Raleigh, N.C. — The Fire in the Triangle competition dining series finished its first week with a bang – revealing two beloved secret ingredients!
As diners made their way into 1705 Prime in North Raleigh Wednesday night a buzz was in the air – what was this secret ingredient that left the competing chefs stunned?
Earlier in the day, Competition Dining NC put out a photo of chefs looking rather dumbfounded after finding out the secret ingredient they would need to work with in each of their dishes that night.
John Huisman (a great local blogger who tweets under the handle @TriangleExplorer) and I were so sad to have missed Battle Videri Chocolate the previous night, that we were just hoping for something decadent. I really thought bacon could be on tap, and then I started listing North Carolina products that would be cool. Krispy Kreme Doughnuts were on that list!
Turns out I was half right! The night's secret ingredient was Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, which hail from Winston Salem! But what goes great with doughnuts? Coffee, of course! Enter Joe Van Gogh of Hillsborough for the java fix.
No wonder Regan Stachler of Little Hen and Serge Falcon-Vigne of 518 West looked shocked. They had to prepare three courses each using these ingredients.
"We thought of every possible ingredient - not that," Stachler said, also referring to the ingredients as "insane."
Falcon-Vigne said he immediately thought of "breakfast all day." After the initial shock, he said knew that they had to "be more crazy than the product."
Diners were equally as shocked with the ingredient choices. I think Stachler's father said it best with a hearty "Holy moly!" after the ingredient reveal that night.
Emcee Jimmy Crippen said the chefs were given hot and cold brews of Joe Van Gogh coffee and a variety of Krispy Kreme items - glazed doughnuts, doughnut batter, chocolate and icing - to work with.
A great meal wouldn't be anything without some great drinks, and Juice Wine Purveyors and Mystery Brewing had some great pairings that just so happened to go with the secret ingredients. Mystery's Queen Anne's Revenge, a Carolinian Dark, was my pick for the evening.
Hen vs. West
I was seated at the Little Hen table, alongside some great folks including Stachler's wife and Little Hen co-owner, Dawn, and his father, Bob, and the founders of Flat Broke Farms. This also allowed me to pick their brain a little bit about the chef.
Stachler has always been interested in food. In fact, he asked his parents for an Easy-Bake Oven at the age of 6 because he wanted to eat more, Bob Stachler said.
Sitting with them, I joked that I was an honorary "chick."
The 518 West crew was seated at the next table, alongside my colleague WRAL's Sloane Heffernan, a celebrity judge for the evening. They had a great time chatting about the food. Falcon-Vigne's wife, who famously voted against her husband during last year's Fire in the Triangle, was calm and enjoying the evening. She said her husband really like the experience of the competition and doesn't get too nervous. She scored each dish on paper, so she could show him how she voted later.
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. All scores are out of a possible 30 points.
Course 1: Joe Van Gogh Coffee-Chili Krispy Kreme Doughnut with Roasted Poblano Pepper Cheese, Krispy Kreme Chocolate Icing Mole (Little Hen).
The mole wasn't actually on this dish (it was on course 3) but with all the confusion in the kitchen this ended up on the recipe description.
This doughnut was fluffy and light, but just lacked that punch of flavor that I wanted.
WRAL's Ken Smith, who was on hand doing a story about the Fire in the Triangle, tasted some of this off of my plate. I think his comment summed it up for me - "It was missing a kick."
Course 2: Krispy Kreme Doughnut Millefeuille with Joe Van Gogh Coffee Braised Duck, Lobster Salad & Radish Slaw, Caramel Doughnut Icing Glazed Crispy Pancetta, Coffee Vinaigrette (518)
This was a standout for a lot of the people I interviewed.
Heffernan simply described it as "phenomenal."
"You can't go wrong with lobster," she said also noting the layers of flavors in the dish
This dish had a lot of layers to it, creating a nice complexity to it.
The folks at Table 11 praised the dish's presentation and flavors, but diner Julie Laliberte pointed out that the "things that were the best (for her about the dish) weren't the secret ingredients."
Bob Stachler, who did not know who made what dish, commented that this course was best eaten right away because if you waited too long it got soggy.
Course 3: Homemade Duck & Pork Coffee Chorizo, Krispy Kreme Doughnut Tortilla, Joe Van Gogh Cabbage Slaw with Caramel Doughnut Icing Crema (Little Hen).
The mole was in this dish, which had a great spicy kick to it.
"Of the three (courses so far) this is the one I'd go back to order more," diner Maureen Dollinger said.
Dollinger felt the coffee, however, was the most subtle in this dish.
Fellow diner Eric Rappaport wasn't as big a fan. "It was a little too heavy on the doughnut," he said.
The key for some was picking up the dough and eating it like a taco with the slaw on top.
"You had to eat it as a taco to get the flavors, the yumminess," Bobbi Ryan said.
Ryan was dining with a group of friends who call themselves, "Ladies Who Dine." They try different restaurants together and just have a blast. John Huisman (@TriangleExplorer) had the pleasure of dining with this fun group!
Course 4: Chocolate Icing Glazed Quail in a Krispy Kreme Dough Blanket, Sautéed Cabbage with Tasso, Joe Van Gogh Panamanian Coffee Polenta, Chipotle Doughnut Glaze (518)
This was such a fun and unusual dish. Falcon-Vinge told me after the battle that he had originally wanted to do a Beef Wellington, but changed his mind when he saw the beef wasn't the right kind for wellington. He said his team just saw that quail was among the ingredients available and they had the idea to do Quail in a Blanket!
Course 5: Joe Van Gogh Coffee Cheesecake, Krispy Kreme Glazed Doughnut Crust with Citrus-Krispy Kreme Caramel Doughnut Icing Glaze (Little Hen).
Coffee and cheesecake just go together and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts just go with everything! I really liked the coffee flavors in this dish and the crispy crust.
Not everyone agreed, however.
"The coffee infused in the cheesecake was good, but the cake itself seemed a bit dry," one diner said. The "Ladies Who Dine" didn't like the texture.
Course 6: Krispy Kreme Glazed Doughnut & Goat Cheese Bread Pudding, Cherry-Chocolate Icing Compote, Joe Van Gogh Coffee Infused Crème Anglaise (518)
Bread pudding is such a great dessert and everyone does it differently. Falcon-Vigne's take on it was light and enjoyable.
One item about the dish had Table 20 very puzzled. A small piece of fried dough sitting amid the pudding had the Ladies Who Dine referring to it as a "tater tot."
Falcon-Vigne said the "tots" were holes poked through the second course's dough. He decided to fry them up and use them.
The results are in....
In the end, Falcon-Vigne and the team from the 518 West edged out the Little Hen crew. The Fire in the Triangle website has more on how scores are tabulated.
Stachler said he would have liked to have been more creative with the first course. He said they let the ingredients take them out of "their game" and wished they had been more true to who they are as chefs.
Crippen agreed noting that Stachler and his team will be a force to be reckoned with and will hopefully return next year to battle.
Following the battle, Falcon-Vigne explained his philosophy.
"We just want to please people," he said.
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!
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.