Promise me freshly cooked, local, organic cuisine and this little piggy squeals with delight.
Upon learning that I scored a judge's spot at the Hillsborough Street Renaissance Festival's local Iron Chef competition earlier this month, I channeled my inner Morimoto. I mentally prepared my palate for absolutely anything—even that infamous trout ice cream from Iron Chef America. Instead, I was treated to local gourmet eats that combined whole ingredients to create complex flavors and incredibly savory dishes, cooked up in an hour or less by four local chef talents and their sous chefs in 40-degree rainy weather under a tent on Raleigh's main drag.
In a bracket-style competition, there were two elimination rounds, with the winner of each battling for victory in the final round. Bacon, mushroom and cheese served as the respective secret ingredients. The competition was sponsored by Sushi-Thai of Cary and all food was donated by Earth Fare or brought in by each chef.
Working solo, Chef John Lowther (currently a free agent) wooed the crowd with a Hawaiian "Lumi Lumi" salmon dish with spicy cucumber relish. On only 40-minute's notice, Two Guys Restaurant manager and longtime cook Keith Getchell jumped into the second round and impressed the judges with an exquisite warm bacon vinaigrette. The final battle pit Chef Aaron Vaughen of Green Planet Catering against Chef Daniel Taylor of Porter's City Tavern. Vaughen fused gourmet comfort food with citrus touches, such as quiche accented by homemade preserved lemons and crepes filled with cream kissed by lime zest.
But it was Taylor, with the help of his sous chef, who won the competition by half a point. I promise it had nothing to do with the lure of crisp, chocolate-covered bacon sprinkled with cayenne pepper thrown in at the end of the first round. Here, Chef Taylor shares one of his most eccentric dishes, and Chef Vaughen brings us a new recipe. Allez cuisine!
Chef Daniel Taylor's Seared Duck Breast with Gouda Quesadilla and Jalapeño-Ginger Chutney
4 ounces fresh ginger
4 ounces apple cider vinegar
6 ounces sugar
2 duck breasts
4 6-inch flour tortillas
1 cup shredded high-quality Gouda
To make chutney: Halve and seed the jalapeños and chop into a small dice. Peel ginger and chop to the same size as the jalapeños. Add ginger and jalapeños to a saucepan along with the cider vinegar and sugar. Cook until reduced and slightly thick. Purée half the mixture to achieve the correct consistency.
To make duck: Season duck breasts and place into a cold pan, skin side down. Cook slowly until all the fat is rendered and the duck is cooked to medium rare. Let the duck rest on paper towels and reserve the rendered fat.
To make quesadillas: Add shredded gouda to each of the tortillas and fold in half. Brown the tortillas in the duck fat until the cheese melts.
To serve: Slice the quesadillas into triangles and place on a plate. Slice the duck breast. Place duck slices on top of the quesadillas and garnish with the chutney. Serves four.
Chef Aaron Vaughen's Potato Salad with Fresh Bacon
4 sprigs of thyme
1 cup salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
Zest of one orange
2 pounds fresh pork belly (bacon)
FOR POTATO SALAD:
2 pounds cured pork belly
2 pounds local new potatoes, cut into wedges
2 ounces canola oil
Reserved fat from curing pork belly
Salt and pepper to taste
2 shallots, minced
3/4 cup sherry vinegar
1/4 cup local honey
2 sprigs local thyme
1 ounce black truffle oil
1 pound local arugula
Prepare pork belly: Mix thyme with salt, brown sugar and zest. Place pork belly in a container big enough to hold and then cover with salt mix. Let cure for 12 to 24 hours. Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Rinse pork, pat dry and place in a casserole dish. Cover with plastic wrap three times and then wrap entire dish with foil. Bake for eight hours. Remove from oven and poke a hole in the foil, avoiding steam, and set aside to cool. Drain cooled pork fat into a cup and set aside.
To make salad: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss potatoes with canola oil, 2 ounces of cooled pork fat, and salt and pepper. Place roasting pan in oven to warm up. When hot, carefully place potatoes in pan and cook until fork tender. Place minced shallots in saucepan and add sherry vinegar and heat on medium until reduced by half. Add honey, thyme, 2 ounces pork fat (if desired you can add more) and salt and pepper to taste. Portion cured pork belly into squares and place in oven at 375 for 5 minutes. When belly is warm, broil the top to crisp or sear in a pan, whichever you prefer. While pork is in the oven, toss warm potatoes with the sherry redux, truffle oil and arugula, reserving some of the sherry redux for garnish. Keep warm until belly is finished. Plate potato salad, top with pork belly and drizzle with sherry redux and a little bacon fat.