Chef Ben Adams is partnering with Pig Whistle whole hog barbecue caterer Wyatt Dickson to open Picnic, a modern barbecue restaurant, this fall in North Durham.
Adams, 33, and Dickson, 34, met at the University of North Carolina where they were fraternity brothers. Each ended up in New York City after college in professions far removed from food; Dickson at a law firm as a paralegal and Adams in finance.
Their paths diverged and eventually led to food careers. Adams went to culinary school and ended up cooking at several Charleston, S.C. restaurants before returning to North Carolina. In 2013, Adams took over the kitchen at Durham restaurant, Piedmont, earning a four-star review from News & Observer restaurant critic Greg Cox a year later.
“Part of the reason I came back was the possibility to do something with Wyatt,” Adams said.
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Dickson came back to UNC to go to law school but began cooking whole hog barbecue on the side. His big break was cooking for James Beard award-winning chef Andrea Reusing at an anniversary celebration for her restaurant, Lantern, in Chapel Hill.
Dickson said Reusing encouraged him to start a business. At Pig Whistle, Dickson became known for carefully sourcing the whole hogs from local farms, which raised heritage breed animals on pasture. Wyatt said he also was encouraged by the diners’ reactions: “Having octogenarians tell me this is what barbecue tasted like when they were children, that makes it worth it.”
Adams envisions Picnic as a “modern roadside barbecue joint.” It will serve whole hog barbecue made from pigs from Durham’s Green Button Farm. (Farmer Ryan Butler is a partner in the restaurant.) It will have a meat-and-three element with barbecue, fried chicken and blackened catfish and classic Southern vegetables. But Adams said it will also serve lighter, fresh food inspired by ingredients at the farmers market.
The men have not signed a lease yet and so could not reveal specific location.
Adams and Dickson are holding a series of pop-up dinners to introduce diners to Picnic’s food. Here is the schedule: Adams will cook at Daisy Cakes in Durham on May 23; Dickson will be serving barbecue at Crook’s Corner on June 3 (diners can call the restaurant for reservations); the pair will be cooking a Pink Bubbles and Pig event for RX Wine Lab at 610 Glenwood Ave. in Raleigh on June 4 (will be posted on wine lab website); and a Surf and Turf dinner at Green Button Farm on June 20 (will be posted on farm website).
Interested diners can email Adams at bbadams (at) gmail.com to reserve a space at Daisy Cakes event.
In related news, Piedmont restaurant has a new chef, Greg Gettles, who previously worked at Herons at The Umstead Hotel & Spa in Cary and the now-closed Magnolia Grill in Durham.