This is a recap of a first-round Fire in the Triangle Competition Dining battle between Chef Ryan Payne of the Weathervane in Chapel Hill and Chris Harris of Fork and Barrel in Raleigh. Payne has advanced in the competition and competes tonight in a semi-final round against Adam Rose of Il Palio in Chapel Hill. The winner of tonight’s contest will be in the final July 31. Tickets to the final events are sold out.
I am not sure what I was expecting from the Fire in the Triangle Competition Dining event, but it more than delivered in terms of a super fun evening.
Fire in the Triangle is an Iron Chef-like competition that pits local chefs against one another with a secret local ingredient thrown into the meal-planning mix about six hours before guests arrive. The Triangle version is the third in the competition dining series, following Fire on the Rock in Blowing Rock in January and February and Fire on the Dock in Wilmington in April and May. Fire in the Triangle runs through July 31, when the ultimate regional winner is crowned in the final battle. Unfortunately, all the remaining events are already sold out – no doubt, due in part, to a very vibrant local food scene.
In August and September in Greensboro, Fire in the Triad will wrap up the dining series.
From the moment people started arriving at 1705 Prime in Raleigh, the main topic of discussion seemed to center on what the secret ingredient of the evening would be. The first night was blueberries, so it seemed a safe bet that it wouldn’t be another fruit. Night two featured a North Carolina mustard, so that covered condiments.
After a very small and completely unscientific survey of people, the money was on a vegetable or an herb as the secret ingredient. Boy, were we in for a most pleasant surprise. There would probably even be some who would say we hit the food lottery!
After some introductions and some time for everyone to download a free voting app, the secret ingredient was revealed and the place erupted in noise — country ham/bacon were on the menu.
It was a very happy crowd; one that got happier as the night wore on and dish after delicious dish was delivered to the table. I think if we could have asked the food for comment, many of the dishes would have complained about the constant glare of the spotlight. Quite a few guests and judges were tweeting about the contest, so many of the plates first had to be photographed before eaten.
Everyone was able to vote on the winner, so the chef for each dish was kept secret until the end of the evening. I have to say upfront that every dish was delicious, but a few stood out above the rest, helping to decide the winner in this round.
First up was the Bacon & Shrimp Dumpling with Grilled Shrimp, Sweet Potato Puree and Coconut Curry. This dish was by the Chris Harris team and earned raves at our table for the way all the flavors came together.
Next, was Lobster & Lump Crab Strudel with Crispy Johnson County Ham, Mesclun Salad and Bacon Vinaigrette. This dish was by the Ryan Payne team, and the crispy lobster and lump crap strudel was a highlight.
The third course was Seared Duck with Smoked Bacon & Mushroom Risotto and Tart Cherry Country Ham Jus, also by Team Harris.
The fourth course was a big winner at our table, with many of us wondering if there were leftovers of this dish in the kitchen. Team Payne served up Bacon-Blue Cheese Grit Cakes with Crispy Country Ham, Fresno Chilies and Champagne Tarragon Vinaigrette.
The fifth and sixth courses were the perfect sweet finishes to the evening.
First up was Flourless Chocolate Cake with Bourbon Bacon Anglaise and Cherry-Apple-Ham Compote by Team Harris. The flavors were rich with this dish.
Finally, the last dish by Team Payne was a Bacon Moon Pie of Banana Marshmallow, Bacon Anglaise, Candied Bacon and Mangalitsa Cookie. This dish also won raves at our table for its subtlety of banana marshmallow topped with dark chocolate in combination with the candied bacon.
The Fire in the Triangle Competitive Dining event was a great evening of great food. If you have the opportunity in the future to attend one, I would highly recommend it.
Following is a video of some of the highlights of evening: