I can’t believe it’s finally come down to the final rounds of this great series. Last night was the second semifinal round of Competition Dining‘s Fire in the Triangle. The winner of this battle goes on to challenge Chef Ryan Payne of Weathervane. Chef John Childers of Herons and Chef Christopher Hill of The Oxford Gastropub went head-to-head for a chance at the coveted final remaining spot.
Last night was the Secret Ingredient I’ve been waiting for, and I’m so excited to tell you about these fantastic dishes! It was a dream Competition Dining meal for me, that’s for sure. I nearly stood up and cheered when they announced that the Secret Ingredient was…
NC Heirloom Tomatoes!
Tomatoes are my favorite thing about summertime. A slice of warm tomato, fresh from the garden, is like biting into the late afternoon sunshine. I have never met a tomato I didn’t love. What a treat to have six courses by two amazing chefs completely focused on this wonderful fruit!
The tomatoes used in last night’s battle were from Griffin’s Flat Broke Farms of Holly Springs, NC. They had just been picked that morning- you can’t get fresher that that.
Course one was the “Heirloom Tomato Jewelry Box”: Stewed Heirloom Tomatoes with Pastry, Pinenuts, Orange-Thyme Butter & Whipped Goat Cheese from Chef Hill of The Oxford. This dish had an excellent fresh tomato flavor. The tomatoes were center stage, but the component parts complemented them perfectly, especially the crunch of the pine nuts. This dish was definitely a jewel.
The second course was Tomato Poached Shrimp with Marinated Tomato, Chevre Mousse & Pistachio from Chef Childers of Herons. I appreciated the simple presentation of the Secret Ingredient in this course- it’s hard to improve on a slice of a great tomato. The course was very light and refreshing, even though there was a lot going on. It was difficult to get all the flavors together in one bite, though.
Course three was a Local Tomato Ragu with Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast, Espresso-Lavender Potato Pave’ & Tomato Jus Lie from Chef Hill. I loved the ragu with the duck, but for me the standout element of this dish was the tomato jus lie- it was a beautiful color that really popped on the plate and was absolutely delicious. I wish we’d had a bit more of it as well as the ragu.
Course four was Roasted Venison with Pickled Tomato, Potato Dumplings, Tomato Water and Bacon from Chef Childers. I’m a country-bred girl, and when I heard we’d have venison, tomatoes, and bacon all in one dish, I was thrilled! This was the first dish that really had a substantial aroma; however, it was mainly from the venison, not the tomatoes. The plating was gorgeous, as Judy’s photo above captured. The venison was perfect and I loved the pickled tomato with it- but again, I would have loved more tomato with this dish.
The fifth course began the dessert portion of the evening. Usually, this is the time of night when I push back from the table and wonder how in the world I’ll find room for dessert. Last night, I felt surprisingly comfortable- the dishes were well-proportioned, light, and pleasantly filling. I’m glad I had room, because the desserts were wonderful!
Course five was Sweet Butternut Polenta Planks with Tomato Jam, Tomato-Watermelon Water & Balsamic Gastrique from Chef Hill. This was my favorite dish of the evening- I don’t think I even put my spoon down between bites! The scent of watermelon and tomatoes wafted off the plate before our server had barely even set it down. The polenta was still warm and buttery. The tomato and watermelon combination was a perfect taste of summer. And the crowning touch, that tomato jam, was amazing. Big thanks to Chef Hill and team for such a delightful dish!
Course six was Sweet Biscuit with Macerated Tomatoes & Strawberries, White Chocolate & Sweet Tomato Anglaise. The white chocolate and sweet tomato anglaise was excellent and creative, and I would have loved more of it for biscuit “sopping” purposes. I really liked the idea of strawberries and tomatoes together- again, another wonderful taste of summertime! However, the strawberries in my serving overwhelmed the tomato flavor.
This meal was altogether amazing, and I’m so grateful I was able to experience it. Chef Childers, Chef Hill, and their teams really did justice to this great NC ingredient.
In the end, Chef Childers and his team won a close battle! Get your official result breakdown over on the Competition Dining site. Congratulations on your win, and best of luck in the finals against Chef Payne!
Many thanks to all the sponsors who make this event possible- the NC Department of Agriculture, Southern Foods, Whole Harvest, PDC, Comfortable Soles, Our State magazine, HIT Solutions, Crippens, and the Office of the State Fire Marshal- remember, the number one cause of home fires and burn injuries is cooking! Don’t leave your stove unattended- Stand By Your Pan!
I have thoroughly enjoyed covering these battles for DurhamFoodie- thank you, Johanna, for the opportunity! I’ve met so many friendly folks at these dinners. Everyone- the Competition Dining staff, the sponsors, the chefs and their teams, the service staff at 1705 Prime, my fellow media folks and fellow diners- has been delightful. Thank you so much for a wonderful experience!
I’m off to buy tickets for Fire in the Triad! See you there!
Gabrielle Kaasa is a partner in Succotashed. At Succotashed, our personal chefs offer in-home culinary education and event catering. Our mission is to create inspired, seasonal cuisine with simple, real, and delicious foods. Learn more about our workshops and events. Read our blog for delicious recipes, insightful articles, and helpful cooking tips. When she’s not in the kitchen, Gabrielle enjoys writing, photography, and adventuring with her partner, Bill, and son, Noah.