Friday, August 30, 2013

Wine Down Wednesday

By Jen  | August 30, 2013
Twitter: @TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | Instagram: @trianglearoundtown

Wine Down Wednesday …. sounds great, doesn't it?   I thought so too when I first came across this Meet Up during the Fall of 2012. Advertised as a “dynamic networking and professional development group,” it is definitely that and more.  What really caught my eye was, of course, the wine tastings!  I’m definitely not big at networking and find myself out of my comfort zone when attending events alone –  but sometimes you need to break out of that comfort zone – and just take a chance.  And wine always helps in those situations!  So, by now you are probably asking yourself, ‘What is Wine Down Wednesday, exactly?’ This meet up group visits local wine bars around the Triangle and couples a wine tasting with two motivational speakers who present their experiences and leadership skills as well as a featured non-profit.  After attending a few events at the end of 2012, I found myself with some scheduling conflicts and have just now started attending again and can honestly say, I walk out of there feeling inspired … inspired to work on those “ideas” we have to supplement our lives, whether to increase our incomes or quite honestly, just to increase our lives!

I attended the last Wine Down Wednesday this past week at a new wine boutique, Vino Amoari, with around 30 or so other members!  As usual, I arrived a little early and found everyone still setting up for the evening. I eventually found my spot at the bar anxiously awaiting the first speaker as I joined in on some conversations with other attendees.  The wine manager, Karleigh, was a fantastic host as was the wine distributor and shop owner, who were also there. 

The wine tasting consisted of 5 wines for $6 served throughout the event and included a Baby Prosecco, Hunter's Chardonnay, an Albarino, Secreto de Viu Manent 2007 Syrah (good enough to even buy a bottle on the way out the door) and a Treasure Hunter Bordeaux Blend out of Napa Valley. These were all paired with cheese, meat, hummus and strawberries soaked in Prosecco!  And if that was not enough, the speakers were amazing and inspirational, as always!

The first speaker, Dr. Barnsley Brown, author of “Get Out of Debt and Get On With Your Life,” spoke on the Three Secrets to Financial Fitness and Power!  This was not quite what I was expecting as I was thinking this would be more a talk of how to manage your money. Dr. Brown took a totally different approach to prosperity by asking us what our highest values were … what is important to “YOU” and what drains “YOU!” Ironically, although I put family, career and volunteerism as my top three highest values, my number one was really my cat, Oreo!  Although I did not take advantage of purchasing an autographed copy of her book, I’m wishing I had!

Next, Lisa Bamford from Doing Good Network (DGN), the charity sponsor for night, introduced Fred Fletcher as he spoke about his life, the organization, and the work they do to raise funds for nonprofit organizations that are in need of funding.  Fred also announced Bands 4 Good Challenge 2013 which is a virtual music video competition that will provide exposure to unsigned, aspiring musicians along with the opportunity to raise funds for nonprofit military support organizations.  For more information, go to 

After a short break, Megan and Barton Cutter took the “stage” (if you will) to talk about how to transform your personal vision into lasting results. The Cutters are the authors of Ink in the Wheels: Stories to Make Love Roll, a memoir about their journey as an inter-ability couple. What I took away from this presentation was have a vision, live your life to its fullest potential, never give up and accept who you are.

Following the presenters, the networking continued and I met some great people and made some great contacts. Ironically, however, I was asked at least three times why, if I work for a corporation, do I attend such events?  Interesting. Well, I can honestly say that I attend, other than for my love of wine, to learn from others, be inspired by others, hope to take our ideas and gain the confidence and inspiration to make our dreams come true. It is not always about money. I have to keep telling myself that since our inspiration and passion revolve around starting a non-profit.  And if nothing else, I made some contacts for our Wine and Beer club.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Pairing Sparkling Wine with Homemade Sorbet to Celebrate Summer

By Jen  | August 27, 2013
Twitter: @TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | Instagram: @trianglearoundtown

It was a typical August evening with slight humidity and stale air as we prepared for our second at-home Wine & Beer Club event. Thankfully we chose the theme of Sparkling wine paired with homemade sorbet. This proved to be a perfect combination on such a warm evening.   

We had a small but lively group tasting the different arrays of sparkling wines from Spain, Italy, France, and even New Mexico!  Dathan had the honor of doing the pouring and talking about the wine as I remained busy in the kitchen preparing the homemade sorbets to be served. I think I confirmed what I already knew which is that food prep and service are not my forte! 

As I frantically scooped sorbet into small “favor” glasses wondering what I was thinking with that suggestion aside from the cute and classy look, I could hear the “oohs and ahhs” in the other room as everyone took their first sip and again when paired with a refreshing sorbet.  Most thumbs up and some thumbs sideways but overall, from what I observed and heard, I would say Alex at Total Wine did an excellent job of selecting our wines for the evening.  We even had the pleasure of tasting a “bonus” French champagne, compliments of Club member, and neighbor, Matt!

As the wine continued to flow, with each new sip the conversations grew louder as new friends and contacts were made. One lucky winner walked away with a $10 gift card to the local wine shop and cafe, Uncorked, and two “unadvertised” Angel of Grace bracelets were sold with proceeds being donated to the American Heart Association. There is nothing like wine to bring people together!  

We started the evening with New Age White from Argentina as guests began to fill our house.  The selections and pairings for the evening were:

Marques de Monistrol Seleccion Especial Cava 
from Spain

Santi Nello Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore from Italy 
paired with Cantelope sorbet

Gruet Blanc de Noirs – Methode Champenoise 
from New Mexico 
paired with Honeydew Melon sorbet

Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Rose 
from France

Piemonte Brachetto Soria 
from Italy 
paired with Strawberry sorbet

As the evening drew on, we paused for a quick survey to help us, as a club, choose our next themed tasting for September at Uncorked.   The choices were: 

South America Wines
South Africa Wines
Wines of Oregon & Washington State
Pick 5:  Regional Malbec Wines
Rose’ Wines

The Varietal Alphabet:  “P” (Petite Verdot, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pintotage, etc.) 

By an overwhelming majority, Wines of Oregon & Washington State were chosen for the September event. Even had I voted, I would not have been able to sway this vote!  September will be amazing as well!  

Monday, August 19, 2013

Fire in the Triangle: Center Stage with Chef Dean Thompson

Chef Dean Thompson of Flight's Restaurant has made it to the Fire in the Triangle finals.

By Dathan Kazsuk | Aug 19, 2013
Twitter: @TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | Instagram: @trianglearoundtown

In my previous blog, “title,” I mentioned that the Fire in the Triangle competition is coming to a close. It’s been a delicious ride for those involved in this sell-out event. The Triangle chefs each night of the competition have created some wonderful dishes. Some better than others. And that’s why we find ourselves down to the final two.

We’ve had a total of 84-dishes crafted by 16 local Triangle chefs in the course of 14 days. We’ve had great beer in the likes of White Street Brewing Company, Gizmo Beer Works and Natty Greene’s. We’ve had great food bloggers documenting each night with their photos and tweets. And you can’t have a competition like this without a brilliant host in the likes of one Mr. Jimmy Crippen.

The finals comes down to chef Scott James of Midtown Grille and chef Dean Thompson of Flight’s Restaurant. If you didn’t know this already, both restaurants hail from within the friendly and popular confides of the North Hills Shopping Center.

I talked to Scott James in my last blog, which you can find here. And now we find out a little about our second competitor, Dean Thompson.

You’re brand new to the Fire in the Triangle competition. Were there any jitters prior to stepping in the kitchen and finding out your secret ingredient for the first time?

Thompson: I did go through the process with Chef Dean Wendel last year.  We didn't get as lucky last year and got beat in the second round.  Regardless, there is always butterflies going into every event.  This isn't something we do on a regular basis, so you're not sure how you match up to the competition.  When they name the secret ingredient you feel a quick sense of anxiety, but 10 minutes later you find your focus.  The hardest part of the day to me is watching my intro video, and hearing the scores for each dish.

Tell me a little about your background?

Thompson: I've been with the company Concord Hospitality and Renaissance Raleigh since the hotel opened in 2008.  I worked under the tutelage of Chef Wendel for 4.5 years.  We are very close to this day.  Chef Wendel is the best chef I've ever come across. Previous to my tenure at Renaissance Raleigh I was the Sous Chef at Hope Valley Country Club, in Durham NC.  I've also worked in some of the best restaurants in New England, Mill's Tavern and Mediterraneo Caffe. My management style is that I can be a coach, cheerleader, mentor, teammate, or physiologist.  I'm a leader who will do whatever it takes to create an environment of passion, pride, and team work.  My cooking style is based on the things I enjoy most.  Mostly with regional American influence.  I use fresh product and interesting flavor combinations, with an emphasis on using a minimal amount of ingredients.   I worked very hard to get to the Executive Chef position at Renaissance Raleigh and Flights restaurant, and we've had a lot of successes along the way.  I started as the Executive Sous Chef, and was given the opportunity to run the daily kitchen operations, everything from hiring, scheduling, menu development, food production, and everything else that goes into managing a full service hotel kitchen. 

I know it’s a friendly competition in the kitchen. Did you get along well with all the chefs you have battled against?

Thompson: Yes, I've gotten along with all the chefs.  I don't think we will be spending a lot of time together in the future, but to me this is like a fraternity.  It's a tough business so there's a mutual respect for the journey that we've all been through.  In order to be successful you have to have a confidence in your ability but humble in your approach. 

Competition Dining has some greats that everyone loves. Some of these amazing people include Jimmy Crippen, Chef Willard and Kristen Baughman. 

Thompson: My thoughts on the competition dining staff are simply put – professional.  I love working with the chefs, both Lawrence and Billy.  Kristen is sweet and Jimmy is a hard working genius.  I've been able to work with all of them, especially when they hold the Final Fire in our hotel.  Win, Lose, or Draw it's been great to be a part of such an amazing experience.  These are memories that don't go away!

Fire in the Triangle: Center Stage with Chef Scott James

Chef Scott James of Midtown Grille in Raleigh has made it to the Fire in the Triangle finals.

By Dathan Kazsuk | Aug 19, 2013
Twitter: @TriangleAT | Facebook: Triangle Around Town | Instagram: @trianglearoundtown

So now Triangle, with an open heart and an empty stomach, I say unto you in the words of Michael Buffer: “Let’s get ready to rumble!”

Yes, it’s that time again. Time for the Fire in the Triangle to come to a close. By the end of tonight there will be 1 chef standing above the rest. The chef who will prevail will take home the coveted red chefs jacket and $2,000.

In the blue corner, hailing out of Midtown Grille in the heart of Raleigh’s North Hills Shopping Center is Executive Chef Scott James. Chef James made it to the quarterfinals last year, where he lost by a narrow margin to Weathervane’s chef Ryan Payne. Payne later went on to win both the Fire in the Triangle and Final Fire competitions.

I caught up with Chef James and asked him the following questions regarding his experience in the kitchen.

You were part of last year’s Fire in the Triangle competition. What did you learn from last year that might have helped land you here in the finals?

James: Last year we had kind of an ‘awww shucks’ mentality which really was why we didn’t defeat Chef Payne in the second round last year. Well that and a potato donut, but we wanted to come in this year with intensity and focus. It’s very easy to underestimate this competition and think because you make great friends at your restaurant everyday that you can do it in this pressure packed and limited time scenario. So bringing our game faces and no mercy philosophy I think has made a big difference.

Working in the kitchen, especially for a dining competition like this can be crazy. What, in your opinion, is the hardest part in these battles?

James: The waiting is the hardest part, just like Tom Petty said. As chefs, we like to be prepared in many different ways. “Mise en place” is what we call it. To most chefs, it’s a way of life meaning all things in place covering the things you need to execute your responsibilities in the kitchen. In other words being mentally, physically and prep-ready to go. In Fire in the Triangle, that is not possible, so anxiety builds when you’re not able to prepare properly.

Dr. Steven Bolick (CEO of Eye Care Associates and co-owner of Midtown Grille) had no doubt you’d make it to the finals, due to your expertise and artistry. Did you ever have any doubts with any of the ingredients that were sprung upon you?

James: Not yet. Elderberry took some thought, but as soon as we tasted it and realized that the flavor was not too far from some wines, we knew how to apply it. We will see what Chef Ref has for us in the final. Fingers crossed.

I know it’s a friendly competition in the kitchen. Did you get along well with all the chefs you have battled against? I thought you also mentioned doing a project with chef Ryan Payne. Is that still in the works?

James: We have had such a great time meeting all the chefs and the staff from 1705. Working with the other chefs and promoting our restaurant is why we are involved. Winning is just the gravy. Chef Payne and I are good friends. We have been talking about cooking together at some point but it's hard to find time when working in this business to do much outside of work. Between charity events and managing my restaurant any off time I spend with my wife Karla and son Connor.

Good luck. Check out my next blog when I interview the other chef vying for the red chefs jacket, chef Dean Thompson of North Hills Flight’s Restaurant.

Follow us on Twitter