Sensoria Food & Wine
Over the weekend I was invited to what ended up being the most exciting (and delicious) 'Food & Wine' event I've had the opportunity to attend. The inaugural 'Sensoria Food and Wine Festival' was hosted by Central Piedmont Community College & Piedmont Culinary Guild and featured eleven of Charlotte's hottest chefs. Sponsors of the event included 'Springer Mountain Farms' and 'Got to be NC'. Proceeds from this event were used to provide culinary scholarships to the next generation of chefs and food artisans. Each chef involved was asked to prepare a "locally-sourced" dish to pair with a local NC wine. There were also international wines to compare to each variety of NC wine if you were so inclined. I hope you can live vicariously through my experience I've detailed below, although if they repeat this event next year-- I'm going to go ahead and suggest you BUY TICKETS!!
FYI: if you click on the photos below they will enlarge- which I highly recommend you do to fully appreciate the beauty of these dishes!
This was the first dish I came across when arriving and what an awesome place to start! I've tried rabbit maybe one other time in my life, and I must admit I was a bit weary at first, but it was delightfully rich and flavorful and ended up being in my top 5 favorite! The green garlic & mushroom sauce was a savory addition to the grits and I'm hoping this dish is a regular on the Heirloom menu so I can try it again! This dish was paired with a Cabernet Franc from Jones von Drehle Vineyards which is a small family owned winery based out of Thurmond, NC. We were able to chat with owner Diana Jones whom was so sweet and knowledgeable and I am making it a point to go visit their winery! They produce wines solely from the thirty acres of vines grown on their property which are in the highest altitude of any other vineyard in NC producing the highest quality of fruit!
Next up was 'The Asbury' pairing which was by far one of the most unique dishes at the event. Chef Matthew Krenz hit the nail on the head not only aesthetically but with the distinct medley of flavors. Presentation plays a large role in my overall opinion of a dish and this one was a beaut! The combination of the beef with the pickled strawberries & beets was a perfect match and the wine that was paired truly complemented the flavors. The chef paired this dish with 'Surry Cellars' Albariño. Fun Fact: Surry Cellars is the label for wine produced at Surry Community College, crafted by students of their viticulture and enology program! The labels even house artwork created by the students in this program!
Chef Justin Solomon did an awesome job with this dish! The overall flavor was light & refreshing which I think was due to the lemony kick from the celeriac remoulade. I am not typically a fan of fennel but there was only the slightest hint that didn't overpower the salmon, which I loved! This was paired with a Shelton Vineyards "Unoaked" Chardonnay which brought out hints of melon and fruit and accompanied the fish beautifully.
SPOILER ALERT: This dish got my (very difficult to make) vote! Chef Joe Kindred outdid himself with this one, and I hear this dish a regular on the 'Kindred' menu so I am already planning my next trip there! I may or may not have gone back for seconds toward the end of the tasting, which was probably frowned upon, #sorrynotsorry. I am a sucker for a good Al Dente pasta. And for garlic. And for melt-in-your-mouth lamb... Needless to say, he had me at first bite! The Dover Vineyard Rosé, which was more of a dry-sparkling Rosé, enhanced this hearty dish ideally.
After tasting this dish- I am beyond excited to visit 'Stagioni' as soon as possible! These squash blossoms were prepared by Chef Bruce Moffett of the 'Moffett restaurant group' (Good Food on Montford & Barrington's & Stagioni). The first and last time I was able to indulge in a squash blossom was in Naples, Italy and when I saw these across the room I practically mowed down several foodies to get to them. Let me count the ways these squash blossoms made it into my 'Top 5 Favortite' dishes: prosecco-battered, crab-stuffed, ramp (wild-leek) aioli AND red pepper agro-dolce (which is a traditional sweet & sour). The combination of all of these worked perfectly with the highly tannic L'Ottimo pairing from Piccione Vineyards.
This next dish was simple but delectable and reminded me of a fancy take on a chicken-nugget (and I mean that in the most complementary way!). Chef Blake Hartwick cherry-smoked this chicken croquette which gave it a very distinct flavor; add that to the sharp chili mole and fresh asparagus and you've got a flavorful combination thats pretty spectacular! This wine had a bolder body than most of the other Reds at the event and it paired nicely with this dish. RayLen Vineyards produces European varietals in the Yadkin Valley of NC.
This dish by Chef David Quintana at 'dot dot dot' gets my vote for the most unique! This was a completely new food experience for me! I've tried duck and I've tried pâté but I've never tried "duck pâté en croute", and quite honestly I've never even heard of this dish! The melon terrine was very modern and visually appealing. The fruits were infused with a calcium solution, brushed with a pectin solution, and then compressed together in a vacuum sealer which Chef Quintana openly discussed with us. He was a real pleasure to meet and it was very interesting to hear the detail that this dish required. His passion for cooking was so apparent in the way he spoke about food and I can't wait to check out 'dot dot dot', the new "members only" speak-easy style cocktail lounge.
I failed to snap a photo of the wine pairing but I do recall this Shelton Vineyards Riesling was one of the driest Rieslings I've had and easily one of my favorite wines from the day!
As I made my way through the tasting I heard from multiple people that Chef Chris Coleman was the "chef to watch" in Charlotte. Once I got around to his dish I understood why! I could've easily stated that I am "not a huge chicken wing fan" - B.C.C. (before Chris Coleman), BUT this chicken wing was one of the most flavorful I've ever eaten! Maybe due to the fact it was both smoked & fried, or maybe because it came atop a spicy peach & jalapeño chow-chow, but whatever the reason, my opinion of chicken wings has forever been changed. Thanks, Chris!
Here is another dish that easily landed on my 'Top 5' list! There is just something comforting about a slider. Especially when there is pulled pork with pickled cabbage involved which highly resembles one of my most favorite foods, Bahn-Mi! I absolutely love pickled vegetables mixed with savory and tender pork that just falls to pieces in your mouth, even more so paired with the robust RayLen Category-5 Red Blend. Chef Dave Feimster from Fahrenheit kept it simple with this dish but proved that simple most definitely does not mean boring! Fingers crossed this one is on their regular menu!
This dish right here was the strongest contender for my 1st place vote! Talk about making a difficult decision... I considered tearing my single allotted ticket in half I was so torn- and rightly so because it ended up taking the overall 1st place for the event! Chef Greg Collier is the only chef I was previously familiar with coming into this event as I am a frequent visitor to his amazing restaurant 'The Yolk' in Rock Hill, SC. I have yet to try a dish I didn't love at 'The Yolk' and this cornbread toast with smoked trout & apple salad was no exception. The tart lemon hollandaise was in perfect contrast to the strawberry-chili spice which greatly enhanced the flavor of the trout! The Biltmore sparkling Blanc de Blancs chosen to pair with this created the most delicious fusion of flavors.
And then there was dessert. I've read some incredible things about pastry Chef Ashley Boyd from 300 East but had yet to try one of her desserts until Sensoria. So you can imagine my excitement to learn that she would be creating the sole dessert pairing at this tasting. This dessert was not only presented beautifully but try and imagine your tastebuds encountering what seemed like a dozen different flavors in one bite-- that was this dessert. This 'Videri dark chocolate cremeux, coffee crunch and hibiscus-port gelee' paired with an intensely sweet 'Childress Vineyards' Cabernet Sauvignon dessert wine was nothing short of divine. 300 East needs no praise as it is has held stready as a staple in Charlotte's food scene for many years- I just have my fingers (and toes) crossed this dessert finds its way to their menu so I can get my hands on it again one day!
Huge shout out to CPCC and Piedmont Culinary Guild for hosting such a memorable event! I am so grateful I was able to attend this sold-out festival and for the opportunity to experience the talent and passion of some of Charlotte's most well-renowned chefs! There should be no question of this becoming an annual event and I know without a doubt it will be a repeat success!
Thanks for reading,