Fire in the Triangle: Center Stage with Chef Dean Thompson

Chef Dean Thompson of Flight's Restaurant has made it to the Fire in the Triangle finals.

Chef Dean Thompson of Flight's Restaurant has made it to the Fire in the Triangle finals.

By Dathan Kazsuk

In my previous blog, “title,” I mentioned that the Fire in the Triangle competition is coming to a close. It’s been a delicious ride for those involved in this sell-out event. The Triangle chefs each night of the competition have created some wonderful dishes. Some better than others. And that’s why we find ourselves down to the final two.

We’ve had a total of 84-dishes crafted by 16 local Triangle chefs in the course of 14 days. We’ve had great beer in the likes of White Street Brewing Company, Gizmo Beer Works and Natty Greene’s. We’ve had great food bloggers documenting each night with their photos and tweets. And you can’t have a competition like this without a brilliant host in the likes of one Mr. Jimmy Crippen.

The finals comes down to chef Scott James of Midtown Grille and chef Dean Thompson of Flight’s Restaurant. If you didn’t know this already, both restaurants hail from within the friendly and popular confides of the North Hills Shopping Center.

I talked to Scott James in my last blog, which you can find here. And now we find out a little about our second competitor, Dean Thompson.

You’re brand new to the Fire in the Triangle competition. Were there any jitters prior to stepping in the kitchen and finding out your secret ingredient for the first time?

Thompson: I did go through the process with Chef Dean Wendel last year.  We didn't get as lucky last year and got beat in the second round.  Regardless, there is always butterflies going into every event.  This isn't something we do on a regular basis, so you're not sure how you match up to the competition.  When they name the secret ingredient you feel a quick sense of anxiety, but 10 minutes later you find your focus.  The hardest part of the day to me is watching my intro video, and hearing the scores for each dish.

Tell me a little about your background?

Thompson: I've been with the company Concord Hospitality and Renaissance Raleigh since the hotel opened in 2008.  I worked under the tutelage of Chef Wendel for 4.5 years.  We are very close to this day.  Chef Wendel is the best chef I've ever come across. Previous to my tenure at Renaissance Raleigh I was the Sous Chef at Hope Valley Country Club, in Durham NC.  I've also worked in some of the best restaurants in New England, Mill's Tavern and Mediterraneo Caffe. My management style is that I can be a coach, cheerleader, mentor, teammate, or physiologist.  I'm a leader who will do whatever it takes to create an environment of passion, pride, and team work.  My cooking style is based on the things I enjoy most.  Mostly with regional American influence.  I use fresh product and interesting flavor combinations, with an emphasis on using a minimal amount of ingredients.   I worked very hard to get to the Executive Chef position at Renaissance Raleigh and Flights restaurant, and we've had a lot of successes along the way.  I started as the Executive Sous Chef, and was given the opportunity to run the daily kitchen operations, everything from hiring, scheduling, menu development, food production, and everything else that goes into managing a full service hotel kitchen. 

I know it’s a friendly competition in the kitchen. Did you get along well with all the chefs you have battled against?

Thompson: Yes, I've gotten along with all the chefs.  I don't think we will be spending a lot of time together in the future, but to me this is like a fraternity.  It's a tough business so there's a mutual respect for the journey that we've all been through.  In order to be successful you have to have a confidence in your ability but humble in your approach. 

Competition Dining has some greats that everyone loves. Some of these amazing people include Jimmy Crippen, Chef Willard and Kristen Baughman. 

Thompson: My thoughts on the competition dining staff are simply put – professional.  I love working with the chefs, both Lawrence and Billy.  Kristen is sweet and Jimmy is a hard working genius.  I've been able to work with all of them, especially when they hold the Final Fire in our hotel.  Win, Lose, or Draw it's been great to be a part of such an amazing experience.  These are memories that don't go away!