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TURNING UP THE FLAVOR: Wilmington Wine and Food Fest welcomes lots of tastes to sixth annual event

Fanny Slater gets the inside scoop with a few chefs participating in this year’s Wilmington Wine and Food Festival…

Thanks to the budding number of badass culinarians who have chosen Wilmington as their homebase, our humble Port City has grown from an old-school seafood town to a mini food mecca. From chefs who transform ordinary cuts of fish into vibrant plated masterpieces, to others who flawlessly revamp standard bar food into elegant pub grub, there’s no shortage of wizardry taking place in Wilmington kitchens. They rock it out at their restaurants on a daily basis, but (lucky for us) come together once a year to show off their skills by dishing out one exclusive specialty for all of us to devour … as we wash it down with copious amounts of wine, of course.

COVER: Kirsten Mitchell, plating traditional ceviche in the kitchen at Wrightsville Beach’s famed Ceviche’s. Photo by Fanny Slater

COVER: Kirsten Mitchell, plating traditional ceviche in the kitchen at Wrightsville Beach’s famed Ceviche’s. Photo by Fanny Slater

Participating restaurants for this year’s grand tasting event at the fifth annual Wilmington Wine and Food Festival, to take place at the Bellamy Mansion, include: Bill’s Front Porch, Blockade Runner, Brent’s Bistro, Cape Fear Seafood, Catering Time, Ceviche’s, The District, Dram & Morsel, Pinpoint, Platypus & Gnome, Savorez, Southern Smoke, Sweet & Savory, The Basics, Wake & Bake, Wrightsville Beach Brewery, Taste the Olive, MAC Wine Bar, Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria, Waterman’s Brewery, and Nothing Bunt Cakes. And that’s not even including the food trucks that will line up for Sunday’s event.

Impatience and hunger got the best of me last week as I went out on assignment to get a little preview on what folks will taste (and judge) on Saturday (bonus: the fest also will feature hundreds of wines, plus bourbons and craft brews). I decided to bump brains and appetites with a handful of participating chefs to get the inside scoop…

Chef Andrew Stanley (above) will dish out some tasty grub at this year's Wilmington Wine and Food Fest. Courtesy photo.

THE DISH: Chef Andrew Stanley (above) will dish out some tasty grub at this year’s Wilmington Wine and Food Fest. Courtesy photo.

Chef Andrew Stanley
Waterman’s Brewing
1610 Pavilion Place

encore (e): What’s the name of the dish you’ll be preparing for the festival?

Andrew Stanley (AS): House-cured duck ham, served on a sourdough crostini with brie cheese, fig-apple jam, finished with tupelo honey, and served with house-made red potato BBQ chips.

e: Is this crostini signature to your cooking style, or does it represent the vibe at Waterman’s—or both?

AS: The dish is both a signature to my cooking and the vibe at Waterman’s in that it will go great with a beer on the porch.

e: How do you come up with innovative recipes? What inspires you?

AS: From everywhere—cookbooks and food magazines (old and new) are great. Food photography is a huge inspiration. As much as I like reading, I love looking at pictures; they bring out ideas from who knows where.

Food television has come so far in the last decade, and it is great just to sink into the couch after work and veg out watching it.

A lot of inspiration comes from childhood memories of food, even junk food, and putting a personal twist on things people already know so well.

e: What makes the duck-ham crostini trendy in today’s food world (if at all)? Or is it more of a throwback?

AS: It’s more of a throw-back to that great salty ham you had as a kid, on a cracker with a slice of cheddar cheese (or Cheese Whiz), sliced apples, and chips. With a little refinement, it might put it with current food trends.

e: What element do you think people will go nuts for?

AS: I’m thinking the chips might steal the show.

Kirsten Mitchell, plating traditional ceviche in the kitchen at Wrightsville Beach’s famed Ceviche’s.  Photo by Fanny Slater

PLATE UP: Kirsten Mitchell, plating traditional ceviche in the kitchen at Wrightsville Beach’s famed Ceviche’s. Photo by Fanny Slater

Chef Kirsten Mitchell
Ceviche’s
7210 Wrightsville Ave.

encore (e): What’s the name of the dish you’ll be preparing for the festival?

Kirsten Mitchell (KM): I’m making a tuna poke with “dueling purees” of serrano avocado puree and chili tomato puree, and it’s topped with a plantain crumble.

e: Is the dish more signature to your cooking style, or does it represent the vibe at Ceviche’s—or both?

KM: It’s Ceviche’s in the forefront, but it’s also something just easy to execute at a festival. My style is filled with big, bold flavors.

e: How do you come up with innovative recipes? What inspires you?

KM: Definitely travel, but I follow a lot of restaurants and chefs on social media for fresh ideas.

e: What makes the poke trendy in today’s food world (if at all)? Or is it more of a throwback?

KM: I would say it’s more elegant than anything. Poke has been around forever and we’ve just elevated the flavor. I just want it to taste good!

e: What element do you think people will go nuts for?

KM: The tuna—for sure!

ITALIAN flair: Jim Diecchio of Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria will prepare nduja arancini with whipped ricotta for the ILM Wine and Food Fest’s Corks and Forks Grand Tasting event. Photo by Baxton Miller

ITALIAN FLAIR: Jim Diecchio of Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria will prepare nduja arancini with whipped ricotta for the ILM Wine and Food Fest’s Corks and Forks Grand Tasting event. Photo by Baxton Miller

Chef Jim Diecchio
Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria
206 GreenfIeld St.

encore (e): What’s the name of the dish you’ll be preparing for the festival?

Jim Diecchio (JD): Our dish will be nduja arancini with whipped ricotta.  Nduja is a soft, spreadable, heavily spiced pork salami from Italy.

e: Is the dish more signature to your cooking style, or does it represent the vibe at BBB—or both?

JD: The dish represents all of the above (me, [owner] Vivian [Howard] and Benny’s). When talking about Benny’s concept and the menu, arancini was something we always thought fit perfectly with what and who we are.  Although, you won’t find it on the daily menu, we do often offer it as an off-menu special, and change it seasonally depending on what we can get from local farmers.

e: How do you come up with innovative recipes? What inspires you?

JD: I like to find inspiration from anything and everything. For Benny’s, a lot of that comes from my Italian roots. I like to take classic Italian-American dishes and put a modern spin on them.

Another form of inspiration is looking at industry trends. I like to take cool and interesting ideas and make them our own. Local farmers and artisans are always at the forefront of how and why I create a dish. I love seeing what our farmers have and finding ways to fit them into our menu. I will oftentimes have the start of the dish, and when a farmer comes in with something new and cool, it finishes my thought.

e: What makes the arancini trendy in today’s food world (if at all)? Or is it more of a throwback?

JD: I feel it is both trendy and a throwback.  Arancini is nothing new; it’s always been a classic. Nduja has definitely been one of the more trendy items in recent years, with the comeback of butcher shops and charcuterie/salumi programs at restaurants.

e: What element of it do you think people will go nuts for?

JD: I think people will love the crispy exterior, with the soft, rich and spicy center, all of this being tied together with the creaminess of the whipped ricotta. Hopefully, people will “go nuts” for the whole dish.

DETAILS:
Wilmington Wine and Food Festival
May 17: Toast of the Town, $50, 6 p.m. • Soif di Vin, 2236, 5226 S College Rd.,  #9-B.
May 18: Boat! Wine! Lunch! $60, 11:45 a.m. • Wilmington Water Tours, 212 S Water St.
May 18: Wine education seminar with Lieu Dit Winery and Kellogg Selections, $25, 1 p.m. • manna, 123 Princess St.
May 19: Corks and Forks Grand Tasting, $70, 2 p.m. • Bellamy Mansion, 503 Market St.
May 20, Bubbles, Brews and Street Eats, $35, 1 p.m. • Bellamy Mansion, 503 Market St.
Schedule (sold-out events not listed above):
www.wilmingtonwineandfood.com

 

Encore was informed after press that WBB will be providing beer only for the festival, not food.

Chef Jeffrey Porter
Wrightsville Beach Brewery
6201 Oleander Dr.

e: What’s the name of the dish you’ll be preparing for the festival?

Jeffrey Porter (JP): I’ll be making a NC blackfin tuna wonton with a Shark-and-Stormy (WBB beer) soy reduction, garnished with a miso wasabi pearl, and fresh Lewis Farm strawberries.

e: Is the wonton signature to your cooking style, or does it represent the vibe at WBB—or both?

JP: Incorporating the house beer into the food is super important, so I would say the dish is definitely geared toward the brewery’s style.

e: How do you come up with innovative recipes? What inspires you?

JP: I never copy a recipe, but I get a lot of inspiration from Googling ingredients (like miso, for example) and making my own version of a dish.

e: What makes the tuna wonton trendy in today’s food world (if at all)? Or is it more of a throwback?

JP: It’s trendy for sure. You say the words “tuna” and “wonton,” and it’s a done deal. It’s local, seasonal and trendy.

e: What element of the dish do you think people will go nuts for?

JP: The tuna will definitely be showcased, but that ginger-beer sauce will be money.

 

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, 910tix.com. Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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