Meet Your Chefs for Fire in the Triangle Battle 7, Sono Japanese vs Flights

Only two battles left in the preliminary round of Fire in the Triangle, and I can’t wait to see who will move on to the finals.  Tonight’s competitors are Chef Michael Lee of Sono Japanese Restaurant vs Dean Wendel of Flights at the Renaissance Hotel. Another battle between two Raleigh restaurants.

The NC Competition Dining is the first ever “Iron Chef” style competition to tour the State and Thanks to founder Jimmy Crippen of Crippen’s Country Inn and Restaurant in Blowing rock for bringing these battles to the public. I’ve never had so much fun eating =)

Tickets sold out quickly for Fire in the Triangle, but stop by my blog for a daily recap and these “meet the chef” posts to stay in the loop. You can also follow me on twitter @durhamfoodie and the hashtag #CompDiningNC for up to the minute details during each battle. Please also follow us on Facebook at Durhamfoodie and Competition Dining

Now for the good stuff, Meet your Chefs.

Chef Michael Lee

Michael Lee: Sono Japanese in Raleigh, NC

My cooking style is:  Contemporary Japanese cuisine done using different Asian and European techniques.

My competitive advantage is: I’m not afraid to take risks when under pressure.  With my previous experience in past competitions, public events, and culinary demonstrations, I’m know I can rise to the occasion and persevere when under the spotlight.

Q & A with Chef Lee

Me: With the competition dining series focusing on NC products, how do you as a chef incorporate local ingredients onto your menu?

Michael: As a sushi/Japanese restaurant, it is not always easy to incorporate local ingredients because of the nature of our dishes and ingredients.  I do however try to use as much as possible besides the items that we have to purchase that are crucial to our style of food(sushi in general).  As for proteins, I use the local Ashley Farms chicken, Heritage Pork which is also local, as well as shrimp and other ingredients that are in season.  Vegetables are a little easier, I love to use vegetables that are local.  I often go to the farmers market my self to pick up many ingredients in person since it is very close to downtown Raleigh.

Me: How Important is sourcing locally for your restaurant to you?

Michael: It is always very important to support your local farmers and other businesses around us.  We are in a beautiful place where fresh produce and other agriculture is in abundance.  It would be foolish not to utilize these fresh ingredients to our benefit if not to just support the local farmers.  As I mentioned before, as a sushi restaurant, there are ingredients that we must acquire else where such as certain exotic fishes and Japanese ingredients such as miso, green tea, etc. but I try to go local for much as possible.  I have a new restaurant concept that will start pretty soon which is going to utilize almost ALL local ingredients.  Obviously it isn’t a sushi restaurant but it will be asian inspired food.

Me: As for the secret ingredient, what are you most hoping for?

Michael: I really don’t have preference.  That’s the point of this competition.  I would like to see something pop up that forces me to be super creative and a little crazy.

Me: Least hoping for?

Michael: I would not like to see any ingredients that I am too familiar with.  In example, miso, green tea, etc. that are obvious Japanese ingredients.  It would be too obvious and not enough fun…for me or the diners.  But the competition is about local ingredients, so I don’t think that’ll be an issue.

Me: How have you prepped yourself and your two helpers for this event?

Michael: Not really.  We have looked at the previous ingredients used in the event and looked at some dishes that have won in the past but that is about it.  We have talked about portion controlling the most so that we do not have too much or too little so that there is least amount of waste as possible.

Me: Do you have a strategy for winning over your opponent?

Michael: No strategy, just make good tasting food that looks good in an efficient manner.

Me: What do you think it takes to win

Michael: Obviously good tasting food that looks good visually.  If we are talking about things in little more detail, the challenge will be to concentrate on both the professional judges and the regular diners to come up with dishes that are very good and comforting with just the right amount of creativity to make people say “wow” without over doing or confusing the diners.

Me: Aside from winning, of course, what are you looking to walk away from this experience with?

Michael: Experience itself and the satisfaction of having a small part in supporting our local farmers and businesses.

Chef Dean Wendel

Dean Wendel: Flights in Raleigh, NC

My cooking style is:  Regional Cuisine with heavy local influences, all with a modern twist.

The NC ingredients I use are: Local Eggs, Cheeses, Honey, Chicken, Produce and more.  Community is one of the cornerstones of our company and we feel this event will allow us to be a part of it and give back to it

Special thanks to the NC Competition Dining Series Sponsors, without their support, we would not have the privilege of attending such a series of events here in NC.

SPONSORS: The North Carolina Department of Agriculture (NCDA), Southern Foods/ Pate Dawson, OUR STATE Magazine, Crippen’s Country Inn & Restaurant in Blowing Rock, Whole Harvest Foods and H.ITS Technology. Local sponsors include the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau and Independent Weekly.

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