Fire in the Triangle, Night 3 – Weathervane v. Fork and Barrel

Three nights in a row and my stomach is about to go on strike. I managed to break the picket lines though and settled in for another round of the “Got to be NC” Competition Dining Series at 1705 Prime last night.

I’m going to skip straight past the atmosphere, even hold off on introducing the chefs, because last night’s secret ingredient had me literally jumping for joy. It was…Johnston County Country Hams! You hear right folks, six courses of piggy deliciousness. The chefs got to pick from Johnston Co. bacon, country ham, prosciutto, and the king of cured meats, Mangalitsa hams. At $275 a pound the Mangalitsa ham is the Rolls Royce of meats.

Mangalista Cured Ham
Photo: countrycuredhams.com

Our competitors last night were Chef Chris Harris of Fork and Barrel in Raleigh and Chef Ryan Payne of The Weathervane at A Southern Season in Chapel Hill. Both teams brought their supporters; the dining room was packed with cheering enthusiasts on each side, including a contingent decked out in “House of Payne” t-shirts.

Battle Hog was on, and boy oh boy did they bring it. The first course was a Bacon & Shrimp Dumpling with Grilled Shrimp, Sweet Potato Puree & Coconut Curry from Chef Harris that left us wanting to lick our plates clean. It was quickly followed by a Lobster & Lump Crab Strudel with Crispy Johnson Co. Ham, Mesclun Salad & Bacon Vinaigrette from Chef Payne that also had diners drooling.

Bacon & Shrimp Dumpling

Next up was Seared Duck with Smoked Bacon & Mushroom Risotto & Tart Cherry Country Ham Jus. This dish, from Chef Harris, was very good but didn’t seem to leave an impression with my table, which just goes to show the high level of competition we experienced last night!

Host Jimmy Crippen checking out the kitchen action

It was back to Chef Adam Payne for course four, and boy did he do it right; Bacon-Blue Cheese Grit Cakes with Crispy Country Ham, Fresno Chilies & Champagne Tarragon Vinaigrette. My table was raving about this dish from the get-go, and although there were aspects of the dish that were a little spicy for me, that grit cake was a thing of heaven. I could have eaten a dozen of them.

Bacon-Blue Cheese Grit Cakes
Photo: Judy Royal

On to desserts. The next course, a Flourless Chocolate Cake with Bourbon Bacon Anglaise & Cherry-Apple-Ham Compote from Chef Harris, was actually the lowest scoring dish of both the audience and the judges last night. I thought it was pretty good, but a bit dry. I would like to give major kudos to the kitchen though; one of my table companions had an apple allergy and literally within 60 seconds of alerting the staff she had a customized dessert sitting in front her. Even with plating and serving individual cakes for over 100 diners they still took the time to accomodate her allergies – another testament to the professionalism of the chefs and the team at Competition Dining and 1705 Prime.

Chef Chris Harris plating his dessert.

The last course was from Chef Payne and his Weathervane team, and if you were following my tweets last night you already know how I feel about the “Bacon Moon Pie” of Banana Marshmallow, Bacon Anglaise, Candied Bacon & Mangalitsa Cookie. If not, let me express myself with the eloquence of a 14 year old girl. OMGJUSTINBIEBERLIKETHEBESTTHINGEVARRRRR.

Bacon Moon Pie. Seriously.

The cake was perfect; not too dense but not too dry. The banana marshmallow wasn’t too banana-y for my tastes. The whole thing was covered in chocolate and topped with a piece of candied Mangalitsa ham. I savored each bite and finished off with my last bit of Mangalitsa so I’d be able to leave with a taste of ham in my mouth. I looked up at fellow table-mate and judge Colleen Minton, of TerraVITA, and was looking down at her empty plate like someone had just stolen the beloved family dog right out from under her. Everyone at the table wanted seconds. I could have gone for thirds. The other judge for the night, Kim Alexander of Triangle Localista, seemed equally enamored of the dish.

Team Weathervane plating their dessert

The food was done, the votes were in, and host Jimmy Crippen brought both teams out to thunderous applause. I sat back in my chair and waited for my stomach to burst while they tabulated the votes. Once the votes were in and Jimmy began announcing the results of each course, it was clear that this would be one of the highest-scoring nights of the entire competition. North Carolina sure does love its pork!

In the end though, only one team could end up  high on the hog (sorry, had to use that one). Both teams fought well, but the winner of round 3 of Fire in the Triangle was…Chef Ryan Payne and his team from The Weathervane!

Chef Ryan Payne
Photo: Judy Royal

For me personally this was the best night of the three; each course was great, and though there were some that were better than others, I couldn’t pinpoint one course that I genuinely did not like. Both chefs brought their best for Battle Hog and in humble opinion they were both winners tonight. Its hard to serve bacon to a crowd full of North Carolinians – expectations are high! Chef Payne and his team really shone through though, and I daresay it was the Bacon Moon Pie that put him over the edge!

For a breakdown of the full results by course visit the Competition Dining: Weathervane v. Fork and Barrel webpage.

After three nights of delicious competition I think I’ll be going on an all-salad diet over the weekend, but Fire in the Triangle starts up again next Monday. Check back here over the weekend for some great behind-the-scenes posts, and then full coverage will begin again on Monday. That’s it for me for a while, many thanks to Johanna for letting me take over her blog for a few days!

Notice I wore my pig bowtie. A lucky coincidence!
Photo: Judy Royal

– 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.

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