Meet Tonights Chefs for Fire in the Triangle, 518 West Italian Cafe vs Herons at the Umstead Hotel & Spa

The Competition Dining series “Fire in the Triangle” continues as we begin our second week of quarter finals with Chef Serge Falcoz-Vigne of 518 West Italian Cafe vs  Chef John Childers of Herons at the Umstead Hotel. Both chefs won their respective battles in the first round, Chef Falcoz-Vigne in Battle Cantaloupe and Chef Childers in Battle Turkey.

“The Chef, The Farmer and You, The Diner! This is the Got to be NC Competition Dining Series.”

The Competition Dining series is based on the concept of “Iron Chef” with a secret ingredient announced to the chefs each day of battle at noon…..we, the dining judges and followers of course do not find out until sometime around 7pm when the event begins….the intrigue and suspense is a killer =). The best part is that all secret ingredients are from North Carolina and a true testament to the abundance of local product available to us.

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

A day in the life of “Fire in the Triangle.”


But let’s get down to the chefs competing tonight and find out what they thought of their first rounds in the following Q&A’s.

Chef Serge Falcoz-Vigne: 518 West Italian Cafe

Serge Falcoz-Vigne: 518 West in Raleigh, NC
My cooking style is: Classic traditional cooking with a Southern cuisine inspiration.
My competitive advantage is: that I actually see this type of competition as an opportunity for our team to grow. The pressure and stress will force us to push ourselves past traditional boundaries and create something truly unique and exciting for our guests.

Post Battle Q & A with Chef Serge Falcon-Vigne

Me: What were the biggest challenges during your first battle?

Chef Falcoz-Vigne: The biggest challenge was to be sure that we put all the dreams we had in our heads on the plates for the guests, and to be sure that the dream was just crazy enough while still being realizable.

Me: Were there any “oh no” moments when you thought something went seriously wrong?

Chef Falcoz-Vigne: We were on the edge of each moment and we were fighting to go through to the next moment without too much trouble.

Me: After finding out what the secret ingredient was, how did you go about planning / brainstorming your 3 courses?

Chef Falcoz-Vigne: We sat down together as a team to elaborate a strategy, we took our time to write down the organisation for plan A, plan B, plan C, plan…….

Me: What kind of strategies were you planning/thinking about?

Chef Falcoz-Vigne: Our main strategy was to make good food with good flavor, the kind of dish that would come to knock on the door of your heart.

Me: Were you excited or dismayed when the secret ingredient was revealed?

Chef Falcoz-Vigne: Since we have no control over the secret ingredient, worrying about whether it is good or bad is a waste of time, so I prefer to keep my energy to focus on the creation of the three courses.

Me: As a team, what were each individual person’s strengths? And how did that help pull you together as a team?

Chef Falcoz-Vigne: Though ultimately it is the chef’s responsibility to decide which ideas to go with and what the final courses will be, everyone brainstormed as a team and threw so many great ideas out there – for each idea we discussed together how to incorporate the secret ingredient and highlight it as much as possible in each course.

Me: What were your thoughts after the meal was plated and ready for the judging audience? As you had envisioned or did you have to improvise along the way.

Chef Falcoz-Vigne: Up until the very last second the plates are not finished, it is total improvisation where the urgency of the situation helps you to find the right garnish or finishing touch at the ultimate moment. Let’s try to trust the life.

Me: Any final thoughts about the overall experience?

Chef Falcoz-Vigne: Be better next time.

Me: What are you most looking forward to going into the next battle? 

Chef Falcoz-Vigne: Win again

Me: Is there any one thing you learned during the first battle that will help you in the quarter finals?

Chef Falcoz-Vigne: Be more ready than we were for the first battle, and let the secret ingredient inspire us even more than before, be inspired by imagining the pleasure of our guests when they will taste our food.

Chef Serge Falcoz-Vigne at Fire in the Triangle post-win interview: Battle Cantaloupe

Chef John Childers: Herons at the Umstead Hotel and Spa

John Childers: Herons in Cary, NC
My cooking style is: Refined American with worldly influences.
The NC ingredients I use are: Ashley Farms poultry, Heritage Farms Pork, and Johnston County Hams to name a few. My personal philosophy is to utilize as many local products as possible as a means to support sustainable agriculture and the local economy.

Post Battle Q & A with Chef John Childers

Me: What were the biggest challenges during your first battle?

Chef Childers: The biggest challenge was familiarizing ourselves with the kitchen.  Chefs are creatures of habit, but a good chef is able to adapt.

Me: Were there any “oh no” moments when you thought something went seriously wrong?

Chef Childers: No, not that I can remember.  We were confident in what we were doing the entire time.

Me: After finding out what the secret ingredient was, how did you go about planning/brainstorming your 3 courses?

Chef Childers: We started by thinking of different techniques to prepare the ingredient and then comprised a list of flavors that compliment it. From that our menu was born.

Me: What kind of strategies were you planning/thinking about?

Chef Childers: Our only strategy was to produce a dessert no matter what.

Me: Were you excited or dismayed when the secret ingredient was revealed?

Chef Childers: I was not fond of our secret ingredient.  Turkey is something that people usually cook and eat once a year.  And the majority of people do this because of tradition, not because they enjoy the flavor.  We knew we had to stay away from traditional thanksgiving fare, and remain true to our style.

Me: As a team, what were each individual person’s strengths? And how did that help pull you together as a team?

Chef Childers: My team is solid.  Both guys, Ricardo Madera and Josh Hughes are not only great cooks, but my friends.  We enjoy cooking together.  I feel that is what gives us an edge.

Me: What were your thoughts after the meal was plated and ready for the judging audience? As you had envisioned or did you have to improvise along the way.

Chef Childers: We, as a team, were confident in what we produced.  I had the chance to taste every dish composed and all of them were exactly what we were hoping to achieve.  Your fate is in the peoples’ hands and you just cross your fingers hoping that they enjoyed your food.

Me: Any final thoughts about the overall experience?

Chef Childers: I have been impressed by the amount of production that has gone into this event.  Kudos to Jimmy and all of the sponsors. The coverage has been phenomenal, from social media to magazines and radios stations.

Me: What are you most looking forward to going into the next battle?

Chef Childers: Winning.

Me: Is there any one thing you learned during the first battle that will help you in the quarter finals?

Chef Childers: We now have a better understanding of how much time is available.  We are also more familiar with the kitchen.

Chef John Childers at Fire in the Triangle post-win interview: Battle Turkey

Triangle location for all dinners: 1705 Prime Catering and Events, the premier private event space for Rocky Top Catering at 1705 East Millbrook Road, Raleigh, NC 27609; http://www.rockytopcatering.com/our-venue/1705prime.php

Next up in the series is “Fire in the Triad” August 13 through September 25 in Winston-Salem. For tickets go here.

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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