Cary, N.C. — When Little Hen Chef Regan Stachler stood up to introduce himself to everyone, I expected to hear “First rule about Chickenwire…” and continue the famous lines similar to Fight Club.
It was because when I first heard of Chickenwire it was through my food friends who followed the food scene close. Chickenwire was also something no one could describe. While you knew the date and who was at the event, you didn’t know what was going to be cooked (only guessed by the theme) and exactly where (until a few days before). It was because of this, I had Chickenwire dinners circled on my calendar.
For me, Chickenwire gave an opportunity to see a chef’s jam session. I have posters of chefs and not musicians (sorry Billy Corgan, you were replaced) on my walls. What to expect at these jam sessions are recipes and ideas that may have the same chords as their restaurant creations, but are different and unrestricted by sheet music. It is here the chefs sit down and wait to taste their food ballads.
Chickenwire’s inspiration came from the Blind Supper Club in Asheville. The Triangle’s version is behind the motivation of Stachler and his wife, Dawn. They wanted chefs to have an opportunity that “doesn't handcuff" them. Chickenwire gives chefs an opportunity to be creative without fear of risking too much.
This month’s theme was “Breaking Bread,” which appropriately featured Lionel Vatinet, master baker at La Farm Bakery, and the recent North Carolina wheat harvest. What was also unique to the event was that it took place at Vatinet’s home and featured his wood fire oven.
Guests gathered outside where he baked bread and other chefs prepared meals using it. Including Vatinet and Stachler , Chef Daniel Benjamin of LucetteGrace, Chef Robin Bilodeau of Searstone, Chef James Clark of Carolina Inn, Chef John Childers of Herons at The Umstead, Chef Serge Falcoz-Vigne of Rocky Top Hospitality, Chef Bill Hartley of Carolina Inn, Chef Greg Gettles of Piedmont prepared courses for the guests. In addition to the chef’s courses, Straw, Sticks, & Brick Brewing, Crude Bitters & Soda Co. and Muddy Dog Roasting Company provided cocktails, drinks and coffee.
Every course was superbly prepared, however, the hearth-roasted black drum (prepared by Chef Clark and Hartley) was the most talked about course. This dish started with several black drum fish caught on Friday off NC’s coast.
Utilizing the wood fire oven, they put the fish on skewers underneath tomatoes, sausages, peppers and seasonings. On skewers, the fish was stuffed with tropical and citrus fruits. The fish were now prepped and ready for the oven to be cooked and smoked by the wood.
After that process, they were basted with Serrano peppers, garlic, pineapple, mint and cilantro and served.
This Chickenwire dinner featured courses served family style. Therefore, guests served themselves like a “fish pickin’" - Similar to a pig pickin’, guests pulled the meat off the fish. It sounded unconventional, but turned out really cool as you could pull the fish right off the skewers.
After several savory courses, guests retreated to inside Vatinet’s home where we enjoyed desserts from Chef Bilodeau and Chef Benjamin. It was here chefs received bread with “Merci” (means “Thank you” in French) and applause from everyone. It was here guests also received a loaf of bread and other goodies inside a gift bag.
Before I left, I am reminded of what Chef Falcoz-Vigne said, “we are so lucky to have Lionel here. In France, you can find bread makers on every corner. But here we have the best right here in Cary. And he [Lionel] would be better than those in France.” This tells Chickenwire in two ways. One it offers an opportunity to see the best chefs in a relax environment. The other it shows the support these chefs have for each other.
The Wandering Sheppard aka Arthur Sheppard covers food truck and foodie news in the Triangle on his blog WanderingSheppard.com.