Raleigh, N.C. — A North Carolina staple was the featured ingredient in Monday night's semi-final round of Fire in the Triangle.
Sabouh has been the "Cinderella story" of this year's Fire in the Triangle, advancing to the semi-finals in his first year of competition. His opening round battle fell during the Muslim observance of Ramadan, leaving Sabouh unable to taste any of the food. In the second round, Sabouh upset Weathervane's Spencer Carter, who was part of the 2012 Final Fire championship team.
Would Sabouh be able to pull another upset? Read on to find out.
This week, Competition Dining is highlighting Fullsteam in Durham. Diners had two beers to choose from - Cackalacky, a ginger pale ale, and Summer Basil, which features locally grown basil.
North Carolina wine flights were available, including selections from Biltmore Winery.
Now, let's get to the food!
Each chef had to create three dishes using the secret ingredient. It was a blind tasting, so no diners knew who made what. Here's a rundown of each course, reviews and results. In each round and overall, diners (the Joes) and local media foodies and chefs (the Pros) grade the dish on aroma, presentation, creativity and other factors. The scores listed are the final scores for each dish. Scores are out of 40 points.
Course 1: Shrimp and Grits, 63°C NC Egg, Herbed Yellow Old Mill of Guilford Grits, Andouille Sausage, Cheerwine Crispy Bacon, Cheerwine BBQ Sauce (City Kitchen) (Score: 24.546)
The Cheerwine crispy bacon was a highlight of this dish for many diners.
Rex Hospital executive chef Ryan Conklin thought the grits were a smart choice. He liked the combination of ingredients, but noted that the Cheerwine got a little lost. He wished the dish had just a little more of the sweet soda in the sauce.
Diner Liesl Towner didn't like the texture of the egg, calling it too "slimy."
Course 2: Cheerwine Sous Vide Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast, Cinnamon-Braised Manchester Farms Quail & Almonds, Crispy Kataifi, Parsnip Mousse, Cheerwine Bing Cherry Marmalade (City Kitchen) (Score: 27.160)
This dish was a highlight of the night for many of the "Joe's" I spoke with.
Towner said it was delicious.
"The flavors all together were terrific," she said.
The Cheerwine really popped in this dish. Diners at table seven were big fans, especially of the sauce which contained chunks of cherries.
The Joe's were a bigger fan of this than the Pro's, scoring it about seven percentage points higher. The dish's final score was a combination of the two.
Course 3: Soy Cheerwine Roasted Heritage Farms Cheshire Pork Loin, Cheerwine Gingered Sweet Potato Purée, Jicama Pawpaw Salad, Sweet Chili Cheerwine BBQ Sauce (Flights) (Score: 28.792)
While the pork was tasty, diners were still talking about the duck in the previous course.
Diner Nate Sheaffer noted that while the dish was very good, "the representation of Cheerwine was completely lost."
Course 4: Confit of Elk with Cheerwine Demi, Truffled Cauliflower, Goat Cheese, Chive, & Mushrooms with Cheerwine Bacon Jam (Flights) (Score: 28.655)
Conklin liked this dish's balance, comparing it to a Thanksgiving dinner in each bite.
The bacon jam was one of the most talked about elements, with diners asking for more!
Mark Gifford summed it up best on Twitter: "It's all about the Cheerwine Bacon JAAAAM!"
Course 5: Almond Praline Cheerwine Ganache Chocolate Cake, Milk Chocolate Mousse, Raspberry Cheerwine Gel, Mascarpone Vanilla Cream (City Kitchen) (Score: 28.016)
The first dessert did not disappoint. The super sweet kick of the gel was balanced out by the mascarpone. Table seven diners enjoyed the textures layered together.
While this dish was a rich, many diners were cleaning their plates.
Course 6: Chocolate and Cheerwine Mascarpone Chess Pie, Graham Crust, Chocolate Chip Pistachio & Cheerwine Ice Cream, Funnel Cake, Dark Chocolate Ganache, Tarragon Dulce de Leche (Flights) (Score: 31.926)
The highest scoring dish of the night was actually a mistake. Chef Dean Thompson said he had originally planned to do a swirl cake, but there wasn't any cream cheese available. So, he tried using mascarpone. When that didn't work, the dish ended up becoming a cheese pie.
One diner said the dish "smelled like (Nestle's) Toll House."
The ice cream was the most talked about element. The blend of chocolate chips and Cheerwine provided a great blend of flavors and texture.
Gifford summed up the dish as "amazing."
The funnel cake was a nice accompaniment and seemed to fit in nicely with other dessert adornments we've seen from Team Flights. The North Carolina cookie last year helped pave the way for Thompson's eventual Fire in the Triangle victory.
The funnel cake was actually an homage to a dessert Team Weathervane served up in the Final Fire championship in 2012, Thompson said.
In the end, Thompson defeated Sabouh to advance to the Fire in the Triangle finale next week. He will face the winner of Tuesday night's battle - 518 West or Jimmy V's Steakhouse.
Before Monday, Sabouh had never even heard of Cheerwine. He doesn't even drink soft drinks. Despite that, he and his team served up some delicious dishes that had many diners making plans to hit City Kitchen in the future. Sabouh welcomed diners to the Chapel Hill restaurant, noting their commitment to quality.
"Cooking has to come from the soul," Sabouh said.
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!