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True Southern Flavor

At award-winning The Bistro at Just Baked in Surf City, chef Bud Taylor blends the beloved tastes of his childhood with an educated wine list

By Jason Frye

“Being from the South, the kitchen

Photograph by Mark Steelman

was always a big part of my childhood,” says Bud Taylor, chef-owner of The Bistro at Just Baked.

If you’re not familiar with this Surf City eatery, don’t blame yourself, because as Taylor says, “Topsail [Island] has never been known as a dining destination, unless you wanted greasy fried seafood.” That’s changed in the last decade, but only slightly. Steam pots have begun to replace the Calabash-style fried platters on many tables, and a handful of restaurants have introduced a fine-dining approach to coastal and Southern cuisine. The Bistro at Just Baked is one of the restaurants helping swing the drawbridge open to give Topsail’s food culture the room, inspiration and success it needs to take root. And they’re getting recognized for it. “We learned a few months ago that we were going to receive the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence, but we had to keep quiet about it,” says Taylor. “It’s been a long couple of months.” The Wine Spectator Award of Excellence is based not only on a restaurant’s wine list, but on how that list relates to the food and how it demonstrates a breadth of styles, regions and vintages. Or, as Wine Spectator puts it, “the list must offer a well-chosen selection of quality producers along with a thematic match to the menu in both price and style.” In other words, the list just fits. This is quite the accomplishment for Taylor. In the eight years The Bistro at Just Baked has been serving guests, the wine list has grown exponentially.

The Art & Soul of Wilmington

“Our first list was only seven bottles. Seven bottles!” Taylor says. “I knew very little about wine, but one thing I did know was that if I wanted to take the restaurant to the place I envisioned, I needed to educate myself on wine.” He found a tutor in Jena Schmidt, a wine specialist with one of the restaurant’s distributors. “I told her in one of our first meetings, ‘I don’t know much about wine, but I’m willing to learn, and that’s where you come in.’” They worked together, tasted hundreds of wines, attended wine expos and dinners and seminars, and, slowly, built a list that complemented Taylor’s food and matched guest expectations. “We were always careful to keep the guests in mind and designed a list that’s approachable to the wine novice while being enjoyable for the wine enthusiast.” He says this was no mean feat. This same idea guides Taylor’s food. Growing up Southern — “just across the water in a place called Turkey Creek,” he says — the kitchen was a focal point, but unlike so many chefs who learned to cook from some matriarch, it was Taylor’s granddad who taught him to cook. “He taught me how to fry eggs and bacon when I was so young I had to stand on an old lard bucket to reach the stove.” Those early lessons caught in his mind and led him to continue cooking, but always on his own and never with any formal training (Taylor went to school for graphic design and marketing). Then one foggy Christmas Eve, he cooked up a mess of collards for the big family dinner. “I was nervous. Cooking collard greens is a point of pride in the family. At that dinner, everyone was raving about those collards but no one knew who cooked them. October 2015 •



October Salt 2015  

The Art & Soul of Wilmington

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