Raleigh, N.C. — When people think about foods associated with North Carolina, caviar isn't the first thing. But this delicacy can be found nearby in Lenoir.
Diners at the Fire in the Triangle competition dining series on Tuesday night were pleasantly surprised to learn more about Baerii Caviar from Atlantic Caviar and Sturgeon Company - one of the secret ingredients for the night.
The other secret ingredient? Mozzarella from the Chapel Hill Creamery!
In 24 hours the secret ingredients couldn't have been more different. Monday night was Pork and Pepsi.
But maybe diners shouldn't have been so surprised.
Sturgeon, also from Atlantic, was a second round secret ingredient last year, so the idea wasn't too far fetched that caviar would make its way into a battle this year.
I had the pleasure of sitting at the same table as the folks from Chapel Hill Creamery and Atlantic Caviar. Amazing and fresh products that you need to try.
The mozzarella had been made Monday, so it was very fresh for this battle, owners said.
The chefs tasked with working with these ingredients were Serge Falcoz-Vigne of 518 West and Dean Thompson of Flights.
Chefs prepared three dishes each featuring the night's secret ingredients. Although they only had to use both ingredients in two courses, the chefs opted to use both in all three. (More on the food late.r)
Trophy Brewing Company was also on hand last night as this week's featured local brewery. Their offerings - Next Best in Show, an American Saison, and the Class Clown, an American Brown - were a hit! The Next Best in Show was actually a great accompaniment with the first few courses and the Class Clown even made its way into the final course.
As always, wine selections were provided by Juice Wine Purveyors out of Raleigh. I opted for a glass of Torrontes this time around and was very happy with how it paired with the dishes.
Here's a rundown of each course, reviews and results. In each round and overall, diners (the Joes) and local media foodies (the Pros) grade the dish on aroma, presentation, creativity and other factors. All scores are out of a possible 30 points.
Course 1: Chapel Hill Creamery Mozzarella Flan, Buffalo Fried Lobster, Khatafi Nest with Celery Confiture, Fresh Mozzarella and Baerii Caviar (518) (Score: 19.08)
"It doesn't seem like it should work, but it did," diner Shaun Turner said of the flavor combination.
Diners were talking about the Buffalo fried lobster atop the flan, more than the flan itself. Many enjoyed it, but diner Rimple Patel would have loved to have something more crispy accompanying the flan.
Il Palio chef Adam Rose, a pro judge for the evening and Fire in the Triangle competitor last year, found his lobster to be overcooked.
Diner Mary Gessner liked the use of the "nest" to hold the caviar. Despite the great plating, many diners said the caviar got lost in the dish.
The variety of elements - the nest, the confit, the flan - on the plate confused some diners, who weren't sure exactly how to eat it - separately or together. The confit sat untouched on some plates.
Pro judge Colin Bedford, executive chef of Fearrington House, said that too many different elements can hurt a chef.
Course 2: Coconut Mozzarella Mashed Potato with NC Flounder,Pulled Cheshire Pork with Jalapeno & Ginger, Braising Liquid Reduction (518) (Score: 13.64)
This dish just didn't strike a chord with diners. The secret ingredients weren't prevalent enough for many, leaving it the lowest scored dish of the night.
Diner Noel Wagner said for her the dish fell flat, noting that she could taste the coconut but not the jalapeno and ginger sauce.
With the first two courses, the caviar was used as a garnish - a common complaint of the night among diners.
Table four echoed a common theme in the room from diners on this course - the mozzarella was hidden.
Course 3: Green Peppercorn Crusted Venison, Chapel Hill Creamery Creamy Mozzarella and Basil Grits, Truffled Wild Mushroom Ragout, Baerii Caviar Hollandaise (Flights) (Score: 23.11)
Folks wondering where the mozzarella was, found it in the grits in this dish.
Toya Turner simply described it as "comfort food."
The dish's overall simplicity delighted diners, but Chef Thompson said he was originally concerned about how simple it was.
Diners were glad he didn't make any changes! The dish received the highest scores of the night.
Course 4: Butter Poached Mahi Mahi, Heirloom Tomato Coulis, Pistachio-Mozzarella-Couscous Salad, Herb Rubbed Roasted Veal, Roasted Garlic and Mascarpone Mornay, Baerii Caviar-Veal-Mozzarella Sausage (Flights) (Score: 18.83)
"Where's the sausage?" one diner said.
"You just ate it," their tablemate replied.
The item on the plate containing both secret ingredients was so small, some diners ate it and didn't even realize it.
In a consistent theme of the night, it ended up being the non-secret ingredients that diners were talking about.
"The couscous stole the show. It was fantastic," diner Lauren Reeves said.
Course 5: Upside Down Baerri Caviar Floating Island with Chapel Hill Creamery Mozzarella Crème Anglaise and Caramel Salted Caviar, Fire In The Triangle Cookie and Baeiri Caviar Powder (518) (Score: 21.14)
The floating island was a hit.
"I think that it was genius and I think think it was Serge," said Samantha Falcoz-Vigne, hoping the dish was her husband's. She ended up being write.
"How do you take something that tastes salty and fishy and make it taste like a dessert?" Turner said. "Brilliant."
The salted caramel sauce and spicy cookie were also huge hits with many diners.
The only complaint heard around the room was the caviar powder on the side. Many diners didn't like it and felt it took away from the rest of the dish.
Course 6: NC Golden Yam Brownie Sundae, Chapel Hill Creamery Fresh Mozzarella and Strawberry Ice Cream, Carolina Tuille and Baeiri Caviar Class Clown Caramel, Class Clown Chocolate Glace (Flights) (Score 21.87)
When this dish was announced, diner Noel Wagner and her tablemates were thrilled. This was the chocolate she was craving.
"Outstanding," Wagner said.
Another hit was the North Carolina shaped cookie on top. Thompson said he got the cookie cutter in a gift bag during the NHL All-Star game in Raleigh a few years ago.
The rich dessert was a little too much for one diner, who said she liked it but found it to be too heavy after such a rich meal.
The professional judges were a little tough tonight, but that is what they are there for, host Jimmy Crippen said.
Bedford said he would have liked to have seen less complex dishes that showcased the secret ingredients more.
"What they (Atlantic and Chapel Hill Creamery) do is brilliant. Honor what they do," Bedford said.
In the end, Thompson defeated Falcoz-Vigne to move on to the semifinals.
Thompson said his team had a plan and executed it.
Falcoz-Vigne, who likes to encourage his fellow chefs to sing in the kitchen, kept his relaxed and positive demeanor following the battle.
"We are sorry to have not won, but we did what we wanted to do," Falcoz-Vigne said.
Now, the Falcoz-Vigne family plans to take a beach vacation.
Thompson will take on Jason Cunningham of the Washington Duke Inn on Aug. 12.
The Fire in the Triangle website has more information on how scores are calculated.
Future rounds are sold out, but check with WRAL's Out and About for recaps, exclusive content and more from each battle. We are the official bloggers this year!
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.