Fire in the Triangle: Battle Angus beef and Counter Culture Coffee
Posted July 8, 2014 10:38 p.m. EDT
Updated July 9, 2014 10:06 a.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — The final Fire in the Triangle battle of Round 1 pitted Beth Littlejohn, of Coquette in Raleigh's North Hills, against Regan Stachler, chef/owner of Little Hen in Holly Springs. Both teams came into the battle with experience. Stachler is a previous Fire in the Triangle competitor and Littlejohn stacked her team with an Urban Food Group colleague who has competed on TV's "Iron Chef."
Both said after the battle that they began mental preparations even before the secret ingredient was announced.
"We had some things we wanted to do, and it was a matter of incorporating the ingredient," Littlejohn said.
And what an ingredient it was. The featured secret ingredient was Certified Angus Beef. "It's one of my favorites," said Jimmy Crippen, founder, director and host of the Competition Dining Series. "They really believe in what we're doing."
The beef was paired with Durham's own Counter Culture Coffee. Each chef had to create three dishes – a minimum of two with the beef and all three using the coffee.
Fire in the Triangle is a blind tasting, diners vote not knowing 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 - Counter Culture Coffee Rubbed Certified Angus Beef® Brand Teres Major & Scallop Carpaccio, Jicama, Radish & Anaheim Pepper (Little Hen) (Score: 21.755)
The meal got off to a slow start, literally. Some tables had finished and cast their votes before plates were even delivered elsewhere.
Guests I talked to had little to say about this dish and were unimpressed with the evidence of the coffee. One diner at Table 11, self-described non-foodie, said, upon seeing the portion size that he'd have to seek out Five Guys on the way home.
Course 2 - Certified Angus Beef® Brand Teres Major Tartare, Orange Purée, Cilantro, Crispy Counter Culture Coffee Quinoa (Coquette) (Score: 22.093)
Their appetites whetted and interest perked, my dining companions had high hopes for Course 2. "That crispy coffee quinoa could either be really good, or...," said one.
The Cavanagh ladies of Cary gave this one high marks, citing the carpaccio, cilantro and quinoa's crunch as highlights.
Denise Weeks of Raleigh preferred the first course over the second. "I didn't think it was very creative," she said. "It was very bland."
Course 3 - Counter Culture Coffee Mole Certified Angus Beef® Brand Teres Major Sausage, Tomatillo, Pickled Mushroom, Grilled Parsley Chimichurri (Little Hen) (Score: 23.089)
After two raw beef options, the sausage was a welcome change for my non-foodie friend, Eddie Newcastle of Cary. It was at this point in the evening that he stopped talking about Five Guys.
Course 4 - Certified Angus Beef® Brand Teres Major & NC Eggs, Counter Culture Red Eye Gravy, Crispy Potatoes (Coquette) (Score: 21.323)
"Whoever did that wins," Bob Thomas said emphatically about Course 4, a simple yet snazzy take on steak and eggs.
"So simple, so good," another diner murmured with mouth full.
At the table of "pros," guest chefs from across the state, this was the favorite of the entree offerings. "Put simply," one chef said," I really like eggs, and I really like red eye gravy."
Course 5 - Bay Leaf and Citrus Cake, Coffee English Cream, Black Sesame and Counter Culture Coffee Brittle (Little Hen) (Score: 25.551)
As dessert courses were served, many diners took advantage of the available Counter Culture Coffee fresh from the french press. "I have never seen more coffee ordered," Crippen beamed.
Course 5, the evening's top scorer overall, "made me want to have a cigarette afterwards," said WRAL's Ken Smith.
"It was a 'turn down the lights' kind of dessert."
Course 6 - Vanilla-Glazed Doughnut, Counter Culture Coffee Semi-Freddo, Orange Anglaise (Coquette) (Score: 24.597)
Newcastle was ultimately won over by the very last course.
"I am a retired cop and that was the best thing all day," he said.
Smith was less enamored. "It was not too imaginative," he said.
The scores were super close, with just .8 points pushing Little Hen's Stachler into the next round.
"I am really, really proud of my team today," he said.
"Be prepared for more big flavors," he added as he celebrated with his team and baby daughter. Little Hen will take on Jimmy V's Steakhouse during a sold-out battle on July 22.
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!