A few weeks ago I was honored to return as a guest judge at the second annual “Fire in the Triangle” Competition Dining Series here in Raleigh. This is a fantastic culinary event featuring local chef’s in a friendly competition featuring North Carolina foods. Guests enjoy a six course meal in a blind tasting alongside a panel of culinary and celebrity judges in a series of 15 dinner competitions that run from July through August at 1705 Prime in North Raleigh.
Each evening, two restaurants “battle” it out side-by-side in a single elimination format. Guests savor a six-course menu (three dishes from each chef without knowing whose food they’re tasting) created around a “featured” ingredient. For each dinner, the ingredient comes from a North Carolina farmer or artisan producer. The featured ingredient is revealed to the chefs only an hour before they start cooking, and it must be used in each of the three courses. Judges and guests alike rank each meal as they dine using a cool smart phone app and the results are tallied and the winning chef announced at the end of the evening.
On the night I attended the competitors were Chef Regan Stachler of Little Hen in Apex and Chef Serge Falcoz-Vigne of 518 West in Raleigh. Speculation was high among the evening’s guest as to what the secret ingredient would be while I made my rounds enjoying cocktail hour in the 1705 lounge with a pint of Mystery Brewing’s Queen Anne’s Revenge (Mystery Brewing out of Hillsborough, NC was that week’s featured NC brewery. Try their beer – it is awesome!)
The super “secret ingredient” was revealed to the eager diners just after they took their seats in the main dining area where we learned it was none other than Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and Joe Van Gogh Coffee. Given my passion for local coffee, I was very excited about these featured ingredients and couldn’t wait to see what these two great chefs created with them.
While the chefs worked in the kitchen, Jimmy Crippen, the evening’s Emcee and host explained how diners submit their votes using the smartphone app and we heard a few words from the sources of the secret ingredient.
I attended the evening solo, but was really lucky to land a seat at a great table of self proclaimed “foodies” who have their own dining club they call “Ladies who Dine”. They get together once a month to eat at local restaurants and were excited about attending their first Competition Dining Event. They were a really fun group of people to spend the evening with enjoying great food. Below is a photo recap of the six courses we were presented along with some commentary from me and my “Fire in the Triangle” table-mates!
Course 1 was a Joe Van Gogh Coffee-Chili Krispy Kreme Doughnut with Roasted Poblano Pepper Cheese, Krispy Kreme Chocolate Icing Mole. This dish was prepared by Chef Regan of Little Hen. Folks at my table had mixed reviews about this dish but I actually enjoyed the simplicity of it overall. I found the spiciness of the poblano pepper cheese and sweetness of the doughnut to compliment each other very well. Unfortunately, the icing mole was missing from the dish which I think hurt it in the overall scoring.
Course 2 was the creation of Chef Serge Falcoz-Vigne of 518 West. It was a Krispy Kreme Doughnut Millefeuille with Joe Van Gogh Coffee Braised Duck, Lobster Salad & Radish Slaw, Caramel Doughnut Icing Glazed Crispy Pancetta, Coffee Vinaigrette. Sadly I could not enjoy this course because of my food allergy (can’t eat shellfish) but this dish was received well by the foodies at my table. It edged out course #1 in voting at our table.
Course 3 was where Chef Regan of Little Hen really shined in my opinion. It was a dish comprised of homemade Duck & Pork Coffee Chorizo, Krispy Kreme Doughnut Tortilla, Joe Van Gogh Cabbage Slaw with Caramel Doughnut Icing Crema. I know it sounds crazy to eat duck with a doughnut (I ate it all together like it was a taco) but it tasted wonderful together. I thought this was the most creative dish of the evening.
Course 4 was the creation of Chef Serge Falcoz-Vigne of 518 West. It was Chocolate Icing Glazed Quail in a Krispy Kreme Dough Blanket, Sautéed Cabbage with Tasso, Joe Van Gogh Panamanian Coffee Polenta, Chipotle Doughnut Glaze. Ultimately this was the one dish I wasn’t a huge fan of. While I enjoyed the Joe Van Gogh Coffee falvor of the polenta, I didn’t quite appreciate the combination of flavor with the quail. The table was split on this dish, while nobody disliked it (let’s face it, everything these chefs create is pretty fantastic), they either loved it or were somewhat neutral when comparing it to the night’s other dishes.
Course 5 marked our entrance into the realm of deserts. Chef Regan created a Joe Van Gogh Coffee Cheesecake, Krispy Kreme Glazed Doughnut Crust with Citrus-Krispy Kreme Caramel Doughnut Icing Glaze. I love cheescake and this one was excellent. The combination of the Krispy Kreme glaze along with the coffee flavored cheescake was very inventive in my opinion. While some at my table didn’t rank this dish as high, it was one of my favorites.
Course 6 from Chef Serge Falcoz was a Krispy Kreme Glazed Doughnut & Goat Cheese Bread Pudding, with Cherry-Chocolate Icing Compote, and Joe Van Gogh Coffee Infused Crème Anglaise. While not as visually pleasing as Course 5, I enjoyed this desert as well. The key was to make sure you had a little of everything from the plate on you spoon so all the flavors mixed together. The one thing our table was confused about was the crispy “crouton” like doughnut wedge. We weren’t exactly sure what to do with it! Despite that confusion all in all, a great desert.
After our table finished entering in their votes we enjoyed comparing notes about the dishes and discussed which were our favorites. It is always fun to guess which chef made what since you don’t find out until the end and there are always some surprises! The above picture is of the infamous table 20 where I enjoyed my evening. I couldn’t have been put with a better group of crazy foodies. Really enjoyed talking to them all and sharing our thoughts on each dish. I also think they enjoyed drinking wine.
Ultimately when the votes were tallied it was EXTREMELY close. Although both chefs did an incredible job the winning chef was Chef Serge Falcoz-Vigne of 518 West. he won by a slim margin of a mere 0.5 points. As the winner, Chef Serge Falcoz-Vigne moves on to the next round to compete against another early round winner to see if he has what it takes to make it to the final round later this month! I think both chefs and their teams did an amazing job and should be proud of the dishes they sent out to the dining room that night. Each created inventive dishes that made good use of the secret ingredients.
The competition dining series is a wonderful way to spend the evening with a foodie friend trying creative dishes made with North Carolina ingredients. While the remainder of the “Fire in the Triangle” series is sold out they are already getting ready to launch their next event “Fire in the City” in Charlotte next month. Tickets for the Charlotte series go on sale August 7th. Visit the Competition Dining website for more information and ticket information. Happy eating!