If a bashful smile doesn’t stretch across your face when you use the phrase, “cut the cheese,” we’re probably not going to be friends. Hence, why Dean Neff (chef/owner of Pinpoint Restaurant) is one of my favorite people in the whole world.
While spreading the word last week of Benny’s Big Time and New Anthem’s collaborative dinner to raise money for #OverFlo, I learned several other chefs had come together post-Florence with a desire to pitch in. Pinpoint’s Neff and Craig Love (of Carolina Beach’s renowned sustainable seafood spot, Surf House) returned to town after evacuating from the storm to discover many of the farms they rely on for local ingredients had suffered grave damage.
“When Craig and I got back,” Neff shared, “we decided our goal was to hold four separate relief dinners—all centered around helping the farmers who had been hit. We’ll take the amount of money we raise and split it among those who need it most.”
Love just landed on the date of November 13 for his benefit feast; meanwhile, he’ll lend a hand at Pinpoint’s event, scheduled for Sunday, November 4. It will be the first of a four-part series, slated to raise funds for Red Beard Farm, Hold Fast Oyster Co, and Black River Organic Farm. Morgan and Kat Milne of Red Beard will be in attendance to speak on the effects of Hurricane Florence on growers all around North Carolina, and how we can help them rebuild. Topsail Sound’s N. SEA Oyster Co. will be providing prime goodies from the sea.
A big name guiding the evening’s menu will be former Asheville culinarian (now-head-chef of Chapel Hill’s famed Crook’s Corner) Justin Burdett. Longtime friends and former kitchen colleagues at Athens’ Five & Ten, Neff and Burdett have teamed up to plan a thoughtful collection of courses. Burdett’s highly-reputable techniques are sure to be a major hit with ILM’s farm-to-table-friendly crowd. He’s known for taking inspiration from Southern cuisine, rooting his ingredients in tradition, and then turning them on their heads.
“He’s all about things that take a lot of time and patience—like fermentation,” Neff tells. “He’s also fantastic at charcuterie creations, so those will definitely find their way onto the table at our dinner.”
Where there’s dinner, there must be beer. New Anthem owner and brewer Aaron Skiles is once again offering up generous rounds of beers for the locally inspired cause. To kick off the night, passed hors d’oeuvre will be enjoyed, paired with New Anthem’s fruity, yeasty New England IPAs. At the mention of beer, Dean’s eyes widen from under the shadowed brim of his baseball cap. He hops off his stool. “Check this out,” he hollers as he takes off across the restaurant. He returned with an amber-filled mason jar, carefully unscrewed the silver top, and immediately cracked a joke about me being his parole officer.
(Seriously, how could you not love this guy?)
“So this is a barrel-aged farmhouse sour Aaron gave me to play with,” Neff said. He lifted it to his nose, took in a deep breath, and then slid it my way for a swig. Bourbon-heavy on the nose and not yet carbonated, the tart, slightly funky brew had a balanced-acid profile Neff said could be a winner with pork, though Burdette might go a different route.
“Justin talked about doing a seared, spice-rubbed tuna with arugula and a sweet pepper agrodolce, which will have those sweet and sour notes,” Neff explains.
The peppery bite from the arugula, and tart and sticky elements of the agrodolce (a super versatile condiment made by reducing sugar or honey, vinegar, and fruit or vegetables) could also make for a perfect partner to New Anthem’s tangy farmhouse brew. Neff then mentioned a pink peppercorn lemon verbena saison whose refreshing mouthful was bursting with citrus and a slight funk.
“This beer lends itself to being partnered in some way with a nice, smooth cheese to cut those bright flavors,” Neff says.
“After we cut the cheese…” he trailed off. We both smiled and both broke into a spell of completely necessary, immature hilarity.
A last course should always send guests out with a bang, and it appears Pinpoint and New Anthem have agreed to do so with a bourbon barrel-aged stout that’s smoked on birchwood and loaded with complexity. Neff describes it as having beautiful layers of intricacy like wine, a different nose than taste on the tongue, and a long, elaborate finish.
“Well,” he started, “maybe we don’t want to send flames to a table of people who have been drinking beer all night—but listen to this…” He proceeded to describe a dessert that, if I had to guess, was whispered to him in the middle of the night by a wizard.
“We’re going to call it ‘Appalachian Brushfire,’ which will be a spin on Baked Alaska but made with North Carolina ingredients found in the woods.”
How does he come up with his magical madness? He continued with an extravagant combination of pawpaw anglaise (a hard-to-find American fruit with a tropical essence that would flavor a silky vanilla-bean custard), pear or apple black walnut cake, muscadine sorbet, and fluffy, local wildflower honey méringue. Oh, and the méringue will be pine-needle smoked and extract much of its flavor from spicebush (which is not the missing member of the ‘90s girl band, but in fact a shrub containing floral bark). Once steeped and strained, its cinnamon notes will be whisked into the méringue, along with sumac and bee pollen.
Then, just for the hell of it, they may light it on fire.
This dinner is going to be LIT.