When I walked into The Seasoned Gourmet the other day, I immediately smelled baking fish – really fresh fish, the kind where you eat the skin and everything. I felt healthier just breathing it in. One quick look around and I realized I was standing in foodie heaven. The Seasoned Gourmet has absolutely everything in the way cookware, cutlery, and every gadget and accessory you can imagine. They also have myriad specialty spices, wines, beers,, sauces, mixes, rubs, dips, nuts, salsas, and on and on. In the back of the shop there is a large dining room with a counter and cooktop at the front and a working kitchen behind that. Overhead of the counter/cooktop is long rectangular mirror giving everyone a downview of the chef’s handiwork. It’s at this point that I realized the guy placing black sea bass fillets inside of parchment paper pouches isn’t just any sous chef. It’s Dean Neff. Just the man I was hoping to find.
To be honest, I thought I might see him there. I had just read the Wilmington Biz article chronicling his amicable departure from Pinpoint restaurant and subsequent venture with The Seasoned Gourmet – among other things I’m sure, as Dean is a busy man. He’s so busy he’s sometimes hard to track down, but when you’ve got his attention, he’s engaged and engaging. I showed him our CSA box and we talked about promoting local seasonal food and cooking while he prepped the fish for their quick parchment paper steaming. I learned a lot just watching and talking. One of Dean’s newest passions is teaching Wilmington area people how to source their food locally and then cook fantastic dishes simply –by using some basic ingredients and techniques, and then expanding their repertoire as produce and protein offerings change with the seasons. Now, for those of you who know of Dean’s Pinpoint Restaurant dishes, well, “simple” may not be the first word that comes to mind. His dishes are culinary works of art. But he’s adamant about demystifying better, healthy cooking, and he’s got a plan to do just that. His cooking classes at the Seasoned Gourmet are expected to fill up quickly and he is soon to star in a WHQR radio show called A Place at the Table where he plans to focus on putting Wilmingtonians together with local growers and farmer’s markets, plus local food artisans, including, I’m sure, his amazing fiance, Lydia Clopton, of Love, Lydia Bakery and Cafe.
Wilmington has an advantage over other cities when it comes to sourcing local, seasonal produce and meat year ’round. With some simple season extension infrastructure like low and high tunnels, row covers, and greenhouses, we produce over 50 crops through all seasons. In fact, the hottest part of the summer is more difficult to grow a lot of crops than is the dead of winter. In addition, there are some terrific local farmers producing eggs, chickens, turkeys and pork like Kyle Stenersen over at Humble Roots Farm and Dave Borkowski of Changin’ Ways. You can find both of these farmers at The Wilmington Farmer’s Market at Tidal Creek where they are both founding board members. And folks, never forget you can get the most amazing fish and shellfish right off the boat here in Wilmington, which brings me back to Dean placing exquisite black sea bass in those parchment pockets. After a half an hour of watching and learning, we decided to do some video (think of Chopped) using the ingredients of our weekly, delivered subscription produce box (CSA,) and also set aside some time in the coming months to pay tribute to our CSA Members with a subscribers-only special event at The Seasoned Gourmet. We will be announcing dates in the May so stay tuned!