Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Got to be N.C.'s Competition Dining begins new season

By Jennifer Primrose | Jan 21, 2015
Twitter: @TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | Instagram: @trianglearoundtown

Whether you're a true foodie or just someone who likes to go out and enjoy a friendly competition, opening night of Got to be NC's Competition Dining, held at 1705 Prime Catering and Events in Raleigh on Monday, Jan. 19, certainly did not disappoint.  

What is Competition Dining? Competition Dining pits two chefs against each other in a friendly style competition.  This year-long competition takes place across the great state of North Carolina from the coast to the mountains.  From the Triangle to the Triad.  

On noon, the day of the competition, a secret ingredient is revealed to the two competing chefs. At that time, all chefs cell phones are confiscated, and they are no longer in contact with the outside world. Chef Ref Bobby Zimmerman stocks the mobile pantry with ingredients for the competitors, as they prepare to create the masterpieces for the evenings 120 guests. The rules are quite simple.  Each chef and his or her team creates three dishes – an appetizer, main course and dessert, using the secret ingredient and the guests, that’s right, the guests get to judge, alongside a panel of professional judges.   

The “judges” are voting on the following categories: presentation, aroma, overall flavor, secret ingredient flavor, execution, creativity, use of secret ingredient and accompaniments.  

At the end of the evening, the votes are tallied up and a winner is revealed. He or she will then move on to the next round. The winner of each region will advance and compete in the Final Fire competition held in November. The prize? $2,000 and the honor of bragging rights as they don the “Red Chef Jacket.”

Triangle Around Town had the privilege of attending this year’s opening night in Raleigh. We arrived around 6 p.m., found our table, downloaded the Competition Dining app that would enable us to vote and casually made our way to the bar to check out the specials for the evening. 

Dathan tried the Spicy Cucumber Lemonade made with TOPO, one of the special cocktails of the evening … while I settled for a glass of Cabernet.  I must say though, after tasting the cucumber lemonade I thought it was AMAZING! 

As 7 p.m. neared, host Jimmy Crippen kicked off the evening by introducing the chefs, Chef Gerry Fong of New Bern, former winner of Fire on the Dock and of Cutthroat Kitchen fame versus Chef Benjamin Harris of Midtowne Grille in Raleigh.   The secret ingredient was unveiled as Johnston County Mangalista Ham. Honestly, I had never heard of Mangalista ham before but pork is pork, right?  Each course was served one by one, not knowing which chef prepared which dish, it was time to taste, savor and judge.


Course 1:

Pan-Roasted Scallop, Logan Turnpike Stone Ground Grits, Saffron, Basil, Chili, and of course, Crispy Johnson County Mangalista Ham

Course 2:

Lavender & Thyme Seared Giant Sea Scallop, Rice Noodle Salad, Sauteed Parsnip & Johnston County Mangalista Ham with Currant – Cranberry Compote


Course 3:

Confit of Heritage Farms Cheshire Pork Belly and Butter-Poached Crawfish, Looking Glass Creamery “Chocolate Lab” Rustic Porridge, Butternut, Red Onion Jam, Redeye Gravy

Course 4:

Coffee & Johnston County Mangalista Ham-Crusted Certified Angus Beef Brand Ribeye, Wild Mushroom, Mangalista Ham, Looking Glass Creamery “Ellington” Goat Cheese Risotto, Caramel-Roasted Butternut Puree, Mangalista Ham & Citrus Brussel Sprouts, TOPO Old White Well Demi


Course 5:

Milk Chocolate Custard, Dark Chocolate Torte, Buttermilk Fluid Gel, Johnston County Mangalista Ham Salted Caramel, “Fluff”

Course 6:

Johnston County Mangalista Ham & Chocolate Stout Cake with Mangalista & Pomegranate Sorbet, Vanilla Chili & Lime Anglaise, Candied Beets

So, how did I rank each dish?  It wasn’t easy!  Everything was absolutely amazing!  My highest score, however, was course 5, the milk chocolate custard, dark chocolate torte, buttermilk fluid gel, Mangalista ham salted caramel and fluff with a score of 83%.

This was an extremely close battle, with 3/100 of a point separating the two chefs!  The winner of Battle Johnston County Hams was  Chef Benjamin Harris from Raleigh’s Midtown Grill!  Chef Harris will move on to the quarter finals as he battles the winner of #CompDining NC Battle Shitake Mushrooms that was held Tuesday, Jan 20, Chef Ryan Conklin of Rex Healthcare on Feb 9 … same time, same place!