If you’ve been following any local media lately, social or traditional, you’ve likely heard or read the words “Fire in the Triangle” (and perhaps you’ve reached reflexively for a fire extinguisher – no worries though). The fiery Competition Dining series, based in Blowing Rock for the last few years, made its way through Wilmington earlier this Spring, and now is heating up the Triangle through July.
The savvy, adventurous, enthusiastic diners of the Triangle bought up every last ticket to the “Iron Chef” style dining series earlier this week. I was humbled to be invited to judge for one of the early events, the battle between Chapel Hill’s Weathervane (at A Southern Season) and Raleigh’s Fork and Barrel (celebrating its first anniversary this month). Each chef team had supporters in the dining room at 1705 Prime, evidenced by the loud cheers for Fork and Barrel, as well as the “House of Payne” t-shirted table. It seems Triangle rivalries are not limited to football and basketball season. 😉
For each event, a secret NC ingredient is revealed to diners just before the six-course service begins. There seemed to be palpable anticipation prior to the long-awaited announcement, then ardent applause from the crowd as the evening’s featured ingredient was announced, Johnston County Hams for “Battle Country Ham”. The Durham Foodie blog covers all the details of the event and menu (and is the official blog for the series) in collaboration with Matt Lardie (of Green Eats) and Gabrielle Kaasa (@nutellaisevil on Twitter). So do be sure to follow those parties’ blogs and tweets as the series continues, as well as those of Competition Dining.
Though I found every course pleasing, my personal favorite dishes for the evening were the Bacon and Shrimp Dumpling, with sweet potato puree and coconut curry, from Chef Chris Harris and the Fork and Barrel team,
the Bacon-Blue Cheese Grit Cakes with crispy country ham and spicy shrimp, from Chef Ryan Payne and the Weathervane team,
and the final course, also from Chef Payne’s team, a divinely inspired Bacon Moon Pie, with candied bacon (which I really, really, really hope will appear on the menu at Weathervane at some point in the future). Chef Ryan Payne’s team won Battle Country Ham, as determined by weighted voting of all in attendance that evening, and will compete again on July 18th against a yet to be determined opponent.
This was just the third battle in the series, and in my opinion each event seems to escalate to new culinary heights. If you have tickets to the upcoming battles, you are in for quite a treat. If you’re kicking yourself because you hesitated just one day too long, keep an eye on the next destination in the series, Fire in the Triad, headed for Greensboro in August (not too far a drive on West bound I-40… just sayin’).
Many thanks to the organizing “forces” behind Competition Dining, the talented chefs and their culinary teams, and the event partners and sponsors: NC Dept. of Agriculture “Got to be NC”, Southern Foods/Pate Dawson, Crippen’s Country Inn & Restaurant (and MC Jimmy Crippen), and “Our State” Magazine (just to name a few). I’m so proud to be among the many who offer congratulations and well wishes for the continued success of this event series, and I thank everyone involved for allowing the Triangle, and all of North Carolina, to “shine”.