I already knew the “Fire in the Triangle” battle between Chef Chris Hill of The Oxford and Chef Dean Wendel of Flights at the Renaissance North Hills Hotel was going to be fun, how could it not when both teams branded it “Battle Mustache.” Battle Mustache you ask? Both teams grew out their “staches” and declared the each member of the losing team would shave off half their mustache and wear it that way during post battle celebrations. They had grown them out for weeks and in the name of friendly competition made plenty of remarks back and forth via twitter….it was game on!!
What I didn’t know is that not only was Tuesday going to be “Battle Mustache,” but to my absolute delight, “Battle Pork” as well…oh ya!! I about fell out of my chair when host and Competition Dining creator Jimmy Crippen announced the secret ingredient as Heritage Farms Premium Pork…..I LOVE pork!!! It was the beginning of a fantastic evening of local food and fun.
Both teams created three dishes each to be blind tasted and voted on by a packed house of about 120 guest diners. Diners and pro judges were asked to rate each dish based on presentation, aroma, flavor, accompaniments, secret ingredient creativity and execution. The pro judges for the evening were Eric Gephart Chef instructor at The Chef’s Academy in Morrisville, Kathy Worm, co-publisher of SavorNC Magazine and special guest Kirsten Mitchell, executive chef at Cameo 1900 in Wilmington and a Fire on the Dock semifinalist.
At the end of the night, and to a half point difference, the closest scoring battle yet, Chef Chris Hill and Team Oxford took the win. Congratulations guys!!
Course 1 delivered a Sweet & Salty Braised Pork Belly with Red Miso Grilled Sea Scallop, Ginger Onion Marmalade & Pickled Blueberries from The Oxford. The pork shined in this dish without overpowering the tender scallop and the sauce that accompanied the dish offered a slightly sweet yet tangy quality that cut through the salt and fat of the pork belly. The pickled blueberries did the same and were a wonderful addition to the plate.
Course 2 was a Pork Rib Confit with Black Currant Biscuit, Poor Man’s Pork Belly Foie Gras, Sweet Tea Braised Figs & Mesclun Greens from Team Flights. This was a winner at our table from the beginning, one person even saying “this smells good, this smells REALLY good.” The entire dish worked for me and I loved the addition of the braised figs and black currant biscuit. As someone in the room was quoted, “it tastes like a naked Fig Newtons.” The pork was tender and moist and the greens a nice and light compliment to the rich meat.
Next up was an Orange Chipotle Glazed Pork Loin with Corn Crab Sweet Potato Hash & Asparagus Foam from Team Oxford. This dish definitely got mixed reviews at my table. Everyone loved the corn, crab and sweet potato hash but some felt it overshadowed the pork. The asparagus foam was light and airy with a subtle flavor that I thought paired well with the dish. One person at the table felt each component of the dish was good when eaten separately but eaten all together the pork got lost, although I had to disagree. I thought the flavors married well with each other and in fact enhanced the flavor of the pork.
Team Flights was responsible for course 4, a Honey Applewood Brined Pork Loin with Spiced Sweet Potato Puree, Asher Blue Cheese, Green Apple & Roasted Fennel. This dish also got mixed reviews at my table. Personally, I love roasted fennel, but my piece, more of the root part of the bulb, was a little on the tough side. The rest of the diners at my table however loved it. The pork was nice and tender in this dish and the sweet potato absolutely delicious. As for the apple and blue cheese, some liked the combination, some didn’t. half the table felt the apple and blue cheese were too strong and made the flavor of the pork disappear while others felt it complimented the pork beautifully.
I’d say up until this point, most of the diners at my table were split 50/50 between the appetizer and main courses. Once again it was going to be the dessert course (as seems to be the trend in the Fire in the Triangle battles) that would determine the winner of Battle Pork.
The first dessert course was a Graham Cracker Breaded Pork Belly with Chocolate Fondant, Burnt Meringue & White Balsamic Caramel from Team Oxford. From the get go my table companions loved this dish and at the end of the evening declared it their favorite of the two desserts. The fondant was very sweet, too sweet for me personally, but thankfully the white balsamic caramel cut through some of that sweetness. I was told the graham cracker breaded pork was really good, I however didn’t taste it, let alone see it, I’m not sure there was a piece of it on my plate to be honest. Overall, this dessert was a crowd favorite. I was even told by Jen Carlin, Sales and Catering Manager for Rocky Top Hospitality and 1705 Prime that “someone actually licked the dish.”
Course 6 from Team Flights was a Flourless Chocolate Cake with Mapled Pork Belly, Peach-Jalapeno Sorbet, Pork Anglaise & Candied Pecans. I absolutely LOVED the flourless chocolate cake and we all swooned over the pork anglaise, it was absolutely perfect. One person at the table even said “I would have stopped at the pork anglaise” and I have no doubt had someone put a bowl of it in front of her she would gladly have devoured it, we all would have. The sorbet was a hit or miss around the table, some saying the flavors were too subtle. I loved it. The jalapeno didn’t overpower the delicate flavor of the peach and the creamy texture paired well with the cake. Unfortunately this was battle pork and the table as a whole didn’t much care for it in this dish. I think had the pork belly had a crispy exterior, or had there been smaller pieces similar to diced and fried pancetta surrounding the plate we would have enjoyed it more. This was still my favorite of the two dessert courses though. For me neither dessert course delivered on the pork so it really came down to the chocolate and I thought Flights flourless chocolate cake was excellent.
As we wrapped up the evening and guests finished entering their votes it was hard to tell which team would reign supreme. Walking around and talking with people it was very clear that this was going to be a close battle. In the end it was the closest one yet. The final weighted score was 67.03228870% to Team Oxford and 66.53133903% to Team Flights. Unbelievable! It goes without saying that both teams did an amazing job and we thank you for the wonderful food.
Now that Battle Pork was over it was time for Battle Mustache to begin and the “staches” to come off…..well half a mustache anyway. Even Jimmy Crippen, Mr. Competition Dining himself got into the fun too.
De-staching of Jimmy Crippen
To watch the videos of Team Flights “stache” removal, check out Competition Dining’s YouTube page.
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 Got to be NC Competition Dining Series Sponsors, without their support, we would not have the privilege of attending such a series of events here in NC.