Dean Neff - A Destination for Ideation | Asheville Ideas Fest

Dean Neff

Chef/Owner, Seabird Restaurant Wilmington NC

Dean Neff – a JBF “Outstanding Chef” Finalist and “Best Chef Southeast” nominee – opened Seabird, a seafood restaurant and oyster bar devoted to North Carolina’s coast, in Spring 2021 as his first solo venture with wife Lydia Clopton. Neff, a champion of North Carolina’s sustainable fishing, aquaculture and farming practices, created Seabird as a celebration of North Carolina’s coast, housed in a historic landmark building in downtown Wilmington.

“We’re passionate about the foodways that make Wilmington so distinctive,” said Neff. Originally from Savannah, Georgia, Neff’s obsession with the sea began with family weekends spent fishing for the evenings’ supper. After working with celebrated chefs Hugh Acheson and John Fleer,

Neff was drawn back to the seaside community, and resolved to support sustainable seafood and fishing from small-scale fishermen and women. 

Prior to opening Seabird, Neff was the chef/owner of Pinpoint in Wilmington, recognized by Southern Living as a “Best New Restaurant in the South.” Now at Seabird, Neff offers “Seabirdie” oysters farmed exclusively for Seabird, and changes the menu daily based on back door deliveries from coastal foragers. Seabird’s menu celebrates the season with Neff’s adept coastal cooking. Within months of opening, Eater named it “Essential” and “Beach Restaurant of the Year,” and John T. Edge gave it a “Seafood Salute” in Garden & Gun. Fans from Reader’s Digest and Hemispheres to The Local Palate have praised it as one of THE reasons to visit Wilmington today, and the Wall Street Journal and BuzzFeed’s “Worth It” celebrated his locally focused seafood tower and overall commitment to sustainable seafood.

While Neff and his team honor the seasons and the seaside food culture so unique to Wilmington on the menu, Neff is also an outspoken champion of the NC Oyster Trail and Cape Fear River Watch, and is a committed community partner serving meals regularly to the NC Food Bank and many more.