Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series, a single-elimination tournament highlighting the best of the state’s food, agriculture and culinary talent, has named a regional winner for the Fire in the Triangle series. Chef Dean Thompson of Flights at the Renaissance Hotel on Main at North Hills in Raleigh became the first two-time regional champion last night overcoming the battle of spiced honey liqueur and grits. Thompson beat out Chef Steve Zanini of Jimmy V’s Steak House & Tavern in Cary in the final Triangle dinner competition after rising to the top of the 16-chef regional tournament that started back in June.
In front of a sold out crowd of more than 150 people, the final Fire in the Triangle battle challenged the chefs to use two featured ingredients, The Brothers Vilgalys Krupnikas Spiced Honey Liqueur and Old Mill of Guilford Stone Ground Grits. A clear crowd favorite of the night and the highest scoring dish of the whole battle was Thompson’s fourth course, which included coffee and Old Mill of Guilford Grits crusted venison, spicy southwestern tomatillo relish, roasted corn, Andouille and chipotle grits, fire-roasted poblano and The Brothers Vilgalys Krupnikas emulsion. (See complete scores and dishes here.)
“Coming back into the tournament as the defending champion, my strategy for this year was to keep things simple,” said Thompson. “As a chef, I feed off of the enthusiasm of the crowd, so cooking for an energetic packed house in the final battle was exhilarating. There were so many great chefs in the lineup this year, but the competition against Chef Zanini was by far our toughest battle. A lot of credit goes to my team, Anthony Zinani and Pam Ballou, who are both incredibly talented chefs. I couldn’t have made it this far without their expertise and culinary skill.”
As part of his Fire in the Triangle winnings, Thompson took home a $2,000 cash prize, a handmade chef knife by Ironman Forge and the coveted “Red Chef Jacket” provided by ALSCO. Additionally, the Flights team moves on to the Final Fire Battle of Champions this fall where they will compete against the winners from each of the four other regional tournaments – Wilmington, Asheville, Greensboro and Charlotte.
“The Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series is unlike any other dinner experience in the country, and last night’s history-making final battle surpassed expectations,” said Jimmy Crippen, Competition Dining Series founder and host. “Chef Dean Thompson consistently made some of the highest scoring dishes throughout the Triangle series and his impressive performance in the final competition solidified his spot as Competition Dining Series’ first two-time regional winner.”
In every Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series event battle, the two participating chefs each prepare three courses centered on the featured ingredient that comes from a North Carolina farmer or artisan producer. Those ingredients are revealed to the chefs only an hour before they start cooking that day and must be used in each course. Attending community members serve as judges alongside industry professionals, all blindly scoring each dish using an interactive app. In last night’s final Triangle battle, the diners and pro judges were in agreement that Thompson’s dishes had earned him the big win.
The Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series now moves on to Charlotte with that regional competition heating up starting Aug. 18, before heading back to Raleigh for the Final Fire in November. Additional information and ticket reservations are available at www.competitiondining.com.