The “Got To Be NC” Competition Dining Series Fire in the Triangle got off to an exciting start last night as Chef Shane Ingram and his team from Foursquare in Durham faced off against Chef Adam Jones and his team from Twisted Fork in Raleigh.
The chefs were playing to a sell-out crowd, and the excitement was high as host Jimmy Crippen made his opening remarks. A clip from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the original, of course) led the announcement of the secret ingredient. Not chocolate actually, but North Carolina blueberries, Jimmy announced as Violet Beauregarde turned blue in the background.
The premise was simple – six courses (three from each chef) and a blind judging by the audience and invited official judges. In this case the judges for the night were Andrea Weigl of the News & Observer and Tara Whitfield of WRAL. The scores of both the judges and the audience would be combined at the end to determine the winner.
The courses started coming and everyone got down to the task at hand. Well, after snapping a few photos of course (ahh, dining in the age of social media). Some of the dishes were instant hits while others fell flat; after the second course Andrea Weigl sent out a snarky Tweet reminding the chefs that the secret ingredient, blueberries, should not be an afterthought. While they might not have been looking at Twitter in the kitchen, they seemed to have gotten the message because each dish after that was very blueberry-centric.
Speaking of the kitchen, things were a lot less hectic than one would have imagined. I removed myself from judging so that I would have the opportunity to pop in the back and catch the action without compromising the competition, and I was surprised to find an air of quiet energy rather than the barely-controlled-chaos I was expecting. Both teams were working together to help get each other’s dishes plated, so much so that I often couldn’t tell which dish belonged to which chef.
Back out on in the dining room, as we worked our way through the last course, folks began to handicap their favorite dishes. The jalapeno-mint jelly that came with the pound cake dessert course was a runaway hit at our table, and I personally loved the stuffed shrimp. There were two pheasant dishes, and while the pheasant pad thai seemed to win out over the grilled pheasant in terms of sheer taste, we weren’t happy with its lack of blueberries (hence the afterthought tweet). All in all though everyone at my table seemed impressed with each course and they dutifully tallied their votes as we settled in to wait for the results.
Election 2000 this was not, for the results were ready within minutes. Both chefs and their teams were brought out and introduced a rousing round of applause from the diners, and then the votes for each dish were read out. The pound cake was a runaway hit, but each chef had some winners. In the end though, it was Shane Ingram and his team from Foursquare who clinched the victory. Chef Ingram put out a Blue Crab Blueberry Roasted Gazpacho, a Blueberry Pheasant Pad Thai, and the crowd-favorite Grilled Vanilla Bean Pound cake with Roasted Blueberry, Lim Crumble, Jalapeno Mint Syrup, and Toasted Meringue.
Chef Jones served up Chorizo Blueberry Stuffed Shrimp, Grilled Pheasant with a Blueberry-Coffee Rub, and a Blueberry Ginger Cobbler. His shrimp got high marks from most but the dessert seemed to fall a little flat with the diners.
I got a chance to chat with Chef Ingram as the night wound down, and told me that he knew his team might have a chance to win the competition after he saw his pastry chef Steven’s plated pound cake dessert. Both chefs and their teams worked hard however, and it was great to see the camaraderie and cooperation they showed their competitors.
If the first night was any indication, Fire in the Triangle is only going to get better. I’ll be back at it tonight and tomorrow night, so be sure to check in each morning following the battles for a full recap!
– Matt Lardie
Matt Lardie is the voice behind the local food and agriculture website Green Eats Blog. He has a passion for local foods and businesses, and works to connect customers with local food producers through his writing as well as hosting food-centric events around the Triangle. He is also the full-time manager for Hillsborough Cheese Company. Matt lives in Durham with his husband and pets.