Cooking is in Charlie Deal's blood. "From the time I was a little kid I was always into cooking. I wrote my first cookbook at age 5," he says.
On top of that, by 5 he had already had his first craft beer. "There's a picture of me in diapers holding a bottle of Anchor Steam that my dad was feeding me," he explains with a laugh. "Not that I remember it," he adds.
The 46-year-old restaurateur chats about food, beer and restaurants with me at a two-top table in the back of Dos Perros in downtown Durham. He has a Mother Earth Brewing oatmeal porter while I choose a Mystery Brewing Rapunzel Octoberfest.
Deal grew up in California's Bay Area, and like many people, was chased away by the price of housing. He arrived in North Carolina in 2002.
"There's affordable housing here. There were plenty of places I could have gone ... but I liked the progressive community here," he says, "a blue spot in a red state."
Deal traces his path through the hospitality industry.
"I got into it through washing dishes and being a bus boy," he says. It wasn't long after that Deal began hosting dinners at his small apartment, running a pop-up restaurant out of the meager space. He met a waiter who liked the idea, and who had a bigger place, so the two joined forces and started a more upscale pop-up called The Heaven Shack out of the waiter's apartment.
By age 27, he had opened a French bistro. And soon after that an Asian street food place called Charlie Hong Kong.
Today, Deal runs Dos Perros and JuJuBe in Chapel Hill. He plans to open JuJu on Ninth Street by the end of the year.
His motivation behind these establishments? "I missed the food I grew up on," he says. "So I figured 'Oh, what the hell, I'll do it.' That was my motivation, seriously."
As for beer, Deal doesn't have a preference to a particular style. "I just like well-made things," he says. "I love a good pilsner, but it is getting out of the season for that. I like American saisons. It pairs well with food like wine does."
One thing Deal is locally known for is hosting beer dinners. His philosophy on them is to just throw a party.
"It is not so much an educational experience, but rather a way to reward someone for giving you their palate for the night," he says. "I like to put myself in the chef's hand. And that's what beer dinners do. You can tell more about a restaurant by their beer list than their wine list. It's so much easier to spot a mailed-in beer list than wine list."
So what does he recommend you bring to the table this Thanksgiving?
"Big, American saisons are good with the flavor of turkey. And they go great with roasted apples," he says. "North Coast Brewing's Le Merle [a Belgian style farmhouse ale] is a good one." He also suggested Old Stock Ale from North Coast Brewing and "something like Mother Earth Brewing's Tripel Overhead [Belgian Tripel inspired by Trappist Monks] which naturally accentuates sweet food like potatoes, squash and pumpkin pie.
"And, of course, you can't go wrong with La Chouffe," he says, referring to the Belgian strong golden ale.
This article appeared in print with the headline "A cooking life"