Ashten's Team Fired Up for Cooking Competition
By Tom Embrey
Whose cuisine will reign supreme?
Ashten's head chef Matt Hannon is hoping his three-member team comes out on top when it participates with 15 other restaurants in the Fire in the Triangle, a dining experience where two teams battle it out in an "Iron Chef" style single-elimination event.
"We are stoked," Hannon said of competing "We feel like we are the underdog going up against the big-city restaurants. I think the Fire in the Triangle will be the toughest of the four competitions. It is a real honor for us to represent Southern Pines."
Ashten's is the only Moore County restaurant invited to participate in the competition. It is part of the "Got to Be NC" Competition Dining Series, which includes three other regional competitions Fire on the Rock, Fire on the Dock, and Fire in the Triad.
In each regional event, teams battle in 15 head-to-head cooking competitions, judged by a mix of experts and regular folks to determine a winner.
The first round of Fire in the Triangle begins Monday and runs through June 25. Ashten's will compete against Raleigh's Midway Grille on June 18. The second round of the event will be held July 9-17, with the semifinals on July 23-24 and the finals on July 31.
Tickets for each head-to-head dinner are $49, and space is limited. Each ticket earns the buyer the opportunity to eat the food and judge the competition along with a small panel of area food experts. At stake in each series is a grand prize of $2,000 and a coveted red chef's jacket.
Fire in the Triangle will be held at 1705 Prime, located at 1705 E. Millbrook Road, in Raleigh.
Some sessions, like the finals, are already sold out.
Bistro Rocca in Blowing Rock won the Fire on the Rock competition, and Chefs 105 in Morehead City won the Fire on the Dock.
Fire on the Triad will be held in Greensboro in August and September.
During the competition, each restaurant is represented by a three-person team. Hannon, Fiona McKenzie and a yet-to-be-decided participant will comprise Ashten's team.
Teams will be provided with a truckload of ingredients available to them, as well as a secret ingredient, that is produced or grown locally in North Carolina. They will have five hours to prep and then 15 minutes to prepare each of three courses of a six-course meal. Each dish must incorporate the secret ingredient.
Some of the mystery ingredients in prior years have been flounder, North Carolina pork, bison and Cheerwine.
Hannon said there is little practice that can be done for such a unique competition "We just show up with our knives and go to work," he said.
When asked what he'd prefer the secret ingredient to be, Hannon thought carefully about his response.
"There are so many things I'd like to get," he said. "My favorite thing to cook is any kind of seafood." He paused and then added, "I hope I don't get any tough cuts of meat."
However, he added, "We know it's going to be a North Carolina product, and we do that every day."
To be successful, Hannon said the key for his team is to remain true to Ashten's cooking style.
"We think quickly and adjust to any situation every day at the restaurant," Hannon said. "So we are accustomed to creating quality dishes for 100 people nightly."
Win or lose, Hannon said the competition will be a chance to not only compete against good restaurants and chefs he respects and looks up to, but it is a opportunity to get better.
"We will get out of our everyday routines and get to see what some of the best chefs (in the state) do. It will definitely be a learning experience."
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the website www.competitiondining.com.
Contact Tom Embrey at (910) 693-2484 or by email at tembrey @thepilot.com.
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