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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Wilmington’s Dean Neff gets James Beard ‘best chef’ semifinal nod, looks forward to new projects

The chef first came to Wilmington in late 2014 to help open downtown's PinPoint in 2015, and built a name with food based on local and seasonal ingredients. He's moving on to new projects - of all sorts - and is now celebrating some national recognition.

Right: Dean Neff, Wilmington chef and 2019 James Beard 'best chef' semifinalist. Left: Margaret Shelton of the popular local Shelton Herb Farm. (Port City Daily photo / courtesy Dean Neff)
Right: Dean Neff, Wilmington chef and 2019 James Beard ‘best chef’ semifinalist. Left: Margaret Shelton of the popular local Shelton Herb Farm. (Port City Daily photo / courtesy Dean Neff)

WILMINGTON — When the James Beard Foundation releases its list of semifinal competitors for best chef, best restaurant, and other honors, it doesn’t give nominees advanced warning, apparently.

Dean Neff found that out before lunchtime on Wednesday, when the 2019 James Beard semifinal nominees were announced. Neff or is up for best chef in the award’s southeastern category.

“It’s very shocking,” Neff said. “They don’t give you a heads up.”

Named for acclaimed chef and author, the James Beard Foundation awards were founded in 1990. This year’s semifinal chefs include a number of North Carolina chefs and restaurants, but Neff is the sole Wilmington nominee.

For Neff, it’s part of an exciting time in his life. The chef just parted with PinPoint, the downtown restaurant he helped found in May 2015, but has no plans to leave Wilmington, the city he’s called home since the end of 2014.

“We’re staying here, in Wilmington,” Neff said, adding that he’s excited tackling a new restaurant venture.

That “we” is Neff and his fiance, Lydia Clopton, who recently opened a bakery in the South Front district (neighboring fellow James Beard semifinalist Vivian Howard’s pizzeria). Neff said he’d be helping out with the bakery in the coming months.

Neff is also keeping busy with twice-monthly cooking classes at the Seasoned Gourmet, and an upcoming radio show on WHQR, “A Place at the Table.”

“We’re doing a radio show, trying to answer local, seasonal food questions, bringing a light to local farmers and really just trying to encourage people to do more cooking,” Neff said, adding that he’ll be staring in a video segment to help kick off the show.

In addition to the new bakery, the radio show, cooking lessons, and “an exciting new venture” on the horizon, Neff and Clopton have something else to look forward: a baby on the way.

“Yeah, it’s an exciting time,” Neff said.


Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at ben@localvoicemedia.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.

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