Raleigh, N.C. — "This just proves that anything can happen on any given night," said Jimmy Crippen, Competition Dining creator and our host, after a Fire in the Triangle veteran was voted out of the competition.
Crippen said they were thrilled to work with these ingredients, which were picked yesterday, but at the same time it was stressful organizing their use.
"With fresh, seasonal ingredients, it's difficult to know if they will be ready or not," Crippen said.
The fruit paired well with a variety of meats and accompaniments, as well as great wine and beer. This battle's local brew was provided by the recently-opened Brueprint Brewing Company in Apex. Adams Vineyards in Willow Spring put together a wine flight option that was very popular with diners. Fire in the Triangle 2014 Coverage
"We are very pleased with the wine flights," Crippen said. "It's a great way to try different wines without having to buy the whole bottle."
Supporting local vineyards is important to Crippen, as many people may not realize what high-quality wines the region has to offer. The biggest challenge for North Carolina wines is perception, Crippen said. People might think foreign wines are better because they are from France, Italy or another well-known wine region, without knowing North Carolina wines can be even better.
Now, let's get to the food!
Each 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.
Course 1: Goat Cheese Espuma, Spiced Thompson Orchards Peach Jam, Pistachio Crumble, Pomegranate-Molasses Pickled High Rock Farms Blackberries, Corn Relish (City Kitchen) (Score: 22.519)
I had to ask chef Teddy Diggs of Il Palio, who was sitting next to me as another pro judge, what espuma was – he explained it as somewhere between a gel and a mousse, or a solidified gel.
I overheard some frequent Competition Dining attendees at my table remarking that this was the first dish presented in a long time with no meat on it, besides a dessert course. However, this was a great, light opener, like a summer appetizer. There was a great blend of textures in the corn, pistachios and peaches.
WRAL reporter Brian Shrader was at my table and joked that he wanted some bread to get all the rest of the sauce!
Course 2: Fried Manchester Farms Quail Breast, High Rock Farms Blackberry Cornbread, Walnuts, Thompson Orchards Peach Barbecue Sauce, Crispy Heritage Farms Bacon (City Kitchen) (Score: 27.828)
The highest-scoring dish of the night was not a dessert, which is typically the case. Guests at tables all over the dining room were going back to this dish as their favorite, even after the last courses had been served.
The fact that the quail was still crispy and hot helped give this dish the highest pro score of the night as well, which is saying something in a group that is notoriously stingy with their point-awarding.
Course 3: Ginger-Braised Heritage Farms Cheshire Pork Butt, Corn Custard, Cilantro & Thompson Orchards Peach Chimichurri, Balsamic High Rock Farms Blackberry Vinaigrette, Corn Confetti (The Oxford) (Score: 23.458)
This dish wrapped up with mixed reviews. While the pork butt was perfectly tender – I didn't even need a knife – the peach was lost in the chimichurri.
Diner Kris Pupilli was excited to dig in. "This dish smells the best so far," he said.
Corn featured prominently in this dish, which diner Tyler Gilman appreciated. "Corn custard. Just sayin'...one bucketful, please," he Tweeted.
However, not everyone was impressed with how the dish as a whole turned out.
"This was a tough one," chef Teddy Diggs said.
Course 4: Cherry Wood Smoked Venison, Thompson Orchards Peach Glazed Johnston County Mangalitsa Shoulder, Confit Potatoes, Carrot Purée, High Rock Farms Blackberry Roasted Peaches (The Oxford) (Score: 21.147)
On the lowest-scoring dish of the night, diners felt the fourth course was a little lacking.
"A little salt and pepper would've gone a long way," one of my tablemates remarked, and I agreed. The confit potatoes were bland and the secret ingredients were not at the forefront of this dish.
Diner Will McDonald, in a painfully honest Tweet, said the dish was "boring and lacking flavor."
Course 5: Thompson Orchards Peach Coconut Mousse, Crème Fraiche Cake, Roasted Peaches, High Rock Farms Blackberry Compote, Almond Crumble (City Kitchen) (Score: 24.272)
I have a big sweet tooth and I always look forward to the dessert courses during Fire in the Triangle events. I was not disappointed tonight!
A fresh combination of ripe peaches and blackberries made this mousse and creme fraiche cake light and perfectly prepared for this warm, humid evening.
"It's hard to miss on a dessert with these secret ingredients," a diner from table 10 told me.
Course 6: Thompson Orchards Peach Cheesecake, Orange Basil Chocolate Ravioli, High Rock Farms Blackberry White Chocolate Fondue, Candied Pecans (The Oxford) (Score: 25.794)
The orange basil chocolate ravioli was a big hit on the Twitter boards in the dining room before the dishes were even brought out, but it didn't live up to everyone's expectations.
"It was a good idea, but it wasn't properly executed," a diner at table 9 said. "I was looking for stronger flavors, and the filling in my ravioli broke and curdled."
Still, some folks really enjoyed this course, including WRAL Out & About's Tara Whitfield. "Can I please have chocolate ravioli for the rest of my life?!" she Tweeted.
Previous experience just wasn't enough to keep the team from The Oxford in the competition.
"Even after three years, it doesn't get any easier," Hill said.
Both teams cited time management as a key struggle, though perhaps it impacted The Oxford a bit more. Chef Sabouh said he was working till the last minute on his first course, trying to get it just right.
When asked how he felt after the final results were in, Sabouh held out his arms as if a wave of relaxation was washing over him. "Relief!" he said.
Now Sabouh and the City Kitchen team gets a break before competing against Weathervane on July 15. Tickets are available for some of the upcoming battles but are going fast – Crippen estimated they are 85 percent sold out.
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!