Raleigh, N.C. — The second Fire in the Triangle battle of 2014 pitted Chef John Childers of Herons at The Umstead against Chef Scott Jancovictz of The Station in the preparation of dishes made with the night's signature ingredients: blueberries from Lewis Farms and Carolina bison brisket.
Beverage offerings included a Kolsch and an IPA from White Street Brewing in Wake Forest and a selection of North Carolina wines.
Both chefs had Fire in the Triangle experience, but both said afterward that nothing can effectively prepare a team for the challenge in the kitchen after the secret ingredient is announced at noon.
"The chefs have to have their menus in by 3:30 p.m.," explained Jimmy Crippen, the creator of the Competition Dining series. "There was one dish that had a series of edits as it came together."
Each chef had to create three dishes, and had to use each secret ingredient in at least two of those dishes. Here's a rundown of each course, reviews and results. In each round and overall, diners (the Joes) and local media foodies including WRAL Out & About (the Pros) grade the dish on aroma, presentation, creativity and other factors. The scores listed are the final scores for each dish.
Course 1: Carolina Bison Brisket Sausage, Oregano Farro Risotto, Lewis Farms Blueberry Guava Glaze; Arugula, Pistachio, and Blueberry Salad (The Station)
The meal got off to, literally, to a tough start. Many diners, unfamiliar with bison were disappointed with this dish.
Dana Mayette of Raleigh found even the risotto lacking. "It could have been creamier," she said.
Her tablemate, Tim Campbell of Apex, enjoyed the flavor of the sausage but said it was a little dry, a sentiment I heard echoed across the dining room.
Course 2: Carolina Bison Brisket Sausage Hash, Soft NC Egg, Mustard-Pickled Peanuts, Tomato Jam, Chapel Hill Creamery Calvander Old Mill of Guilford Grits
(Herons) (Score: 29.512)
The printed description and professional photo of this dish preceded it to our table, and two of my fellow diners were eager to get a taste. "Oooh, look at that," one gasped.
The soft egg prompted a sharply divided reaction, both in comments and in scores. Those who dug in delighted in the mixture of warm yolk, creamy grits and bison sausage. White Street Brewing's Harmony Schilling VanGundy went table to table advocating for that experience.
But others couldn't get over the jiggly look and texture of the egg. Glenn Cutler of the NC Beer Guys praised the grits but ate around the egg, evenutally offloading it to partner Dave Tollefsen.
The contrast showed in the scores, too, where Joes rated this dish a 27.7 while Pros gave it a 33.6. As Crippen pointed out, Joes saw something gelatinous on top, Pros saw perfectly poached eggs served up for 100+ diners – an impressive feat.
Course 3: Molasses & Lewis Farms Blueberry-Marinated Carolina Bison Brisket, Braised in White Street Hoptimist, Blueberry Poblano Old Mill of Guilford Grit Cake, Blueberry Glaze and Blueberry Demi Glace (The Station) (Score: 22.822)
This dish, too, prompted widely disparate reactions. Cutler proclaimed it his favorite of the night. "I liked what they did with the ingredients," he said.
At another table, a guest described it as "trying to do too many things."
Course 4: Braised Carolina Bison Brisket, Caramelized Bacon, Cornbread, Black Beans, White Street Kölsh & Lewis Farms Blueberry Barbecue Sauce (Herons) (Score: 22.887)
When they saw corn bread in the description, diners Michelle and Stephanie perked up, hoping for something to satisfy their Southern sensibility. Both agreed that this dish delivered, but the secret ingredients were secondary.
Jill Dedene of Clayton appreciated the nuance. "I still have the tastes in my mouth," she said.
Course 5: Lewis Farms Blueberry Cheesecake Fruit Rollup, Carolina Bison Brisket Chip, Graham Streusel and Basil Syrup (The Station) (Score: 23.091)
The most controversial choice of the evening was the one Jancovitz praised after the battle was over. "I knew I wanted to do meat with dessert," he said of his teammate Justin Young's creation.
Not all diners agreed. "Don't stick your meat in my sweets," Tweeted Jeff Sloyer.
Course 6: Fudge Cake, Macerated Lewis Farms Blueberries, Blueberry Cream, Pecan Brittle (Herons) (Score: 25.806)
After the challenge of the cheesecake, the fudge cake was welcomed for its simplicity.
"I really liked how all the elements mixed together," said Margaret Pattison of Raleigh. "If you tasted them individually, you didn't get the full effect.
In the end, Childers outpaced Jancovictz in each course and took the win. Both men praised their teams and the opponent before the final results were announced.
"It just gets crazier every year," Childers said. "There was nothing I could have learned from previous battles to prepare me." He noted that there were upgrades and equipment added to the kitchen at 1705 Prime after chefs toured but before Fire in the Triangle began.
Fire in the Triangle is part of the Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series. The winner from the Triangle will go on to compete against the winners of the Fire on the Rock, Fire on the Dock, Fire in the Triad and Fire in the City competitions. The last chef standing wins $2,000 and the coveted red chef’s jacket. The runner-up will get $500.
WRAL's Out and About is the official blogger for Fire in the Triangle, so look for exclusive content, interviews and more from each battle!