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Fire in the Triad amazes in its first week

By Nikki Miller-Ka

Eighteen dishes, six chefs, four featured ingredients and three nights all add up to one incredible first week of Fire in the Triad. All of that is simply a recipe for local culinary drama complete with a live audience and a soundtrack of forks clanging against plates in enjoyment and fun., while pan-to-pan combat between the area’s best chefs took place behind the scenes in the kitchen of the Elm Street Center’s Empire Room. The fuse has been lit and the fire in the bellies of diners across the Piedmont is definitely smoldering.

At noon each day of competition, restaurant team members surrender their phones and other electronic devices until after the end of dinner. Teams have no contact with the outside world and can’t make any dish or component of a dish that has been featured on their menus for the past few seasons. The only things the chefs can take with them in the gauntlet — I mean, the kitchen — are culinary knowledge, knife kits and cooking equipment. The battling chefs must create three dishes using the night’s featured ingredient(s) and supplies from a shared mobile pantry full of foodstuffs from the Southern Foods/Pate-Dawson company. Judging comes from dinner patrons and professional culinary judges in six categories including presentation, aroma, flavor, accompaniments, creativity and execution.

This week, the elegant Empire Room turned into a socialmedia headquarters with #CompDiningNC trending on Twitter three nights in a row. The only thing on everybody’s lips and fingertips for three hours was FOOD. It’s a true-to-life foodie’s wet dream all wrapped up in bacon, collard greens, sweet potatoes, peanuts and any other North Carolina product you can think of.

Comparisons to Food Network’s “Chopped” and “Iron Chef” do not go unnoticed here. Mere mortals get to eat, tweet and meet all of the Triad’s best chefs, up close and personal while judging food like a Chopped Champion judge. Jimmy Crippen, the founder and emcee of Competition Dining, is more Woody Allen than Ted Allen when it comes to hosting the event. After introducing a message of how to prevent home kitchen fires, he said, ”A new series we don’t want to start is ‘Fire In The Kitchen,’” and encouraged everyone to make reservations at their favorite restaurants.

Aspiring Amanda Freitags and Scott Conants have the chance to come to dinner and dissect dishes. It’s the only place where taking photos of your food with an annoyingly bright flash while holding your phone in one hand and scooping up bits of meat from your plate with the other is acceptable. The conversation and the wine flows freely here. People are not afraid to tell you who their favorite chef sand restaurants are and will vehemently try to guess during each course. Crippen instructs,”Vote with your palate. Mothers have been wrong. Wives have been wrong.”

Tuesday night: Fire in the Triad ’12 finalist Chef Michael Harkenreader of Undercurrent was whipped and a-salted by Competition Dining newcomer Wes Patterson of Southern Roots in the first upset of the competition. It turned into the Battle of the Chicken ‘n’ Dumplin’s when both competitors made different interpretations of the classic dish with poulet rouge. Patterson skinned the competition with his candied pomegranate poulet skin paired with apple rosemary scone and prickly pear ice cream.

Wednesday night: Fire in the Triad newcomers Chef Gregory John of Greensboro Country Club and Chef Jared Keiper of the Tavern in Old Salem took each other to task over sweet and savory grit cakes. John took a night out on the town with a molasses bourbon grit cake, fresh berry compote, mascarpone crema and candied bacon.

Thursday night: Winston-Salem powerhouse and Fire in the Triad ’12 competitor Chef John Bobby of Noble’s Grille went knives deep against Chef Tim Grandinetti of Springhouse Restaurant, Bar & Kitchen, a real-life contestant on “Chopped Grillmasters.” Both chefs lost in their first appearances in the competition last year, but only one could prevail.

Bobby set the kitchen on fire and won with a peppercorn crusted ostrich filet, ostrich sausage, toasted farro, charred patty pan salad, parsnip chips and pomegranate gastrique.

Stay tuned next week for the second week of preliminary battles from Crafted of Greensboro, J. Pepper’s and Bistro B of Kernersville, Meridian and Diamondback of Winston- Salem and B. Christopher’s of Burlington.

For a breakdown of each chef, each dish and accompaning photos, visit Nik Snacks blog at niksnacks.blogspot.com or Nik Snacks on Facebook. Purchase tickets and check out all of the hot, culinary action at competitiondining.com.

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