Spotlight

Popping Up

http://vancouveratmain.com/img_3104/ A young, seasoned chef puts his skills to good use with an ever-evolving restaurant concept.

http://debashishbanerji.com/category/videos/new-thinking-allowed/ It’s a rainy Wednesday night in West Ashley, and the bar at Craft Conundrum is beginning to fill up with the usual patrons: couples on a mid-week date, friends grabbing an after-work beverage, and strangers gathering together to play board games. Outside on the covered strip mall sidewalk, a duo arrives carrying plastic tables. Over the next hour, they bring japanese charcoal grills, burners, pots and pans, cookware, utensils, coolers, and dozens of small containers of food. A menu board is set astride the ordering area, and it isn’t long before a line begins to form. The first few patrons order the pop-up’s specialty, an affordable, yet mind-blowingly delicious bowlful of ramen, judging by their reactions. Then, a man queries for the price of the 30-ounce, dry-aged ribeye steak listed on the menu. “$75,” comes the reply from behind the plastic tables in their strip-mall setup. He smiles, handing over his debit card. “Can’t wait to try it,” he says. This is 2Nixons.

The brainchild of local chef extraordinaire, Jeffrey Stoneberger, 2Nixons is the chef’s first solo venture in the Holy City, but one that was inspired by a decade of impressive culinary experience. A former mortgage broker, Stoneberger attended the Culinary Institute of America before receiving an invitation to cook for Chef Heston Blumenthal at his famed restaurant, The Fat Duck, in Bray, UK. Stoneberger’s time working with the revered chef laid the groundwork for his future ventures: in California at The French Laundry, Cyrus, and Saison, and in New York at Jean-Georges, Del Posto, and Momofuku, among others. Along his journey between these revered and oft-Michelin-starred establishments, he gathered techniques, ideas, and passions. At San Francisco’s Saison, he became the resident forager, sourcing unique ingredients and researching interesting applications for them. At Cyrus, in the Sonoma Wine Country, Stoneberger was taken under the wing of Chef Douglas Keane, who shared his infinite knowledge of Asian cooking and techniques. During his stint working at restaurants in New York City, Stoneberger found himself visiting ramen shops after work with his co-workers, developing an appreciation for the warm and flavorful Japanese dish. He assisted Chef Bryan Voltaggio with writing a cookbook, and experimented with the pop-up concept at AGGIO in Washington, D.C. At one point, Chef Sean Brock invited him to join the opening team at McCrady’s, which led to Stoneberger’s immersion in the Charleston restaurant scene, to which he eventually returned years later.

Working as the chef de cuisine at Two Boroughs Larder, Stoneberger began weaving the threads of his past together into an idea. Glancing at a map, he discovered that every region along the same longitudinal line as Charleston offered hot noodle dishes. Exploring nearby cities such as Atlanta, he found scores of ramen shops reminiscent of those he visited in New York City. Yet in Charleston, there was nothing. No place he could visit in the late hours of the evening, warming his soul with a bowl of hot noodle soup. So, he decided to open one for himself. In October 2015, Jeffrey Stoneberger officially opened 2Nixons, a pop-up ramen restaurant that is simply that, but so much more.

“2Nixons is really about working with the delicious parameters and flavors that you would find in a fine dining setting,” explains Stoneberger. “We want to serve you something that you could order in a high end restaurant, but that also feels so right in whatever casual atmosphere we are serving from that night.”

As a dish that is known for its evocation of comfort and a sense of familiarity, not unlike chicken noodle soup, ramen is one that could be executed fairly simply if the chef saw fit: combine broth, noodles, vegetables or mushrooms, and bowl. Yet Stoneberger reaches far past the bare minimum into a territory rarely touched by chefs outside of the best kitchens in town. Viewing fresh, seasonal, and local ingredients as simply the status quo these days, Stoneberger sources the highest quality ingredients he can afford and figures out what he can do within the space of an outdoor pop-up, with weather to be determined. He makes stock out of wagyu bones and lobster, prepares kimchi nearly constantly, and uses specialized equipment that requires more than a little know-how. He shows up with little-known vegetables, perfectly butchered meats, and often rare ingredients, always seeming to find veritable culinary needles in the haystacks of food sourcing. With every pop-up, Stoneberger offers something new, yet every event brings the consistency of the chef’s execution to the table. Usually, there are both meat and vegetarian options (the latter which can be made vegan upon request) and one or two other specials, such as the 30-ounce, dry-aged ribeye mentioned previously. With faith in Stoneberger’s sourcing and abilities, his followers happily pay whatever he is charging, and specials often run out quickly.

Currently, 2Nixons has two dedicated spots: at Craft Conundrum every Wednesday and Saturday evening, and at Two Blokes Brewing every Friday. Stoneberger regularly gets together with various members of the culinary elite – both in town and nationally —to offer collaborative popups, and the restaurant can often be found popping up unexpectedly around town. Now, Stoneberger is working on a new concept: a mysterious pop-up private dinner party event whose attendees are chosen by lottery. Dubbed “Us by 2Nixons,” Stoneberger hopes to flex his culinary muscles by switching the menu up every time.

“One time, it could be all raw shellfish,” Stoneberger muses. “Or maybe a vegan tasting all the way through. Or maybe I’ll butcher some wagyu beef and serve it in a different way for every course. I don’t know what I’ll do for each dinner yet, but it’s going to be amazing every time.”

Stoneberger and his sous chef, Brian Altman, are also working on establishing a five-acre farm in John’s Island to the point that it provides nearly all of their ingredients, allowing them to have greater influence on the elements that make it into their dishes.

Now in his second year with 2Nixons, Stoneberger is quick to explain that the pop-up concept is where he feels most comfortable.

“This isn’t some ploy where we want to start as a pop-up, get a food truck, and eventually open up a brick and mortar restaurant,” Stoneberger explains. “If we never have a location, I’m fine with that. I just want to keep discovering and exploring. The facilitation of these creative ideas, working with creative people – that is the true awesome nature of what I do, and I am going to keep on doing it as long as I can.”

For more information on where to find 2Nixons, visit 2nixons.com or follow 2nixons on social media.

By Jana Riley