Raleigh, N.C. — One of the courses during Monday night's Fire in the Triangle inspired one diner to make up words.
"It was tomatoey and desserty."
Which dish was he referring to? Read on to find out!
As you can probably guess from the quote - the secret ingredient was heirloom tomatoes, but they were accompanied this time around by TOPO Distillery's gin and vodka. TOPO, based in Chapel Hill, is the state's only local and organic distillery.
Market Restaurant's Chad McIntyre and New Southern Kitchen's Sokun Slama were tasked with using these ingredients during the first round of this competition dining challenge. Chefs prepared three dishes each featuring the night's secret ingredient.
While the ingredients might sound simple, chefs Michael Lee (Sono) and Serge Falcoz-Vigne (518 West), who were in attendance last night, said that simple ingredients don't mean a simple night in competition dining. Creating dishes that showcase the ingredients in a different way can be difficult. Lee competed last year and Falcoz-Vigne is competing for the second time.
This week's featured local brewery, Gizmo Brew Works, of Raleigh, offered two selections for the evening - The Bee Keeper Honey Wheat and the Black Stiletto Stout. The Bee Keeper, a great summer ale, was a perfect fit with many of the early dishes containing fish. The Black Stiletto had wonderful coffee and chocolate tones that really popped especially in the dessert course.
Wine selections were provided by Juice Wine Purveyors out of Raleigh. And you really couldn't go wrong with any of their selections!
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: Course 1 - Napoleon Heirloom Tomatoes, Couscous and Lobster, TOPO Vodka Basil Beurre Blanc - New Southern Kitchen (Score: 16.99)
Slama said she originally wanted to do a stuffed tomato, but found that she didn't have enough tomatoes. Instead, she packed the filling between two green tomato slices. The lobster was a nice treat inside.
Diner Marc Best liked the way the bottom tomato slice "soaked up the juices." But some diners remarked that it was under-seasoned.
Course 2: Course 2 - Green Tomato & Crab Salad, Poached Tilefish, Citrus “Mary” Sauce - Market (Score: 19.28)
Professional judge for the evening and Out and About contributor Becca Gomez Ferrell (@TheGormez) loved the pistachios and citrus flavors.
"You can definitely taste the TOPO Distillery in course 2," diner Corey Woodard (@CoreyMichelle) tweeted.
Diner Jennifer Haynes liked the sauce but felt like it was missing more seasoning. That comment was echoed by a few other diners.
Course 3: Roasted Sheepshead fish, Roasted Heirloom Tomato Sauce, Potato Leek Salad, Mango Papaya Salsa - New Southern Kitchen (Score: 15.40)
The varying portions on this dish left some diners without potato salad and/or mango salsa. Gomez praised the two accompaniments, especially the burst of flavor in the mango salsa.
Diners at some tables were sharing their plates so others could try the salad and salsa.
Mel K. of Table 20 was a fan of the sauce but wasn't sure how it worked with the rest of the dish.
After course 3, diners were still waiting for that "wow" moment. Then, course 4 was handed out.
Course 4: Confit Heritage Farms Pork Belly, Butter Potatoes, TOPO Vodka Tomato Puree, Chimichurri - Market (Score: 22.77)
Pork belly is hot right now and the diners were excited to see how it was going to be used tonight. It seems to sneak its way into each battle.
Professional judge Vivian Howard, of the Chef and the Farmer and the upcoming PBS reality show "A Chef's Life," described the dish best as "very comforting."
It was a hit with most diners and scored the highest of the night. Diner Mike Cole who said he would lick the plate clean - that's how much he loved it.
Falcoz-Vigne enjoyed it, an offered an interesting take suggestion - putting the Sheepshead fish from the previous course on the pork belly.
Course 5: Chocolate Pie with Heirloom Tomato Compote, Saffron Crème Anglaise - New Southern Kitchen (Score: 20.55)
"I was leery of tomato and chocolate," diner Sharon Rudolph said. Then, she tasted it and was pleasantly surprised.
Cole was a big fan of this dish, adding that he would lick his plate clean after this one too.
The dessert had enough rich chocolate to satisfy the sweet-tooth and the compote was a great use of tomato on top.
Course 6: Roasted Tomato Cheesecake, Chocolate Graham Crust, Basil-Gin Syrup, Tomato Jam, Olive Oil Whipped Cream - Market (Score 22)
"30 out of 30," diner William Fay said, before noting that it was "tomatoey and desserty."
"Phenomenal," another diner said.
"OMG ... Whichever chef who did the roasted tomato cheesecake has to come to my house and teach me how to make this!!!!" professional judge for the evening Dathan Kazsuk (@dathankazsuk) tweeted.
For Gomez, the sauce was the star.
"So I would buy Course 6's basil-gin syrup all on its own," she tweeted.
The only complaint I heard on this one was the lumpiness of the cheesecake. McIntyre said that was the one thing he wished he could have fixed, but there just wasn't enough time for the cream cheese to set.
McIntyre was out for redemption. He was eliminated last year after a very difficult battle involving frozen Butterball turkeys. He got it by defeating Slama in a night that saw the professional judges handing out relatively low scores compared to previous nights.
In addition to competing in her first Fire in the Triangle, last minute cancelations left Slama entering the kitchen with two sous chefs she doesn't normally cook with. She perservered though garnering praise for her unique take on the ingredients.
Though they were competitors, McIntyre and Slama enjoyed working in the same kitchen. Emcee Jimmy Crippen said the two had the most fun he had ever seen in the kitchen.
"Just because we are competitors doesn't mean we can't be friends," Slama said.
McIntyre cooked the entire day in a kilt that he sewed himself.
"We decided that we would have to go in with battle gear," he said.
It was a sad battle for Crippen who said the two chefs are truly two of his favorites. He called Slama a "fierce force" who he hopes will return next year.
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.