Fire in the Triangle, Competition Dining 2015

February 11, 2015
The 2015 season of Competition Dining NC begins early, so as to showcase some of North Carolina's winter harvests.

If you're unfamiliar with Fire in the Triangle, check out my previous post on the subject. In short, two area chefs prepare three dishes each, to be served blind (i.e. you don't know whose dish you're eating) to a hungry dining room filled with patrons and professional chefs. Each dish must contain the night's secret ingredient, which is announced early in the afternoon on the day of the competition. All guests then rate the dishes via the provided mobile app, and then the scores are weighted 70%/30% for the professional chefs (the "Pros") an the regular patrons (the "Joes").

Chef Patrick Cowden vs. Chef Curt Shelvey

Chef Cowden is from Tobacco Road Sports Cafe on Glenwood, and Chef Shelvey is from Curt's Cucina in Forest Pines. There were a lot of folks from Forest Pines in attendance; I'd guesstimate that at least 40 percent of the crowd was from Forest Pines.

Secret Ingredient: Peanuts, from Baker's Peanuts

  • Course 1 (Chef Shelvey): lump crab and scallop cannelloni, grilled octopus, roasted peanut tomato salsa, black pepper peanut buerre blanc.
  • Course 2 (Chef Cowden): seared salmon, peanut coconut curry sauce, peanut brussels sprout blood orange slaw, Kentucky-yaki gastrique, star anise honey, curry pappadam.
  • Course 3 (Chef Shelvey): duck fat and rosemary roasted veal loin, green lentil ragout, Swiss chard, peanut and bacon demi, peanut praline bacon.
  • Course 4 (Chef Cowden): Scottish Ale BBQ-braised veal cheeks, grits cake, peanut smoked tomato romesco Sauce, peanut hushpuppy, Corn relish.
  • Course 5 (Chef Shelvey): peanut butter semi-freddo, red wine cherries, dark chocolate espresso sauce, peanut brittle, basil sugar.
  • Course 6 (Chef Cowden): chocolate chunky peanut butter whoopie pie, salted peanut caramel sauce, fig jam, dairy cream top milk shot.

Winner, Curt's Cucina. Dessert really put Chef Shelvey over the top — the course had both the night's highest-rated and lowest-rated dishes, with a point differential of nearly eight points, and those eight points swung the night's outcome in Chef Shelvy's favor.

Chef Ben Harris vs. Chef Ryan Conklin

Chef Ben Harris is from Midtown Grille in North Hills, and Chef Ryan Conklin is from Rex Healthcare. Rex Healthcare had a pretty good turnout this evening, including their PR director (or similar position — I don't recall precisely), a group of four at our table, and a good number of other tables around the room.

Secret ingredients: Certified Angus Beef Brand Tri-Tip and High Rock Farm Chestnuts. Because there were two secret ingredients, chefs had to use each secret ingredient in two dishes.

  • Course 1 (Chef Harris): dashi with black garlic, chestnut flour pasta, braised beef tri-tip, smoked fennel kimchi.
  • Course 2 (Chef Conklin): Latin-braised beef Brand tri-tip, chestnut flour-crusted crab cake, butternut squash guacamole, apple fennel radish salad.
  • Course 3 (Chef Harris): a carpetbagger made with chestnut flour fried Virginia oyster, grilled beef Brand tri-tip, bacon emulsion, goat cheese polenta, radish sprout, harissa.
  • Course 4 (Chef Conklin): seared beef Brand tri-tip, chestnut flour and cocoa crust, smokey red chimichurri, sweet potato bacon farro salad, avocado puree, radish sprouts.
  • Course 5 (Chef Shelvey): buttermilk cake with meringue, carbonated pickled blueberries, chestnut flour crumble, white chocolate cream.
  • Course 6 (Chef Conklin): free-form cobbler with apple, chestnut flour foie gras cobbler, white chocolate semi-freddo, butter pecan syrup.

Tonight's highest-rated dish was course 3, the carpetbagger made by Chef Harris; and the lowest-rated dish of the night was the dashi, also made by Chef Harris. This was a night, however, when most every dish was rated much higher than average.

Ihave heard there are troubles of more than one kind. Some come from ahead, and some come from behind. But I've brought a big bat. I'm all ready, you see. Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!

- Dr. Seuss


Hi, Shaun here. No, not the soccer player. And not the children's performer. Just me, a 40-something father of two, residing in Raleigh, NC, where the summer heat has me questioning my life choices.

I try lots of things. I'm okay at some of them. My hobby is collecting hobbies. I drink a lot of coffee. I'm susceptible to ear worms. I throw myself into the things I love. I can't wait for the weekend.