October 16, 2017
From the draw of the first knife, Executive Chef Chris Coleman of Stoke and Loft & Cellar’s Chef Nicolas Daniels were ready for a duel. There was a chill in the air on Friday the 13th as spectators quickly filed into their seats surrounding the open-air kitchen inside Stoke restaurant in uptown Charlotte.
Upon arrival, guests were served a complimentary cocktail, titled ‘The Duel,’ as they settled in to enjoy the show. The cocktail, prepared by Stoke’s mixologist Sam Rousin, was a mysterious mix of Redemption rye whiskey, prosecco, cranberry juice and bitters, topped with a smoked orange slice. It was warm in color and finish and a delightfully fresh palate preparation for the unknown menu to come.
The first course, an appetizer of two Va Va Voom oysters out of Maryland, would be the only opportunity of the night for guests to taste a preparation from each chef at the same time. For the remainder of the evening, each chef tried to up-sell and convince the audience to order his dish. The chef with the most dishes ordered at the end of the night would take home the winning title.
Both chefs, who are keen to compete, didn’t just leave it up to the food to do the talking, as they exchanged friendly jabs across the kitchen. Chef Daniels began by explaining his oyster dish, which was paired with melon and tomato water, Graybeard Irish vodka (Durham), and a horseradish crumble. Chef Coleman, whose cooking emphasizes flavor and location, chooses to prepare his rendition of a Rockefeller using bacon, spinach, and parsley blended into butter and topped with smoked North Carolina trout. Both oysters, placed side by side, revealed the contrast between chef Coleman’s earthy, homegrown flavor alongside chef Daniels’ fresh and unique palate and provided guests with a good basis of comparison.
For the second dish, the chefs would utilize scallops as their common ingredient. Chef Daniels was first to describe his dish. He began with information on how to choose the best scallop by using its color as a reflection of its food source, and thus flavor. The dish itself was a seared scallop over a pumpkin fondue along with a fennel salad and baked gouda. Chef Coleman scoffed and quickly countered with a description of his dish, baked scallop with, what he describes as ‘mexican street corn taken off the cob,’ crunchy mushrooms, topped with deep fried chicken skin, hot sauce, and honey. The crowd oohed and aahed as waiters came around to mark their choices.
Dish after dish the chefs described their courses with persuasive language and informative dialogue. The crowd erupted with laughter as the opponent’s taunted each other with witty banter.
For course three, the chefs created their proudest rendition of baby back ribs. Chef Coleman describes his as brined overnight with Chinese five spice and herbs, slow baked, slathered in a BBQ sauce made from Pepsi and vinegar, and encrusted with peanuts, jicama, cabbage, and cilantro. His inspiration came from a peculiar South Carolina tradition of putting peanuts in Pepsi. With a clank of swords, Chef Daniels swooped into the spotlight to describe his dish. Inspired by Eastern NC BBQ, his eight hour, triple-cooking method includes a brine in soy sauce, honey, and beer, then hickory smoked, braised in a honey and ginger liquid until tender, brushed with Korean BBQ sauce, and finished in an oven until charred. The ribs were served with puréed kimchi vinaigrette with fresh cabbage, red onions, and carrot coleslaw.
Napkins were passed as the crowd experienced the messiest part of the duel.
Next, we had the lamb. Chef Coleman explains his offering as a flatbread topped with ground lamb from Patrick Springs, VA and flavored with North African spices, nutmeg, cinnamon, cumin, chili pepper, mozzarella, homemade ricotta and pine nuts. Chef Daniels followed up to describe his dish- a lamb sugo- sauteed lamb and onions over homemade pasta doused in a very rich broth made from ham hock, pork bone, vegetables, tomato paste and topped with ricotta cheese, mushrooms, and crispy brussels sprout petals.
After a long battle, things ended on a sweet note. For the dessert course, both chefs offered an option that is representative of their roots. Chef Daniels, who is from Chile, described his traditional preparation of Dulce de Leche that includes crêpes stuffed with crème, accompanied by a pear, orange meringue and sour cream ice cream. Chef Coleman, plays on his Southern heritage with a white chocolate biscuit (his grandmother’s recipe) covered with bacon-apple jam and an apple Chantilly.
After a long battle of delicious concoctions, entertaining and educational banter, the night concluded. Both chefs met in the middle of the seated and satisfied crowd to await the announcement of the champion.
“And the winner is… chef Chris Coleman!”
The crowd cheered and both chefs amicably shook hands and proceeded to walk around and chat with guests. Although chef Coleman earned his victory on this night, there will be another chance for chef Daniels during a rematch on his turf. On November 16, the pair will meet again at Loft & Cellar for a second duel, with all new ingredients. You can purchase tickets here, and reserve your place at the table to have your vote counted towards crowning the next culinary victor at this fun and innovative new dinner concept.