• Above: Chef Morgan Avery brings new ideas to Dram + Morsel tapas bar, on the third floor of downtown’s Roudabush building, including numerous vegan items (flip to pgs. 18-22 to read more on them). Photo by Lindsey A. Miller Photography
first floor of the Roudabush building, are craving. Another reason it works is both men are married, and each have a young child. With two people as head chef, it means their days off are more secure than many others in similar positions. Even though his daughter is only 4 months old, Casey likes to take her to the aquarium and the beach during his downtime. Benitez’s 2-year-old son likes fishing and cooking, and even has his own chef’s coat with “Dad’s sous chef” embroidered on it. “Oh, I’m going to have to get one of those, too,” Casey adds. Their days off don’t typically overlap, but they make a point to get together, usually on Thursdays, to collaborate on their menu and nightly specials. “That’s when we have time to do it,” Casey informs. “Fridays and Saturdays are just too hectic.” Even though they come from different culinary backgrounds, they each know they have something to add to the creative process. “Plus, we are both relatively new to pan-Asian cooking,” Benitez tells. “We can work together from there,” Casey agrees. “We work on all the ideas together, from the sauces to the ingredients. We taste each other’s food and critique it.” Casey and Benitez came to YoSake earlier in 2017; the restaurant already had a well-established menu, covering everything from sushi to curries to noodle bowls. Diners who have tried a nightly special in recent months have experienced combined palates of the chefs—a result of a combination of their skills and techniques. A Korean short-rib special particularly stands out to Casey. “Yeah, that was good,” Benetiz agrees.
The meat was marinated for 14 hours and slowly braised—paired with a coconut-ginger sweet-potato purée. Other specials featured clams in a lemongrass-coconut broth and shrimp summer rolls with cilantro and lime sauce. It showcased Casey’s seafood skills and Benetiz’s influence of adding Latin flavors to the Asian techniques. Casey most recently spent more than six years at Dock Street Oyster Bar in downtown Wilmington, learning and perfecting how to work with seafood. “It was a great experience,” he praises. “I would say I had a lot of on-the-job training.” Benitez is newer to Wilmington, but worked at the large Corned Beef & Co. bar and grill in Roanoke, Virginia, before spending time as a sous chef at Sweet n Savory Cafe near Wrightsville Beach. He hadn’t planned on working in the restaurant industry until his cousin helped him get a job years ago. “I gave it a shot,” he says. “As it turns out, I was good at it and had fun doing it.” The pair know the challenges they face. They avoid potential problems by talking with each other before they discuss issues with their staff of 14 or so. “We try to be very straightforward with everyone,” Benitez explains. “And we’re open to ideas from the staff and from each other.” They also know just how popular the food already is. The restaurant always has used fresh, local and seasonal fish and produce to create popular dishes. “We want to just see if we can impart our own touch,” Benitez says. “Going forward, there are lots of big plans,” Casey adds. They will keep creating innovative nightly specials. More so, they will introduce new menu items and desserts in the coming months. They also hope to have some news nibbles for The Husk. “They have good bar food, but we might see if we can add something, especially for football season,” Casey tells. SUMMER-FALL 2017 | DEVOUR 7