2nd Annual Triangle Chef Showdown
at the NC Chef’s Academy
2001 Carrington Mill
Two weeks ago, I attended the second annual Triangle Chef Showdown, which was a combination of a fundraiser for the Central and Eastern North Carolina Food Bank, an open house for the NC Chef’s Academy, and a competition between four Triangle chefs to create the best dish of the night. My friends and I had no idea what to expect when we went. All we knew is that we were voting with our dollars for one of four best dishes from a few local chefs.
First of all, the place was packed! It was great to see so many people turning out for an event like this. There were entrances at the front and back of the Academy, and you bought tickets before heading inside. They were purchased either with cash or with donated canned goods. Buying a voting ticket also entitled us to three free drink tickets each, and that’s drinks as in wine and beer! Quite a deal with no expected donation amount! Of course, the whole affair was a fundraiser so while free meals are possible, I’d assume most folks bought plenty of voting tickets. I believe the final figure raised was around $88,000.
Once inside, we found ourselves in the midst of a long hallway with kitchens on the left and presentation rooms on the right. The very first room was full of breads, pastries, and desserts for display and sampling, each paired up with the student chef who created them. A few shots of those before we move on:
After feeling somewhat dazed by all of those sweets on display, we continued down the hall, checking out a few rooms full of chefs-in-training preparing more dishes for the open house.
There were two rooms full of savory bites. One was devoted to a few select global cuisines:
The other was mainly a selection of banquet items:
We had no idea all this food would be available from the students at the Academy! It was hard to tear ourselves away, but we did eventually get to the main tent outside where the competitor chefs of the evening were serving their wares. I have no idea what rules they had to follow in putting together their dishes, but somehow, three of them ended up serving catfish! This is not a problem for a seafood lover like myself. Our first sample came from Chef John Mannino of Mannino’s Italian Bistro.
It was blackened catfish with great seasonings served over a polenta that I found a bit chewy in a mirepoix-like sauce. A good dish, nonetheless.
Next was sweet pulled pork with butternut squash soup intended for pouring over the pork from Chef Ryan Payne of Weathervane, the winner of the Fire in the Triangle competition this last summer. I had tried his cooking in his quarterfinal round of that competition and it was awesome.
The pork was really good, and I enjoyed the quirkiness of serving it with the soup poured over, but it wasn’t a super exciting option for me. I gave him second place. My third place was the next dish we tried from Chef Keith Rhodes of Catch.
Most of my friends preferred this dish or the pork the most. It definitely had a summery appeal with cilantro, lime, and that tangy cranberry, but for me, it didn’t hold together well. The presentation was fun, though, and it certainly puts Catch on my list of places to try.
My favorite, however, came from my last sample made by Chef Scott Shabot of Ruckus.
The cornmeal crunch of this fish was phenomenal. I am always impressed with a good, ungreasy piece of fried food and this delivered fully. The bit of sweet pickled something on top—can’t remember what it involved—and the very well-roasted veggies made for a fairly simple and delicious dish. It took most of my votes, but alas, in the end it was Chef Payne who came out the winner with his pork. There is something to be said about swimming a different stroke in a school of catfish.
After we had voted for our favorites, it was time for eating and not just looking at dessert. Back inside we went and discovered yet another room full of desserts. No student displays this time, but plenty to try and marvel at.
I only ended up trying three desserts, and at a free-for-all like this, I consider that restraint. This fluffy version of a German chocolate cake was my favorite.
I also had a great cookie and slice of spice cake–
–but the German chocolate cake definitely had my vote, if there were votes for the student chefs rather than just eating all their wares.
Needless to say, there was a lot more going on at this event than we expected! Check it out next year if you’d like to get an idea of what the students at the NC Chefs Academy are up to and you’d like to donate to stopping hunger in NC at the same time. I had a great time, but it was another reminder that big tent events are not my style. I’ll take a seated, comfortable dinner over them any day. But if food-seeking crowds don’t bother you, I recommend this event. It’s probably one of the best I’ve been to, even if it was a bit of orchestrated madness. Enjoyable madness, at any rate!
The event took place on 27 September 12.by