Fire in the Triangle: Texas Pete and Jackson Farming Company Melons
Posted August 7, 2013
Updated August 8, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — Lavender pickled watermelon rinds and watermelon and Texas Pete flan.
Last night's Fire in the Triangle was a perfect fit for those with an adventurous palate. Sweet and spicy ruled the night.
The secret ingredients of Jackson Farming Company melons and Winston Salem's own Texas Pete shocked most patrons. (The only person who was probably not shocked was The Oxford's Chris Hill, who said the night before during his quarterfinal battle that he had hoped for melons as his secret ingredient. He was just one day off.)
Taking our seats at 1705 Prime for Tuesday night's battle, many diners noted the four steak knives at each place setting. Mystery Brewing Company's Erik Lars Myers, who was in attendance with his wife Sarah Ficke, said it appeared obvious - we were getting steak.
My fellow diner at Table 2, Margaret, echoed the same thought. "I know prime rib when I smell it," she said.
Both couldn't have been more wrong. In fact, the only red meat we were served all night was pork belly in the first course. But, more on that tasty dish later.
The chefs tackling these ingredients were Chad McIntyre of Market and Steve Zanini of Jimmy V's.
Tasked with using both ingredients in each of their three dishes, the chefs took a similar approach with the Texas Pete - letting the heat build over the meal.
Natty Greene's, the featured brewer for this week, helped keep diners cool with their Buckshot Amber Ale and Southern Pale Ale. As always, Juice Wine Purveyors had great suggestions for wine pairings.
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: Texas Pete® Melon Braised Pork Belly, Smoked Lemon Grass-Leek Puree, Cantaloupe Glassed Potato, Pickled Melons, Braising Jus (Jimmy V's) (Score: 19.72)
You really can't go wrong with pork belly. Most diners said they enjoyed the use of the melons, but were expecting a lot more kick from the Texas Pete.
Pro judge Cliff Vogelsberg, executive chef at Winston's Grille in Raleigh, really appreciated that the heat was subtle, paving the way to a slow build as the meal went on.
Fellow diner Sandra Breitschwerdt agreed. "I'm not a big hot sauce person, so I enjoyed not being overwhelmed," she said.
Course 2: Crab & Cremini Stuffed B-Liner Snapper, Andouille & Sprite Melon Risotto, Texas Pete® Butter Poached Lobster, Oven Roasted Asparagus, Texas Pete® Powder (Jimmy V's) (Score: 16.87)
Many tables were divided over this one. You could taste the Texas Pete in it, but the melons got a little lost. The complexity of the dish seemed to overwhelm some diners.
Margaret, my fellow Table 2 diner, felt her risotto was just OK and the lobster was overcooked. Many diners agreed with her on the lobster.
Despite the Texas Pete powder (a nice use of the secret ingredient!), the NC Beer Guys, who were in attendance, were still asking for "more heat!"
Course 3: Pink Snapper Cake, Texas Pete® Crème, Sprite Melon Salsa (Market) (Score: 22.29)
The sprite melon salsa was a hit at my table. This was one of the first courses where diners, like Matt Barfield, were commenting about the use of both secret ingredients.
Margaret wasn't into it. "I wouldn't write home about it, but it was good," she said.
Denise from Table 5 compared the creme to the "Yum Yum" sauce you get at Hibachi places, but noted that it was good.
Overall, this was the dish that many people kept talking about and comparing future dishes to. Definitely a hit with most diners, myself included.
Course 4: Watermelon BBQ Glazed Char Grilled Texas Pete® Marinated Breast of Quail with Carrot Soufflé (Market) (Score: 17.03)
Maybe not the prettiest dish - all the elements were basically one color - but diners didn't care.
"I could have licked the plate, but I was being polite." said Barbara Jankovictz, mother of Market souse chef Scott Jankovictz. She hoped this was his dish and she was right.
Others at her table were also a fan.
"I don't know if it showed off the secret ingredients well, but it was delicious," Erik Lars Myers said.
Vogelsberg tasted the Texas Pete but lost the watermelon in it.
The carrot souffle, which many people compared to sweet potatoes, was a nice accompaniment. The souffle is a favorite in southern Louisiana where McIntyre is from originally. He said that he drew inspiration from his wife's recipe and also gave credit to Southern cafeteria-style restaurant Piccadilly, which serves up a very tasty carrot souffle. (I immediately said Piccadilly when I tasted this dish. I am from south Louisiana and dined at many a Piccadilly!)
McIntyre said he would have liked to have had more time to make the quail a bit crispier, but was happy with the dish overall.
Course 5: Watermelon Texas Pete® Flan, Chocolate Brownie, Rompope Sauce, Melon Salad, Watermelon Gastrique (Jimmy v's) (Score: 16.89)
The sauces were the highlight of this dish.
Pro judge, Bret Jennings, chef and owner of Elaine's in Chapel Hill, enjoyed the rompope, a Mexican eggnog with rum, and gastrique sauces, but was less enthused about the flan, which he said was a little "scrambled."
"(The flan was an) ambitious thing to do," Jennings said, noting that it is hard to make flan in small portions and maintain the correct consistency. Jennings suggested that maybe making a larger flan then cutting it would have been a better idea.
Many diners agreed about the flan, leaving it on their plates.
Victoria Bouloubasis, a food writer for The Independent Weekly, loved the way that the spiciness from the Texas Pete slowly built up in this dish.
Course 6: Texas Pete® Mole Steamed Pudding, Cantaloupe Crème Anglaise, Lavender Pickled Watermelon Rind (Market) (Score: 19.01)
This dish was a little polarizing for many diners. Either you loved it or you didn't.
My table wasn't sure what to make of it. For them, the anglaise and the pickled watermelon elicited the biggest complaints.
While a few tables agreed, several other tables loved it.
Erik Lars Myers raved about it as the "highlight" of his meal. His wife, Sarah Ficke, agreed saying the pickled rinds were creative and delicious. The folks at table 10 agreed saying that it incorporated the secret ingredients in a unique way.
McIntyre said he wished he had more time to candy the rinds more, that might have given it just a little more universal appeal.
"It's anybody's guess when you have two chefs with very similar personalities and styles," host Jimmy Crippen said.
Crippen credited Chef Ref Laurence Willard for being on the pulse of what's fresh when selecting secret ingredients.
Market's Chad McIntyre said when he found out the secret ingredients he immediately thought about doing sweet and sour items. He, himself, isn't a fan of super spicy food and didn't want the heat to be really strong.
The scores were close going into the final two courses, but Market's Chad McIntyre, who battled in his signature homemade kilt and cowboy hat, prevailed and will move on to the semifinals next week where he will face Midtown Grille's Scott James.
Zanini said he was happy with the dishes his team prepared. The only thing he wished he had more time on was the pork belly.
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.