Blog » Fire in the Triangle — Judge's Notes
I don’t know about you, but whenever I watch Iron Chef, I wonder about how some of the food actually tastes. Sure it looks good and sounds good. But what does it actually taste like?
I got my chance to find out on Tuesday when I was one of the judges at the semi-finals of the Fire in the Triangle Competition. Jimmy Crippen of Crippen’s Country Inn & Restaurant started these competitions in Blowing Rock (Fire on the Rock) about seven years ago. Over the last year or so Jimmy has expanded it to include venues across the state — Fire on the Dock in Wilmington, Fire in the Triangle, and Fire in the Triad. The competition pits each area's star chefs against each other in a series of competitions leading to a final winner. Think basketball brackets without the basketball. The series has been wildly popular with most events a complete sell-out. Who wouldn’t love the chance to eat a six-course meal (each chef prepares three dishes with the secret ingredient) and judge it at the same time?
Now I have to admit that my taste tends to go more towards the vegetarian side of the plate, so I was a little disappointed when the announcement was first made. But by the end of the night, the chefs had won me over. Chef Wendel’s Honey Applewood Brined Pork Loin with Spicy Sweet Potato Puree, Asher Blue Cheese, Green Apple and Roasted Fennel was not only pleasing to the eye, but was one of the most delicious combinations of flavors I have ever tasted.
Chef Hill’s “S’More” of Graham Cracker Breaded Pork Belly with Chocolate Fondant, Burnt Meringue and White Balsamic Caramel won the hearts and stomachs of most of the diners that evening.
What makes the competition so interesting is the opportunity to taste the raw creativity from the chefs. The chefs are told what the secret ingredient is at noon on the day of the competition. They have until 7 p.m. (when the diners/judges arrive) to create, cook and plate three courses. That leaves very little room for planning — and it seems to me that the results could go either way. But not Tuesday evening. Everything went right and made me consider serving pork more often.
For me, the other fun part of the evening was the opportunity to engage in a little bit of mindful eating. Let’s face it, most of the time we down our meals without ever really taking the time to slow down and appreciate the aroma, the presentation, and the taste. But when you are judging a competition, you must slow down. You must savor the tastes and the smells. You must take the extra time to see how the flavor combination works or doesn’t work. You discover that the tastes and textures that you really love are not doing it for your tablemates. And then you realize that taste and food is really one of the most subjective of human experiences. I left the event with a greater appreciation for the difficult job a chef has and a new appreciation for the really good chefs — especially Chris Hill of The Oxford and Dean Wendel of Flights. I also vowed to spend more time in my own kitchen considering aroma and appearance, as well as taste. I would venture to say that Jimmy Crippen would deem those thoughts to mean the event was a success.
P.S. Chris Hill of the Oxford was the official winner — it all comes down to dessert and chocolate baby. But the backstory I loved the most is how even though this was a competition, all of the chefs and their teams helped the other side with plating the dishes. To me this speaks volumes.