Wilmington chef Dean Neff has earned a spot on a prestigious foundation’s "best chefs" list.
Neff, chef/owner of Seabird in downtown Wilmington, was named one of 20 national semi-finalists in the Outstanding Chefs category by officials of the 2024 James Beard Foundation’s Restaurant and Chef Awards. Semifinalists across 22 categories were announced Wednesday; Neff is the only member of the area hospitality industry to be recognized this year.
Seabird is known for its focus on seafood
and oysters from the North Carolina coast. It’s his first solo venture: He previously was co-owner and chef of PinPoint Restaurant in Wilmington, drawing on his experience at distinctive restaurants in Athens, Georgia, and Asheville. Neff earned a James Beard Foundation semifinalist nomination in 2019 for his work at PinPoint, and the restaurant was named among the “Best New Restaurants in the South” by Southern Living – crediting the culinary leadership of Neff and his wife, pastry chef Lydia Clopton.
Seabird’s menu spotlights the couple’s passion about “foodways that make Wilmington so distinctive,” Neff says on the restaurant’s website.
Neff is the only North Carolina chef among the semifinalists in his category. Eleven North Carolina restaurants, bakeries and bars were included in the complete list of semifinalists. The finalists will be announced in early spring and the category winners in early June, according to the foundation’s website
Established in 1990 and first awarded in 1991, the James Beard Foundation’s Restaurant and Chef Awards are one of five separate recognition programs of the James Beard Awards. The awards, according to the foundation, “Recognize exceptional talent and achievement in the culinary arts, hospitality, media, and broader food system, as well as a demonstrated commitment to racial and gender equity, community, sustainability, and a culture where all can thrive.”
The foundation honors James Beard, (1903-1985) a renowned chef, cookbook author, teacher and television personality who was a pioneer in championing American cooking.