Fire in the Triangle: Battle Kerala Curry and Hillsborough Cheese Company Labneh
Posted July 22, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — The heat was on with a sold-out quarterfinal battle between Chef Serge Falcoz-Vigne of Raleigh’s 518 West and Chef Adam Jones of Dean’s Seafood Grill and Bar in Cary!
At my table was a vocal and lively bunch of folks, including Wayne Brown of Competition Dining NC sponsor Pate Dawson Southern Foods and Chef Adam Jones’ wife, Christine, and other Dean's supporters. They were very loyal and spirited, and the night would prove to get the best of many of us, keeping us guessing until the very end. It was much like watching a very close sports game, with the odds unwittingly shuffling back and forth, then back and forth again between teams. Each team had hits and misses that made it difficult to decipher who executed which dish. It was a true competition!
La Farm Bakery of Cary is the official bread of the competition. This evening, Carolina Brewing Company supplied beer flights and there were wines from a variety of North Carolina wineries. Most diners chose a good bit of palate-cleansing this evening. Bread was noshed on frequently between courses, and all manner of beverages were plentiful at al tables. Coffee orders rounded out the evening.
Executive Chef Colin Bedford of Fearrington House Restaurant in Pittsboro, Executive Pastry Chef Stephanie Nikolic of Vivace Raleigh, Stacy Sprenz, Instructor of Whisk Carolina and the blog CookEatLife, Mac Sullivan, CEO of Pate Dawson Southern Foods, and Chef Tom Dyrness of Charlotte’s Mama Ricotta’s were at table together, and it was interesting, entertaining and informative to talk with all of them!
A ripple of excitement went through the room as the secret ingredients were announced! I couldn’t believe my eyes! Was that Kerala Curry from Pittsboro? Yes it was, and in three different flavors! This was going to be fun! Then they really stirred it up with Hillsborough Cheese Company Labneh!
Each competing chef had to create three dishes using both secret ingredients. 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 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. Scores are out of 40 points.
Course 1 - Seared Scallop Salad on House Made Roll, Fried Little River Crab, Crunchy Heritage Farms Bacon, Kerala Curry Vindaloo Aioli, Pickled Watermelon Rind, Creamy Hillsborough Cheese Co. Labneh Lobster Bisque (518 West) Weighted Score: 24.893
Quite a few diners liked the bacon and the scallop together, as it put one in the mind of a deconstructed bacon-wrapped scallop or scallop roll (akin to lobster roll) with the lobster in the bisque instead.
The crab cake was also well received. I liked this dish, and got a lot of the pickled watermelon rind, which I like but wasn’t as crazy about here. Drew Carelle was celebrating graduation from culinary school, and those with him at table did not get as much of the pickle. The entire table preferred the first course to the second. This was interesting.
The main comment of the room was that the entry was good. However, some felt it was not as flavorful as it could have been. Stacy Sprenz concurred. She wanted more piquancy from the labneh. Diners were expecting more flavor right off the bat with exotic ingredients from far-flung places. The seasoning was mellow, tentative, and subtle making for a nice plate with lower impact this round.
Course 2 - Kerala Curry Pappadam Seared Sea Scallop, Kerala Curry Vindaloo Curry Couscous, Hillsborough Cheese Co. Labneh Cauliflower Puree with Marinated Fennel, Mango Lassi with Labneh Crema & Nutmeg (Dean’s Seafood) Weighted Score: 29.788
After course one, this was the crowd favorite. Chefs Colin Bedford and Tom Dyrness agreed that the components were well varied and well balanced. There was more spice and more flavor in this attempt. As Chef Bedford commented, “It was a more complete dish."
I was utterly taken aback at the general consensus about these two first courses. For instance, at table eight, I spoke with Alina Karpenko and Jason Kholodnov, whose separate opinions agreed with the rest.
The pappadam crusting gave the thoroughly-salted scallop an extra ‘crown’ of flavor that went wonderfully with the much spicier curry couscous. The puree was good, the dual cauliflower was colorful, and the lassi was a nice palate cleanser, though a tad sweet. The clincher here is that the lassi was served properly in a small glass, and diners could take as much or as little as they liked. Some drank it straight down, while others sampled. Choices do matter, as we shall see next.
Course 3 - Kerala Curry Masala Seared Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast, Hillsborough Cheese Co. Labneh Dumpling, Tomato Curry Chutney Nage, Tomato & Cabbage Salad (Dean’s Seafood) Weighted Score: 21.215
My first impression was misleading. I have a good amount of experience with these chutneys, having used them personally. I liked the tomato chutney with the meat and got a strong dose of sage…at first. I’m not sure I would have called this a nage, though. A nage is a much lighter affair, and is used in poaching proteins.
There was some heat, but the sweetness and plentitude of the tomato became cloying and overdone, much like the duck breast, which escaped me. It was chewy, and the flavor was missing that slight gaminess. Diners complained roundly about the odd texture of the duck.
Getting thoughts from the crowd and Executive Pastry Chef Stephanie Nikolic and Stacy Sprenz, we discussed that the sauce would have been so much better as just a swipe, in balance with other flavors on the plate. I missed the labneh a little, but agreed with Chef Nikolic, who liked the dumplings, which were a nice touch here.
Course 4 - Elk Meatloaf, Kerala Curry Tomato Chutney, Fried Shallot Rings, Parsnip & Hillsborough Cheese Co. Labneh Purée, Heirloom Tomato Demi-Glace (518 West) Weighted Score: 26.953
This was where the subtlety reigned. After the tomato overload from the first dish, most at our table were sick of tomato, which was not the team’s fault. It was a good, hearty, comfort-food style plate, with the puree holding down the solid flavors of the tomato crusted meatloaf. I was relieved.
The demi-glace was especially nice, adding a smooth layer of flavor. This dish was simple and refined with different textures and good technique.
Chef Bedford and Chef Dyrness once again agreed on favorites of the evening for technique, flavor, and composition. Dishes 2 and 4 were overwhelmingly the choices of the diners also. But they fooled so many! Most of us thought they were from the same team, but some may have disagreed from which one! Ha!
Course 5 - Kerala Curry Mango Chutney Hillsborough Cheese Co. Labneh Cheesecake, Marshmallow Sauce, Candied Cashews (518 West) Weighted Score: 22.666
The desserts are normally the final salvo of a great meal, and have easily converted losers into winners in competition. Many of those I talked with did not prefer either over the other.
The cheesecake was more familiar, though a bit crestfallen. It was possibly over-whipped and maybe overheated. But labneh being a yogurt-style, softer cheese, it may have developed more of a curd when heating, similar to ricotta.
Putting that aside, the mango chutney was stringy like a caramel but heavier instead of acidic and fruity. It still had a strong savory note that threw this rich dish for a number of people. The candied cashews were a very nice touch. Diners were less than thrilled. The pros really handed in some low scores. But not so fast!
Course 6 - Madras Macaron with Kerala Curry Mango Chutney Jam, Dark Chocolate with Hillsborough Cheese Co. Labneh Beet Ravioli, Cashew Brittle (Dean’s Seafood) Weighted Score: 20.495
What can I say? I love macarons. Truly. I saved it for last in case I needed swaying. I did.
The beets were a bit unexpected. It was a beautiful plate up, with gorgeous color from both red and golden beet ravioli with mild labneh inside. I looked at Wayne Brown from Pate Dawson for backup. “Are those beets?” I asked. “Yep,” he replied.
Wondering if it was perhaps just too avant garde for me, I checked with others. Pastry Chef Nikolic made an excellent observation. ”With such unique ingredients, there was a huge challenge. Both teams did great. Both desserts were equally enjoyable.”
After tallying all scores, everyone, even the pros were surprised. But not so much the winner, as how our opinions agreed and swayed from one team to the next! The dining room was a veritable sea of diversity tonight, and yet so many similar thoughts! This was truly an entertaining evening. Host Jimmy Crippen commented that they “wanted to create more of a challenge for the chefs.” They did! They challenged us all!
The final tally was 518 West, 24.83 and Dean’s Seafood, 23.87.
The winner was Chef Serge Falcoz-Vigne of 518 West! He was so happy, and agreed that it was quite a challenge tonight with strong and unlikely ingredients to finesse onto a plate. Congratulations to the Chef Falcoz-Vigne and the team at 518 West! Both teams put out some great food. Chef Adam Jones stated that he would probably consider competing again next year. Great spirit was displayed from both competitors tonight!
Falcoz-Vigne will go on to compete against the Tuesday night's winner in a sold out semi-final battle next week.
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!