohemian’s Red Stag Grill presented each team member with a scarlet chef’s jacket. They also took home a $2,000 check and a handmade chef’s knife crafted by Ironman Forge in Charlotte. Bailey will compete in November in Raleigh at Final Fire: Battle of the Champions against the other competition winners from Wilmington, Charlotte, the Triad and the Triangle.
“My cooking style is refined American Cuisine utilizing local and sustainably sourced ingredients with a focus on traditional Southern techniques and international flavor profiles,” says Baily. In fact, much of the produce used at Season’s is harvested from gardens at Highland Lake Inn.
Fire on the Rock organizers agreed to donate a meal for each ticket sold during the event to Asheville’s The Downtown Welcome Table at the Haywood Congregation. The program offers fine dining to homeless neighbors in Asheville each Wednesday.