Gotta Love Chocolate!

Morrocan Scented Chocolate Torta, Grilled Pinot Noir Marinated Peaches, Crème Anglaise, Spiced Chantilly Cream. (Battistella's)
Morrocan Scented Chocolate Torta, Grilled Pinot Noir Marinated Peaches, Crème Anglaise, Spiced Chantilly Cream. (Battistella's)

I did something really fun this month.  In fact, it was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had in a long time, and it involved lots of chocolate.  Lots of it.  Twenty pounds of Videri Chocolate from Raleigh, to be exact.

I was thrilled that I was asked to be a judge in the “Got to Be NC” Competition Dining Series for the Fire in the Triangle Competition, which is being held through Aug. 19 in Raleigh. For those not familiar with it, it’s like North Carolina’s own version of “Iron Chef America.”  Outstanding and extremely talented chefs of local restaurants in the area are given a North Carolina-based secret ingredient on the day of the competition. They are required to come up with three dishes, each using the secret ingredient.

Diners on each evening use their smartphones and judge each dish in a blind taste test.  Throughout the night, we don’t know which chef made which dish.

On my night, the battle was between the Washington Duke Inn of Durham and Battistella’s restaurant of Raleigh.

The chefs told us after the competition that when they heard that the secret ingredient was chocolate, they really wanted to run.  Honestly, this competition truly shows how talented these chefs are in their field.

I mean, I cannot cook without a recipe at all.  And I’ve even been known accidentally to forget to put something in my recipe while having the recipe in front of me.

So imagine six unique recipes using chocolate as an ingredient, and they have to prepare their menus after learning of the secret ingredient, just a few hours before diners arrive at 6:30 p.m.  And we’re not talking about six desserts here, which is kind of a given with an ingredient like chocolate.

We’re talking main meals.  Entrees. Appetizers.  Desserts are truly the favorite dishes in the competition, so many chefs are bringing their pastry chefs to help in the competition year.  They are all vying for a $2,000 prize and the honor to go to the Statewide Competition Dining in November. 

For my competition, Executive Chef Jason Cunningham of the Washington Duke Inn beat Chef Brian Battistella in a very close competition.  Chef Cunningham’s lamb dish consisting of a Chocolate Espresso Lamb Loin, Chocolate Cipollini Onion, Asian Pear and Fennel Slaw, and Chocolate Pinot Noir Bing Cherry Syrup wowed the crowd.

See what I mean.  Pure culinary talent and art.

Chef Battistella’s team delighted diners with this dessert: Morrocan Scented Chocolate Torta, Grilled Pinot Noir Marinated Peaches, Crème Anglaise, and Spiced Chantilly Cream.

Wow! Wow! Wow!

I’m bummed now because the rest of the series is sold out.  Good for Competition Dining NC, but bad for me.

I now follow the competition each night via Twitter, and it’s so much fun.  In my house, Twitter is the new TV during this series.  I did a big no-no in my house and glanced at my phone during dinner just so I could know that night’s secret ingredient, live as it was happening.  I’m kind of obsessed. 

I can’t wait to find out whose cooking reigns supreme in the Triangle.

I’m just jealous of all the diners who didn’t lollygag like me and bought tickets before they sold out.

And I’m also glad that I got chocolate as my secret ingredient as opposed to … sturgeon fish like two chefs got last year.

But that’s me!