Executive chef Craig Deihl of Cypress Restaurant in Charleston was one of six finalists for the coveted "Best Chef Southeast" award from the James Beard Foundation. The awards were presented Monday night in New York City. It was Deihl's first nomination.
While he didn't win, nominees have a history of repeating in the awards, dubbed the "Oscars of the food world."
Here are Deihl's thoughts on the awards and other culinary matters:
Q. Tell us about the awards gala and what you took away from it, the highlight for you.
A. Walking down the green carpet with my beautiful wife was the highlight. It was amazing having my name called out as a finalist for the Best Chef Southeast. I felt like my chest was going to explode. Going to Per Se for the after-party was priceless. It was a who's who of the restaurant world.
Q. You've been in New York for a week. What were your best food experiences?
A. Well, I've been eating since I stepped off the plane last Sunday morning. Highlights definitely include an amazing 11-course tasting menu from chef Mike Anthony at Gramercy Tavern, mind-bogglingly good barbecue in Brooklyn at Fette Sau and late-night second suppers at New York Noodletown two nights in a row. I've pretty much been able to cross off everything on my list, including a burger from the Spotted Pig and the Maialino al Forno from Maialino.
Q. You also did a James Beard Foundation "pop-up" dinner (known as JBF LTD) last week at Chelsea Market. Which one of your dishes got the best reaction?
A. Probably the Korean-rubbed beef belly served with crop top kimchi. So many menus have pork belly, but most people haven't heard of beef belly, let alone tried it, so I think they were shocked to see how amazing it was.
Q. What were you most proud of?
A. The overall success of the entire night. We were organized, on time and didn't overcook a single steak. I was also particularly proud of how the short ribs turned out.
Q. You are known for your charcuterie and the Artisan Meat Share. What is your latest meat project?
A. When it comes to meat, we'll see where the future takes us. I'm definitely being inspired by what to put with the meats, like house-made cheeses, unique mustards and globally influenced accoutrements.
Q. What new things do you foresee on Cypress' menu this year?
A. After serving my dinner at the JBF LTD family-style, I'd like to do more of that in the restaurant, like salt-baked lamb shoulder, pork shoulder or a whole roasted duck. I'm also going to be adding more to the bar menu -- maybe banh mi (a Vietnamese baguette sandwich) and fried cheese fritters with hot pepper jelly. Beef belly will probably be showing up on both menus as well.
We're also going to be bringing in chefs from all over as a part of our Guest Chef Series, so Charlestonians will be able to dine on food from some of the nation's best talents. Our first dinner will spotlight my good buddy and "Top Chef" finalist and producer Lee Anne Wong on May 23.
Q. Overall, what are some of the most interesting trends you're seeing in restaurant food today?
A. While being in New York, I'm definitely seeing a ton of Southern influence (I think I've seen grits on at least five menus!) and a return to well-made classic cocktails -- my personal favorite is an unbelievably well-done Old Fashioned.
Q. What do you think people want most from fine dining?
A. The whole package -- superior service, great wine and excellent food in an environment that they can have fun and not feel like they can't sit back relax and laugh with their friends.
Q. Charleston's food scene is amazing, but what is something it lacks?
A. I'm probably going to catch some flak for saying this, but the barbecue in Brooklyn was definitely better than any I've had in Charleston in a long time, so I'd love to see someone step it up a few notches.
I'd also like to see fine dining head in a direction where it's affordable to everyone. And my number one thing I'd love to see happen (and maybe do myself) is open an American redneck food joint -- bologna sandwiches on white bread with mustard and damn good corn dogs.