The first time I met Chef Ben Adams, formerly of Piedmont restaurant in Durham, he gave me a deviled egg to try. I am always up for a deviled egg, so of course I said yes. However, with one bite, I knew it was something special—the chef had spooned a bit of bacon jam into the bottom of each boiled white before piping back in the yolk mixture, so what resulted was a delectable bite that showed off Adams’ creative hand. And now he’s bringing that creativity to a new venue.
Ben Adams and whole hog barbeque master Wyatt Dickson of The Pig Whistle have teamed up to open Picnic, a modern roadside barbeque restaurant in North Durham, opening Fall 2015. Picnic will serve as an inspired meat-and-three destination at lunchtime; in the evening, diners will discover Adams market-driven small plates menu, craft cocktails, and sparkling wines.
- What was the biggest lesson you learned from your time at Piedmont?
It really provided me the chance to build relationships with farmers in the area. Piedmont has had a commitment to sustainable food systems since its inception, and so when I came to the kitchen there, I got the chance to really create relationships with local producers, relationships that I am going to continue (and expand on) at Picnic.
- So now it’s time to talk “Picnic.” What has you the most excited about it at the moment?
Well, there is a “meat and three” element to our menu. Where Piedmont’s menu was a bit more structured—making it hard to add something to the menu for say, just three days—Picnic’s menu will be a lot more fluid. The meat, such as whole hog barbecue, will always be a standard, but I’ll be able to execute simple, fresh sides from what’s at the market that day. I see really being able to use as much local, seasonal produce as possible.
- This summer, you’re doing a lot of pop-up dinners as you prepare for Picnic to open, Chefs seem to really enjoy these. Why are you participating in these one-night-dinner experiences?
It is a great avenue to work on some dishes, but in a larger perspective, it’s to keep my mind on food, to keep me engaged. For instance, with the upcoming dinner we’re doing with Fred [the Whole Hog Pop-Nic “Celebration of Pigs & Pinks” July 16], it’s small plates, whole hog barbecue, and then a master sommelier. That’s something really unique, and that’s something that makes me excited to be a part of. It’s really a one-night thing, an experience that will never happen in quite the same way again.
- You keep saying “we.” Can you tell me about your partners?
Of course! It’s one of the aspects of this new phase I’m most excited about! Picnic is going to be fun working with my two partners, Wyatt Dickson our barbecue man (he thinks the term pitmaster is too hoity-toity), and Ryan Butler of Green Button Farm (just north of Durham) who we’ll be sourcing all of our pork from and who will be running a kitchen garden for us in the side yard. For me, life is just as much about the people you’re working with as the work you’re doing, so it’s really cool to be working with two others who have a shared vision for how food should be raised, sourced and cooked.
- So besides pop-up, what are you up to this summer?
Going to the farmers market as a home cook! I’m getting the chance to enjoy cooking for pleasure, and we’re grilling out two to three times a week. It’s nice to be outside, have some personal time.