Article Published: Sep. 15, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 15, 2011
Over the past decade or so, the High Country has earned a reputation among lovers of good food as the place in western North Carolina where you can find experienced chefs working in excellent restaurants.
That reputation was confirmed this week, as three High Country restaurants were recognized in this year’s Best Dish in North Carolina competition, an annual contest sponsored by the N.C. Department of Agriculture.
The competition divides the state into two halves: Western Piedmont/Mountain Region and Eastern Piedmont/Coastal Region.
In the Western Piedmont/Mountain Region’s Fine Dining category, the Mast Farm Inn in Valle Crucis placed second, while Crippen’s Country Inn in Blowing Rock and Knife and Fork in Spruce Pine tied for third.
The Gallery Restaurant in Charlotte won the Fine Dining category with an appetizer of Swiss cheese and shaved ham, caraway sourdough bread and strawberries and an entrée of short ribs with blueberry and peach barbecue sauce, grits and fried goat cheese.
The Mast Farm in came in second with an appetizer of cream of mushroom soup with tomatoes, Italian mozzarella salad, ciabatta bread and vinaigrette and an entrée of sea bass in pastry stuffed with carrots, leeks, shallots, celery, baby fennel, basil and mascarpone cheese, topped with compote and vegetables plus a dessert of strawberry rhubarb cobbler with caramel ice cream.
Crippen’s tied for third place with an appetizer of ox-tail terrine salad, wilted frisee, pickled radishes, goat cheese and sorghum vinaigrette and an entrée of braised and grilled beef tongue and pork cheek, mustard greens, smoked fingerling potato salad and crab apple gastrique.
Knife and Fork tied for third with an appetizer of grilled prosciutto wrapped rabbit liver with spiced pralines and arbol chili popcorn and an entrée of crispy pork shoulder with watercress, corn shoots and chevre.
The awards were earned by Chef Danielle Deschamps of the Mast Farm Inn, Chef Stan Chamberlain of Crippen’s and Chef Nathan Allen of Knife and Fork.
Those three chefs continue a long tradition of High Country restaurants placing in the Best Dish North Carolina competition.
2011 marks the first year that the competition has been divided into eastern and western regions. Previously, all of the state’s restaurants competed against each other.
High Country restaurants that have placed in previous years include the Table at Crestwood, which placed third in last year’s Fine Dining category and second in that category in 2009.
Storie Street Grille of Blowing Rock placed third in the Casual Dining category in 2007, and Crippen’s came in first in the Fine Dining category in 2006, the first year of the competition.
“Our state has so much to offer when it comes to food grown, processed and prepared right here,” said Tim Parish, food service marketing specialist with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. “That regional emphasis also stepped up the competitiveness among our chefs. Chefs, by nature, are very competitive, and many were eager to claim the bragging rights for their part of the state.”
The Best Dish in N.C. competition is an annual statewide competition that recognizes restaurants and chefs for using North Carolina agricultural products in their menus. The competition also stresses the culinary advantages of “buying local” for the consumer. Restaurants may enter a single-course entrée or any combination of courses to include with the entrée, such as appetizer, soup, salad or dessert.
To be eligible to compete, each dish entered must contain a primary ingredient from a North Carolina producer or farm. Almost 80 percent of the scoring comes from the overall use of state products and creativity of the dish, along with taste and originality.
The depth of the “buy local” connection and overall appeal and value of the entries round out the judge’s scoring parameters.
Competition finalists were required to feature the dishes in their restaurants for at least a four-week period between May 1 and Sept. 30.