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Wilmington's Seabird Chef Named Finalist For James Beard Award

By Audrey Elsberry, posted Apr 3, 2024
Owner and head chef of Seabird, Dean Neff, was named a finalist for a James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Chef. (File photo)
Wilmington’s own Dean Neff, head chef and owner of Seabird, reached a new milestone in his career Wednesday after he was named a James Beard Foundation finalist for Outstanding Chef.
 
Neff was named a semifinalist both in 2019 and earlier this year. This is the first time Neff has made it to the final round of the national award. Other contenders for Outstanding Chef hail from Oregon, Connecticut, Texas and Washington D.C.
 
Before arriving in Wilmington, Neff worked in various high-caliber restaurants around the Southeast. At Five & Ten in Athens, Georgia, Neff met his wife and business partner Lydia Clopton. The pair moved from Georgia to Asheville to work at separate esteemed restaurants. They later moved to Wilmington in 2015, and Neff opened PinPoint Restaurant on Market Street. Neff left his post at PinPoint in 2019 to explore options for a new restaurant.
 
In 2021, Neff and Clopton opened their new endeavor, Seabird. The restaurant on the corner of Market and Front Streets seeks to echo Wilmington's coastal culinary culture.
 
When the restaurant opened in April 2021, Neff told the Business Journal he wanted the menu to highlight locally sourced food. He said he intended to keep the menu small to hone in on the bounty of each season, while still providing something for everyone.
 
Three years later, Neff’s work at Seabird has pushed him to represent Wilmington on the national stage. The awards, according to the James Beard 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.”
 
“Winners will be celebrated at the James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards ceremony on Monday, June 10, 2024 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago,” according to the foundation’s website.
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