Last night was the sixth round of the Fire in the Triangle competition. What’s that, you ask? Well, it’s a six-week-long culinary adventure pitting sixteen chefs of our prized restaurants against each other. All of the ingredients for the battle come in on one truck daily, and there is a secret, North Carolinian ingredient that the competing chefs and their teams learn about at noon the day of the competition. When all is said and done, one chef will be proclaimed the victor and win $2000, among other prizes.
It takes place at 1705 Prime, which is a Rocky Top Hospitality property that’s available for private event rental.
The venue was lovely, with an attentive staff in both the dining room and at the bar, where we mingled until seating began at 7.
I was called in last minute to sit as one of the professional judges last night, which was awesome and also meant I was comped the $50 price for a ticket. The six dishes, three from each competitor, are judged in six different categories (appearance, aroma, flavor, accompaniments, secret ingredient creativity, and secret ingredient execution), and everyone who attends gets a vote. The general public makes up 70% of the final tally, and 2–4 professional judges get a 30% say, which means I lorded my political weight over all my fellow diners. Or rather, I spent all evening chatting up some fabulous fellow foodies about our favorite joints in the area in between rating the dishes. Speaking of . . .
The first dish was tied for my favorite of the night. It was created by the 518 West team and consisted of cantaloupe mousse with tasso ham, chive, cantaloupe gazpacho, and cantaloupe-and-poppadum-poached shrimp. I loved it. So much. I’ll start with my only complaint for the dish: the tortilla chip. It was a nice idea to use it to contrast with the otherwise soft textures, but it got way too soft too fast. Putting that aside, it was amazing. The mousse was so creamy, shrimp perfectly poached with imparted cantaloupe flavor, and the vibrant gazpacho left a lasting impression. I tasted no ham, but I didn’t miss it at all. Loving it meant a 20/30 score, an interesting quirk of the rating scale having all six categories count the same. If it were me, I’d give flavor a 30% weight compared to the rest of the dish. Oh, and in case you couldn’t tell, cantaloupe was the secret ingredient.
That is Course #2 from Mia Francesca: bacon-wrapped cantaloupe with goat-cheese mousse and a balsamic reduction. Flavorwise, this dish was excellent, but in terms of secret ingredient use, it was a bit uninspired, pulling an 11/20 overall from me, my least favorite of the dishes in terms of score, but not in terms of flavor. If the bacon were a thinner slice, that score may have improved exponentially. As it was, the bacon flavor overwhelmed that delicate cantaloupe. The balsamic and greens were delicious, but they felt like more of a side dish than part of it. I would love it in a restaurant, but as part of the cantaloupe battle, it fell short.by