Did you guys think I prepared these featured dishes? Probably not, but you’re very sweet readers if so 😉 But these are professionals, and I am excited to bring this post to you!
Next Monday, Charlotte is hosting the third annual North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association (NCRLA) Chef Showdown at Founders Hall, where 21 chefs and six mixologists from across the state will compete for top honors. I had the honor of getting to know two of these talented competitors – Miranda Brown from The Asbury and Cody Middleton, from Forsyth Country Club, both pastry chefs!
Competitors will be judged on presentation and taste of their dish or drink, creativity, and the best use of North Carolina ingredients.
I am going to feature questions with Miranda and Cody below, and for each one, I’m including a recipe that they sent me to share with you!
Miranda is a perfect fit for the NCRLA competition because The Asbury bases their menu on local, sustainable sourcing. They work with 20 to 40 farmers (depending on the season) in a 150-mile radius. They also source locally for the banquet and special event menus at The Dunhill Hotel. Their executive chef, Matthew Krenz leads that charge. (He was also NCRLA Chef of the Year last year!) He is a farmer and beef rancher dedicated to developing sustainable food systems in our region. Miranda loves using local food from farmers and enjoys the great relationships she builds this way. She believes the quality is much better when she sources directly and often times she gets to work with more unique ingredients that she would find through mass production.
Q & A with Miranda Brown
Can you tell me about the style of your desserts?
When I first begin to create a dessert, I will look at the ingredient I am featuring and analyze its qualities. Is it acidic? Salty? Sweet? Strong? Subtle? Then I try to highlight the flavors of the ingredient that are already there to bring out its fullest potential. So I would say my desserts try to showcase a particular ingredient, or overall flavor that I am going for and bring everything together — so that once you get a little bite of everything you get all the textures and flavors that the dish needs to come together and complement one another. As for plating, I love playing around with different colors and components and try to think outside of the box, maybe using different shapes or piping tips or different spatulas to find different ways to use sauces.
This is the dish that got Miranda into the semi-finals:
What is your greatest accomplishment as a chef?
I think that my greatest accomplishment would be finding my place and my career in the restaurant industry. Originally I started in the front of house, save for my high-school internship at a bakery. I never considered pastry as a career, or even working in a restaurant as something that I would enjoy long-term. If it wasn’t for the people that I met in my internship that help nurture a love for baking that I never even knew I had and my boyfriend, Brent Martin for encouraging me to find my niche, I would have never become a pastry chef – and I would probably still have no idea of what I would want to do for a career.
After getting my foot in the back of house, I somehow was lucky enough to score a stage, and then a temporary gig to help out at 300 East with Ashley Boyd for Charlotte Restaurant Week. After that, I was offered a part-time pastry assistant job with her, which several months later resulted in me being promoted to her pastry sous chef. I worked at 300 East for 2 years under Ashley Boyd as well as assisting her at Heritage Food and Drink and in that time I learned so much and grew tremendously as a chef and as a person. I never thought of myself as being capable of a plated dessert, let alone running a pastry department.
These days I run the dessert program at The Asbury as well as producing all the breads, biscuits, banquet desserts by myself and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. And that, so far, is my greatest accomplishment.
And, here is the recipe Miranda sent me to share with you guys!
Sweet Corn Ice Cream
- 2 cups Whole Milk
- 2 cups Heavy Cream (36%)
- 1-2 Cobs of White Sweet Corn
- 1/2 cup freshly popped corn
- 1 1/3 cup sugar
- 10 egg yolks
1. Combine whole milk and heavy cream in a large pot with tall sides and stir in half of the sugar mixture and set aside.
2. Using a knife, cut the corn kernels off of the cobs and save the cobs. Put the corn kernels and the cobs along with your popcorn into the pot with the milk/cream mixture.
3. Separate eggs, discarding the whites and using only the yolks (or save your egg whites for use in another recipe).
4. Bring your milk / corn mixture to a boil, making sure to stir with a spatula to prevent scorching and the sugar from sticking to the bottom.
5. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and let simmer for 10 minutes before turning off the heat and covering with a lid for 30 minutes - 1 hour.
6. Once your corn mixture has steeped in the cream for awhile, remove the corn cobs and use a small knife to scrape any extra juice out of the cobs and into the pot using a side to side motion.
7. Strain the mixture back into your tall pot, making sure to remove the cobs and kernels before continuing.
8. Whisk together the egg yolks and the sugar and bring the cream mixture back to a low simmer.
9. Using a ladle, add ladlefuls of hot cream into your egg yolk and sugar mixture while whisking frequently so as not to curdle the eggs. Continue doing this until ⅔ of the cream mixture has been whisked into the egg yolks, or until the bowl you are using is too hot to keep your hand on.
10. Pour this egg and cream mixture into your pot with the rest of the cream. Slowly and constantly scrape the bottom and sides of the pot with a rubber spatula until the mixture thickens and is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.
11. Chill completely in an ice bath and then store in your refrigerator overnight before spinning in an ice cream maker and storing in the freezer.
My second Chef is Cody Middleton. He is from Lexington, NC where he has been surrounded by local produce farming his whole life. His Dad has a few small plots of land which he has farmed off of since Cody was little. Cody is the youngest of quadruplet siblings, so there were always plenty of hands to tend to the fields and prepare, can, or freeze whatever they harvested. At Forsyth Country Club, they strive to support local farmers and purveyors, too. Forsyth currently receives products from over a dozen local suppliers, and they are constantly updating and adding to their pastry and culinary programs. In the past year they have started an artisan bread, chocolate and confectionary, added ice cream/frozen desserts, and recently a wedding cake program.
Q & A with Cody Middleton
Can you tell me about the style of your desserts?
I enjoy taking classical desserts and pastries and putting a modern twist on them. I believe that the classics have stood the test of time because their flavor profiles are harmonious and therefore appeal to a broad audience. At the same time, the presentation can sometimes be a little bland. I challenge myself to utilize molecular gastronomy to add excitement to my desserts. I strive to use some of the techniques I acquired while studying in France in my desserts too. While France is rich is traditional methods, they are a forerunner in modern presentation and dining experiences as a whole. I also find it rewarding to use local purveyors whenever possible. We are fortunate to have Black Mountain Chocolate and Lady Bird Farm minutes from our club. I also like to take inspiration from the many talented chefs in North Carolina. Ashley Boyd from 300 East is such a great inspiration to me because she turns local products that are available in Charlotte and the surrounding area and turns them into amazing and delicious works of art. I love coming into work each day and combing all of my experiences to make the most of our guests’ experience.
This is the dish that got Cody into the semi-finals:
What is your greatest accomplishment as a chef?
My greatest accomplishment is being able to blog for Chef to Chef Magazine. For me, this is a great way for me to share my experiences with my peers. It also gives me the chance to bring up pastry related current events to receive and share ideas with other professionals. I was initially interviewed by the magazine about a new bread program I had started at the club. The editor was impressed with what I had done and my enthusiasm for pastry arts and asked if I would be interested in blogging for them. It was so humbling to be recognized by such a renowned magazine. While in school, I had the opportunity to be a Teaching Assistant/Fellow for the pastry department. I loved being able to share my knowledge with my students and see them succeed. Blogging allows me to complete a similar goal, but on a larger scale. It also allows me to connected and network with other professionals in the industry. Furthermore, this opportunity has helped to open other doors in my career. Food Network has asked me to compete on some of their upcoming pastry competitions later this year. Being discovered and asked to compete on such a big and widely known stage is something I never thought would happen. Blogging for Chef to Chef has turned out to be much more rewarding personally and professionally than I could have ever thought possible.
Being solely a North Carolina competition hits home with me as I was born and raised in North Carolina. I feel this competition will help to further instill a great pride for our state, the talented chefs, farmers, purveyors, and other culinary professionals who live here and I would be honored to be a part of it.
Cody sent me this beautiful Panna Cotta recipe to share with you guys:
- 1 tablespoon + ¼ teaspoon Powdered Gelatin
- ¼ Cup Milk
- 1 Cup Sugar
- Salt Pinch
- 1 ½ Cups Greek Yogurt
- 1 Vanilla Bean
- 1 ⅓ Cups Heavy Cream
1. Bloom the powdered gelatin in the cold milk and allow to sit for about 5 minutes.
2. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the sugar, salt, Greek yogurt, and seeds from the vanilla bean. Mix until smooth.
3. Incorporate approximately ⅔ of the heavy cream into the yogurt mixture.
4. In a small saucepan, warm the remaining heavy cream with the bloomed gelatin until warm to the touch.
5. Quickly whisk the dissolved gelatin mixture into the yogurt mixture.
6. Immediately deposit the panna cotta into cups of another similar vessel. If the panna cotta becomes too thick to pour, rewarm it over a pan of simmering water.
7. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.
8. Serve with macerated berries, candied nuts, or similar accompaniments.
Sour cream may be substituted for Greek yogurt. 1 ½ teaspoons of pure vanilla extract may be substituted for the vanilla bean.
The NCRLA Chef Showdown is on Aug 27, at Founders Hall from 5:30-9 pm. The co-hosts of the evening are my friend and food writer, Heidi Billotto, and Coach Lamonte, co-host of WBTV’s Morning Break.
The event is open to the public so don’t miss a bite of the action! Come meet talented chefs, taste their amazing dishes, created with NC grown-ingredients, and mix and mingle with the who’s who of the state’s food and beverage industry. We’ll shake up the fun with six mixologists serving samplings of hand-crafted cocktails made from spirits distilled right here in North Carolina. A great selection of North Carolina craft beer and wine will also be available (I’ll be drinking that!)