By Jesse Wood
April 9, 2013. The taste buds were salivating and the pots were jumping on Monday night as Chef Craig Miller of Jackalope’s View in Banner Elk edged out Chef James Welch of the Green Park Inn in Blowing Rock to win the first round of Fire on the Rock at Meadowbrook Inn this year.
Miller won by less than a quarter of a percent with a final weighted score of 68 percent. Welch came in with a score of 67.76 percent during the “Battle Sturgeon.”
The secret ingredient was Siberian sturgeon. The fish – and the caviar it produces – comes from the Atlantic Caviar and Sturgeon Company of Happy Valley, located in between Blowing Rock and Lenoir, which fits perfect with the local-food slogan of the competition “Got To Be NC.”
Each chef served up three courses featuring the secret ingredient.
Commissioner Perry Yates of Watauga County and his wife Anne-Marie were in attendance. This was the first Fire on the Rock Perry has attended, and he said he was blown away and would try to get tickets to the final if at all possible.
“The food was absolutely wonderful. I just had a fantastic time,” Yates said
He added that he had never had sturgeon before – or ice cream with caviar.
“I sort of had my doubts,” Yates said. “But I was really amazed at how blessed the High Country is to have such great chefs. Each [plate] that came out had its own identity, its own aroma and its own flavor. I was impressed.”
Although Welch didn’t win the competition, he did have the highest-scoring plate, which was pan-seared sturgeon, lightly crusted with a sturgeon roe, truffle mashed potatoes and cognac sauce.
Welch’s other two meals were graham cracker-crusted sturgeon with black bean, pineapple relish and vanilla-rum butter; and a blackberry sturgeon profiterole with dried fruit compote and caviar ice cream.
Miller’s first meal was a shrimp and lobster cake with wasabi caviar cream and grilled baby bok-choi. His second meal was a surf and turf pan-seared veal medallion, forest mushroom ragout, farm-raised white sturgeon with frizzled pancetta and champagne buerre-blanc, asparagus-buttermilk mashed potatoes.
His final meal was a rum-soaked pound cake with pineapple-pink peppercorn compote, white chocolate ganache and farm raised caviar caramel sauce.
Event host and founder Jimmy Crippen said he was pleased to bring the competition back home to Blowing Rock after touring the state with numerous regional competitions this year.
“It’s great to back home,” Crippen said, adding that competition has come full circle, improving by leaps and bounds since the very first competition eight years ago.
He was also pleased with this year’s venue – the Meadowbrook Inn.
“They did a really nice job redecorating. The kitchen was spotless, and was big and works very well,” Crippen said. “The dining staff did a fantastic job on the first night. I couldn’t be more pleased with the experience here.”
He stressed that the competition will only be in Blowing Rock for seven more nights of battles, seven more nights to taste great food that you might not otherwise had tried.
“It’s a unique event. We only have a couple more nights here and we’re gone again until next year.
The next battle takes place tonight with Sam Ratchford of Vidalia in Boone v. Will Young of Toe River Lodge in Plumtree. Click here to get your reservations.
Photos by Ken Ketchie