To say I was excited when I was asked to be a professional judge for a night during Competition Dining’s Fire in the Triangle Series would be an understatement. The event is the brainchild of chef Jimmy Crippen which pins executive chefs from the area’s finest restaurants in a head to head battle in attempts to win over the taste buds of diners and three professional judges. The event is much like Iron Chef as the Chef’s are given a secret ingredient that has to be featured in each course. The big difference is the Iron Chef contestants only have to win over 3 judges while the Competition Dining contestants have to please 120 diners with no drop in quality.
Lamar Farrington – La Residence, Chapel Hill
Scott James – Midtown Grille, Raleigh
Location: 1705 Prime, Raleigh
Secret Ingredient – Maple View Farms Milk
Milk Poached Mahi Mahi, Coconut Porridge, Sweet Potato Candy, Pomegranate Molasses, Carbonated Pomegranate Seeds
Weighted score 17.46
Milk Poached NC Coast Golden Tile Fish, Lemon Grass Creamed Corn, Little River Crab, Ginger Tomato Confiture
Weighted score 23.7
Lamar opened up swinging for the fence with this tasty and clean mahi mahi. The coconut porridge was excellent and at first I thought I was eating grits. The diners I sat with remarked that they could not taste coconut milk in the porridge and this may have been reflected in the lower score for this dish if other diners agreed. The sweet potato was a nice creative touch and I was blown away each time I bit down on a carbonated pomegranate.
If Lamar was swinging for the fences, unfortunately for him James came out swinging for a further fence with this Milk Poached Tilefish. While there was some level of disappointment that both chefs decided on the safe route of poaching a whitefish in the secret ingredient, that disappointment was easily offset with how different, creative and delicious they were. Scott won myself and those at our table over with how the fish blended with the lemongrass creamed corn and crab
ROUND 1 WINNER SCOTT JAMES
Buttermilk Brined Veal, Smoked Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Yukon Parsnip Puree, Asparagus, CBC Summer Ale Jus, Chorizo Oil
Weighted score 16.45
Roasted Venison Tenderloin, Cremini Mushroom, Brussels Sprout Leaves, Buttermilk Black Garlic Spaetzle, Milk Mustard Gravy
Weighed score 23.33
Both of these dishes used proteins I would not normally order if I was out to eat and that’s what I like about this competition. You may be forced to leave your comfort zone and the best time to do it is in the hands of two professionals blending great ingredients. Again both dishes were amazing but round two was where my voting departed from the crowd.
The veal was tender as a mothers love. The smoked olive oil and chorizo oil were subtle but spread out once they entered my mouth and mixed with everything else. The puree was was excellent. Although I liked the veal dish better, I understand why the room rated Chef Scott’s venison higher and this dish won the round. It was my first time eating venison and I was pleasantly surprised. It didn’t have the gaminess I expected and was nice and tender. I could have gone for a medium temperature rather than the rare but that is my own personal issue. The plate was filled with a flurry of tasty things and kids all around the world would think differently about brussel sprouts if Scott was cooking in their home.
ROUND 2 WINNER SCOTT JAMES
Chocolate Milk Flan, Chocolate Torte, Smoked Coffee Ice Cream, Pink Peppercorn & Pistachio Salt
Weighted Score 18.65
Banana Chocolate Milk Flan, Mascarpone, Spiced Cashew, Lime n’ the Coconut
Weighted score 20.39
Farrington put together a great dessert dish. The smoked coffee ice cream was incredible and needs to take up residence in my refrigerator. The catch with this dish is the flan, torte and ice cream all needed to be on the fork for this to taste its best as the ice cream offset a slight dryness of the torte. There was only a little bit of the ice cream and once it ran out the dessert lost some of its bang.
Chef Scott James’ closer sealed the deal with a banana chocolate milk flan, flanked with mascarpone and a couple of spiced cashews that need to be put in a bag and sold everywhere. This was a great execution and great way to end the night.
ROUND 3 WINNER SCOTT JAMES
Scott James 22.5
Lamar Farrington 17.5
My table mates for the evening were Joe and Kim Hullinger who were were entertaining out of town guest and family from Ohio. They were a great bunch and we had a few good laughs, mostly at the fact that Joe’s brother, Tim inhaled each dish by the time I finished taking pictures, smelling and trying to look like a “professional judge”.
The night brought a unique dining experience that gave two of the areas finest chefs a chance to showcase their abilities. The fact that these chefs (with the help of two chef’s of their choosing) were able to put out food to 120 diners for 6 courses at such a high quality was amazing. I had enough trouble keeping the natives at bay when making burgers and dogs at my son’s birthday party so I know the pressure in those kitchens would have ended with me in a straight jacket. Although there could only be one winner, by the end of the night it was obvious why both of these gentlemen have risen to the rank of executive chef. I am looking forward to visiting both of their restaurants.