Fire in the Triangle: Center Stage with Chef Scott James

Chef Scott James of Midtown Grille in Raleigh has made it to the Fire in the Triangle finals.

Chef Scott James of Midtown Grille in Raleigh has made it to the Fire in the Triangle finals.

By Dathan Kazsuk

So now Triangle, with an open heart and an empty stomach, I say unto you in the words of Michael Buffer: “Let’s get ready to rumble!”

Yes, it’s that time again. Time for the Fire in the Triangle to come to a close. By the end of tonight there will be 1 chef standing above the rest. The chef who will prevail will take home the coveted red chefs jacket and $2,000.

In the blue corner, hailing out of Midtown Grille in the heart of Raleigh’s North Hills Shopping Center is Executive Chef Scott James. Chef James made it to the quarterfinals last year, where he lost by a narrow margin to Weathervane’s chef Ryan Payne. Payne later went on to win both the Fire in the Triangle and Final Fire competitions.

I caught up with Chef James and asked him the following questions regarding his experience in the kitchen.

You were part of last year’s Fire in the Triangle competition. What did you learn from last year that might have helped land you here in the finals?

James: Last year we had kind of an ‘awww shucks’ mentality which really was why we didn’t defeat Chef Payne in the second round last year. Well that and a potato donut, but we wanted to come in this year with intensity and focus. It’s very easy to underestimate this competition and think because you make great friends at your restaurant everyday that you can do it in this pressure packed and limited time scenario. So bringing our game faces and no mercy philosophy I think has made a big difference.

Working in the kitchen, especially for a dining competition like this can be crazy. What, in your opinion, is the hardest part in these battles?

James: The waiting is the hardest part, just like Tom Petty said. As chefs, we like to be prepared in many different ways. “Mise en place” is what we call it. To most chefs, it’s a way of life meaning all things in place covering the things you need to execute your responsibilities in the kitchen. In other words being mentally, physically and prep-ready to go. In Fire in the Triangle, that is not possible, so anxiety builds when you’re not able to prepare properly.

Dr. Steven Bolick (CEO of Eye Care Associates and co-owner of Midtown Grille) had no doubt you’d make it to the finals, due to your expertise and artistry. Did you ever have any doubts with any of the ingredients that were sprung upon you?

James: Not yet. Elderberry took some thought, but as soon as we tasted it and realized that the flavor was not too far from some wines, we knew how to apply it. We will see what Chef Ref has for us in the final. Fingers crossed.

I know it’s a friendly competition in the kitchen. Did you get along well with all the chefs you have battled against? I thought you also mentioned doing a project with chef Ryan Payne. Is that still in the works?

James: We have had such a great time meeting all the chefs

 and the staff from 1705. Working with the other chefs and promoting our restaurant is why we are involved. Winning is just the gravy. Chef Payne and I are good friends. We have been talking about cooking together at some point but it's hard to find time when working in this business to do much outside of work. Between charity events and managing my restaurant any off time I spend with my wife Karla and son Connor.

Good luck. Check out my next blog when I interview the other chef vying for the red chefs jacket, chef Dean Thompson of North Hills Flight’s Restaurant.