Staff photo by Cole Dittmer
Chef Antoine Murray embraces his children as his teammates Vernon Puglisi, far left, and Justin Mooney celebrate winning the 2014 Competition Dining NC Fire on the Dock series on Monday, Feb. 17, at Bluewater Grill.
In a final battle that left chefs Kirsten Mitchell and Antoine Murray separated by two points, it was Murray who nosed ahead to capture his first Competition Dining NC Fire on the Dock series title.
On Monday, Feb. 17, 170 people filled the main banquet hall at Bluewater Grill and an additional side room to be part of the final Fire on the Dock battle. The crowd was the largest for this year’s series with the second highest at 130 people.
Those extra 40 dishes to prepare and plate added to the tension in the kitchen, where Mitchell and the 1900 Restaurant team shared tight quarters with Murray and his team from Cape Fear Country Club. When Mitchell’s team was up, the call and response order of her crew filled the kitchen but Murray’s team worked with a quiet confidence. For both chefs it was their third Fire on the Dock series but first appearance in the final.
The secret ingredients for the final were Certified Angus Beef eye of ribeye and Joe Van Gogh coffee, both products of North Carolina. Murray said the complexity of his second dish of coffee and balsamic-marinated ribeye, herbed barley, coffee-steeped mushrooms, Peruvian coffee jus, honey-glazed bacon, parsnips, wilted greens,
mascarpone sweet potatoes and candied pecans was an example of the effort he and his team poured into the final.
“That fourth course with 13 pieces and serving 170 people, that was a lot but that is what we had to do to get the food out of the door,” Murray said. “There is no tomorrow, you do it today.”
While each chef’s other two dishes were separated by an overall score of less than a point, Murray’s final dish of cappuccino cheesecake, Peruvian chocolate cake and Ethiopian crème patissiere beat Mitchell’s final dish by more than five points overall.
Although disappointed, Mitchell said competing in the Fire on the Dock series always rejuvenates her cooking.
“I take away an experience and a competitive atmosphere with the adrenaline flowing,” Mitchell said. “It gives me a new motivation to cook; after you do the same food in the same kitchen it gives you a new light and you get all hyped up about cooking again.”
After the results were delivered, the flood of diners leaving greeted Murray and his team of Benjamin Guaman, Justin Mooney and Vernon Puglisi.
“It feels good because every year it felt like we should have made it but something happened here or there, and this year everything lined up for us and we made it happen,” Murray said.
In addition to his winnings, Murray also sealed a place in the Final Five series, which pits the champions of each of the five competitions held statewide against each other.
Donning the champion Red Chef’s Jacket, and holding the Ironman Forge custom chef’s knife and $2,000 check, the previously intense Murray was all smiles when joined by his wife and two children.