The fire in North Carolina is heating up for the "Final Fire" series this weekend in Raleigh.
The evening of Wednesday, Nov. 20, saw the first round of North Carolina Competition Dining's "Final Fire", where chef John Bobby of Noble's Grille in Winston-Salem and chef Jon Fortes of Mimosa Grill in Charlotte went head-to-head to determine who will compete in Thursday evening's battle. Bobby defeated Fortes by just less than 0.3 points.
Wednesday night's event featured secret ingredient was Cheerwine, the cherry-flavored soft drink from Salisbury, N.C. It had to be incorporated into all three courses, in addition to Cackalacky's Sweet Cheerwine Sauce, which only had to be included in one dish.
For every competition, judges and diners use a point system on their smartphones to score the chefs’ dishes on taste, creativity, and appearance.
Bobby won the first course with a charred veal loin, Cackalacky Sweet Cheerwine sausage, black garlic gnocchi, Cheerwine ricotta, Cackalacky gastrique, and crispy Brussels sprouts leaves.
Fortes won the second course with a Cheerwine-infused pork trilogy featuring braised Cheshire pork shoulder with sweet potatoes, Cheerwine-glazed pork confit with Brussels cream, Cackalacky sweet Cheerwine barbecue pork loin, and a chive biscuit with fennel and apple.
For the final course, Bobby won out with a double chocolate torte, cherry Cheerwine compote, dark chocolate Cheerwine ganache, and chocolate streusel.
Bobby advances to Nov. 21's battle against Dean Thompson of Flights Restaurant in Raleigh. The winner will compete in Nov. 23's finale — their opponent will be determined Nov. 22. It is between Gerry Fong of Persimmons in New Bern and Adam Hayes of The Red Stag Grill in Asheville.
All rounds of the Final Fire series take place at the Renaissance Raleigh North Hills Hotel. The battles are sold out, but @CompDiningNC live tweets every battle with photos, so for those unable to attend, follow the fire there.
The winner will receive $4,000, a hand-forged set of knives from Charlotte-based Ironman Forge, and a trip to Napa Valley, Calif. to the pro chef program at the CIA Greystone campus, compliments of Kikkoman. The runner-up gets $1,000.
Last year's Final Fire champion was Ryan Payne, chef of Weathervane in Chapel Hill, N.C.