Exploring the Inner Banks: Field Trips with Got To Be N.C. and local chefs

by | Jun 9, 2021

The blog post below was written by Food Service Marketing Specialist, Chad Blackwelder, following the first Got To Be N.C. Chef Field Trip to Oriental, North Carolina.

The first ever Got To Be N.C. Chef Field Trip was a two-day immersive experience which brought together N.C. chefs to learn of the bounty of our Inner Banks, the Pamlico Sound in specific. A group of 15 chefs from Asheville to Oriental participated in this unique event. The Field Trip was hosted by Tidewater Grain Company. Tidewater is a Got To Be N.C. member and they are producing the first Carolina Gold Rice in North Carolina since the 1920’s. Tidewater Grain Co. started just three years ago with three acres of Carolina Gold Rice and now they are up to 120 acres. They recently purchased a rice mill and are planning to expand to 500 acres in the next three years. Coastal black rye and barley were added this year as well.

The NCDA partnered with Cheney Brothers Inc., as they are proponents and purveyors of N.C. products and carry Tidewater Grain Company Carolina Gold Rice. Cheney was able to include a number of their N.C. products as the producers donated items for the chefs to enjoy.

The NCDA’s sponsorship provided accommodations for the chefs at River Dunes, a beautiful hotel on the Pamlico Sound. River Dunes graciously provided a poolside cocktail reception for the chefs and press upon arrival. The chefs were transported around from their lodgings to Tidewater Grain Company and neighboring commercial crabbing and fishing outfits by Eco Style Travel.

Following the reception at River Dunes, the chefs joined a group of locals at Tidewater Grain Company. This opening party included a local food truck, Mari’s Hella Fat Food Truck, and appetizers by the Tidewater crew that included locally-sourced oysters on the grill, dove and duck spring rolls and grilled quail. The Mayor of Oriental, Sally Balangia, was there to offer a welcome to the chefs and introduce her musician husband Ken, who provided live music.

Monday morning began at Tidewater Grain Company where breakfast was served to the chefs and press by the Tidewater staff. The service included locally-sourced products including biscuits with honey and sausage gravy, bacon and country ham, strawberries with yogurt, and granola, Ran-Lew Dairy milk and shrimp with Tidewater Grain Carolina Gold Rice grits. After breakfast the chefs and press members split into two groups. Group A spent the morning in the rice patties learning about the history of Tidewater Grain Company and the production of their heirloom rice. Group B split into three small groups, one went crabbing, one went fishing and the third visited a Pamlico Sound oyster lease. Those three smaller groups each got to experience all three of those commercial seafood industries. Both groups met back at Tidewater where Chef Leigh Hesling of CBI and his staff had boxed lunches ready for the chefs. After lunch the two groups traded off to experience what the other did that morning.

After a day in the fields and waters, the chefs were returned to River Dunes to freshen up and then brought back to Tidewater Grain Company for dinner of local meat and cheese charcuterie, grilled and smoked N.C. meats, simply grilled local veggies and a rice pudding with Tidewater Grain Company Carolina Gold rice prepared by CBI’s Chef Leigh. The Tidewater crew prepared local oysters, soft shell crabs, local strawberry pies and a selection of Ran-Lew Dairy gelato. The owners of the nearby Bogue Sound Distillery were on hand to talk about their operation and offer a tasting to the crowd. Tidewater has partnered with Epiphany Malt out of Durham to malt the Carolina Gold Rice for brewing purposes. Full Steam Brewing is one of six breweries in the state using Tidewater’s malted rice and they provided their new Tidewater Ale to serve with this local bounty.

Following breakfast at Rive Dunes Tuesday morning, the group visited Paradise Shores soft shell crab shedding facility. The chefs were able to see first-hand blue crabs molting and the steps it takes to ensure they survive and make it to the end user.

Since the event, Jamie Davies of the Hackney and James Patterson of Porters Neck Country Club have been ordering soft shell crabs from Paradise shores. The owner of Bogue Sound Distillery is in talks with Tidewater about a rice whiskey. Tidewater will also be growing non-commodity small grains for Bogue Sound as well.

This event offered value to the chefs on every level from the immersive experiences in the fields and the water to finding new product sources to commiserating with fellow chefs about current industry woes to just having others cook and serve them. The chefs have been active on social media with images and stories of “the greatest chef event so far.” They will no doubt continue to talk about this experience and the revival of an almost lost heirloom grain that has been brought back by a group that they now know personally and will help to tell that very important story. The Got To Be N.C. Chef Field Trip will return to Tidewater next year and will travel to other parts of the state introducing N.C. chefs to new products and food ways.