What do you get when you combine: mystery ingredients that are made, raised, caught, or grown in North Carolina; local chefs with a competitive nature; and participants who are willing to judge the results? Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series, of course! This statewide competition is the collaborative effort of a creative restaurateur, Jimmy Crippen, and key sponsors including Pate Dawson-Southern Foods and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. This competition takes place in six different venues throughout the year: Wilmington – Fire on the Dock, Asheville – Fire on the Rock, Triad – Fire in the Triad, Raleigh – Fire in the Triangle, Charlotte – Fire in the City, and back to Raleigh for the grand finale, Final Fire
I was honored to be a media judge for the recent Competition Dining Series Quarterfinals of Fire in the Triangle. Chef Adam Jones from Dean’s Seafood Grill & Bar and Chef Serge Flacoz-Vigne from 518 West were the competitors for this round. The event took place at 1705 Prime, one of the venues for Rocky Top Catering. It was apparent that much thought and detail went in to planning this event. From the initial greeting to the vast multimedia platform in the dining room—I could tell this was going to be a memorable night.
There was palpable electricity in the air. Because this was a quarterfinal, the chefs competing had already been pitted against other area chefs within the last month. Their victories, although short lived, were a definite sign that the courses would be creative and delicious. I had the pleasure of sitting at the judge’s table with Chef Colin Bedford from the Fearrington House Restaurant, Stephanie Nikolic, the executive pastry chef from Urban Food Group, and Chef Tom Dyrness from Mama Ricotta’s Restaurant in Charlotte. The conversations alone made for an amazing night. Listening to these chefs talk about their personal journeys to this point in time was enlightening. Their expert opinions of the courses presented were a feast for the ears.
The secret ingredients were revealed moments before the first course arrived. My favorite piece of the Competition Dining Series is the fact that the secret ingredients are always local—caught, raised, grown, made—right here in North Carolina. Drum roll please… The night’s secret ingredients were: Kerala Curry Tomato Chutney, Mango Chutney, and Vindaloo Curry (made in Pittsboro, NC) and labneh from Hillsborough Cheese Company. I nearly burst with excitement, as these are two companies that I love dearly! The room was a buzz with anticipation of the courses to come.
Judging a competition like this can be a daunting task, but Competition Dining Series creators provided us with criteria and a smartphone app for voting. Each course is scored in eight areas including Presentation, Aroma, Overall Flavor, Flavor of Secret Ingredient, Execution, Creativity, Use of Secret Ingredient, and Accompaniments. Votes may be changed throughout the night as courses continue to arrive, but must be locked in at the end of the evening. Participants vote as well, so at the end of the night everyone gets to see how the audience voted and how the judges voted. This makes for some cheering…and good-natured booing!
A picture is worth a thousand words (or more), so I will let you feast your eyes on the creativity of these two chefs in the photos below. The winner of the night, Serge Falcoz-Vigne of 518 West, will compete again in the Semifinals on July 29th. Competition Dining Series wraps up in the Triangle soon, but Fire in the City starts in August and Final Fire will be held in November. If you can’t make it to an event—and I highly recommend you try—catch all of the photos and excitement on the Competition Dining Twitter feed and Facebook page. Let the games begin!