Dean Neff

Years of Participation

Dean Neff is the chef and owner (with his wife Lydia Clopton) of Seabird, a new restaurant and oyster bar located in a historic landmark building in downtown Wilmington, North Carolina that honors the seasonal, local, and sustainable seafood unique to the region. A James Beard Foundation nominee for “Best Chef Southeast,” Neff is a longtime champion of North Carolina’s sustainable fishing, aquaculture and farming practices. Prior to opening Seabird, Neff earned praise for his first restaurant, PinPoint; Southern Living named it a “Best New Restaurant in the South” in 2016.

Neff’s celebration of local seafood stems from his passion for fishing and respect for the fishing community throughout the east coast, a respect he developed while growing up in Savannah GA. Neff’s cooking at Seabird aims to honor ingredients through fun and accessible preparations inspired by classic dishes that highlight intensity of flavor through complementary pairings. Take for instance his Peel & Eat Shrimp – a classic dish made new where Neff begins with the flavor profile of New Orleans style barbecue shrimp and amps up the flavor with a beurre blanc loaded with bright lemon, house-made fermented hot sauce, house-made Worcestershire Sauce – and serves it alongside Seabird’s house-made sourdough grit toast.

“With Seabird I wanted to create a fun, versatile restaurant and oyster bar that approaches every ingredient through the lens of the abundant seasonal seafood we have here in Wilmington, NC,” explains Neff. With its energetic bar that doubles as a daytime coffee/breakfast counter, an open kitchen and 6-seat chef’s table where Neff highlights singular dishes in lieu of tasting menus, Neff has created a lively everyday destination that offers a variety of experiences.

Dean is deeply committed to the greater Wilmington community & its foodways; he serves on the Board of Directors for Feast Down East and on the Advisory Council for the Cape Fear River Keeper.