Meet the Chef
CHEF JOSEPH SENA
Joseph Sena's passion for food and cooking started with his grandmother, a depression-era North Carolinian from Thomasville. And, like all good Southern chefs, Sena grew up watching her make traditional southern foods (jellies, chicken pot pie, dumplings), working with her hands, growing her own food, and family at the core of everything. So, although Sena comes from a fine-dining background, it's this sense of home and playfulness he's instilled in his restaurant Rumcow. With a deep Southern-style love for the Charleston and Savannah culture, he has carefully curated a unique dining experience in downtown Wilmington, NC.
Where does the name RUMCOW come from?
The name was really a joke that stuck! We were in China at the night market and someone asked us what our new restaurant served and we told them rum cocktails and butchered meats to which they said Rumcow?
What makes RUMCOW unique?
Rumcow is non-traditional modern American restaurant. It is a tapas restaurant, a butchery, date night place. It’s even a rehearsal dinner venue. It’s definitely not genre typed. It blends styles from latin, asian, European and American. It’s really just about the food. It’s about bringing depth and taste to traditional southern foods through combining global ingredients. Reimagining southern foods and delivering bigger and bolder flavors while respecting the history of North Carolina. Rumcow is unique because we have no limits. We are willing to try anything. We are all about trying new methods and foods.
How would you describe the type of food you like to cook?
I like to start with a single element, whether that be a protein, or a seasonal ingredient, and work backwards. For example, when I found a North Carolina Wagyu flank steak, I knew I wanted to work with the protein, but I knew that I had to drive more depth and complexity into the dish to make it different from traditional flank. I thoroughly enjoy experimenting with different marinades and different styles of cooking.. and when you find the right combination it’s overwhelmingly satisfying.
What motivates and inspires you as a chef?
Food is a connection. It’s about family for me. And bringing people together. It’s also about experimenting and being creative. It’s super rewarding to see groups of twenty or thirty enter my restaurant from all different backgrounds, ages, ethnicities and walks of life and all find something they absolutely love on my menu. That’s the beauty of food.
What might diners NOT know about you?
I was in the cigar business for 10 years, owned a cocktail lounge in Greensboro, owned and founded Whiskey Tango Foxtrot and TacoBaby and my first restaurant was Melting Pot. I'm a proud father of a beautiful 2 year old named Jolene and she loves to cook with me and her mother, Abbie, who is my first and last love.
Current favorite dish the RUMCOW menu?
Our beet risotto salmon. Red beet puree, goat cheese risotto with pan seared salmon, lemon asparagus. Pickled beets, butternut squash puree.. Why? Not only is it delicious but it’s a layered arrangement of texture and flavor. The crispiness of the salmon played into the creamy butternut with the sharp bite of firm pickled beet. It’s awesome. Every bite is just really, really good.
Favorite local produce and how do you use it?
Trigger fish, American wagyu, filet mignon meatballs, beets. We fry, puree, roast and pickle beets at the moment. Same with parsnip. I butcher filets and grind the trim for meatballs. I’m making a ricotta cream sauce I cooked with my dad when I was 9 or 10. My head chef, Brittany, and my sous, Barry, make a lot of ideas realities and we plan, cook and eat everything together. Thankful for those two- and for their determination and patience.
Best foodie city?
Florence, Italy. Small family owned restaurants in Tuscany making generational foods. Night markets in Shanghai - small allies serving soup dumplings and ramen in Shanghai.
What’s your all-time best comfort food?
Ramen. It’s super dynamic you can go all over the place with it. Broths are a very fine art. Theres no limit to ramen y’all.
Describe the best meal you’ve ever eaten.
Veal Sophia at a small restaurant, Bianca’s, that used to be in Greensboro, NC. Family owned, fresh thin pounded veal, home made breader, a prosciutto cream sauce and home made pasta. It was simple but perfect.- it wasn’t complex, it was just right. I was blown away with the craftsmanship and it felt so personal - like a family diner.
Top songs on your current playlist?
If there’s one important piece of advice you might have for cooks, what might that be?
Cook at home with friends and family and take those dishes to your restaurants.
RUMCOW strives to bring you your favorite southern plates with a global twist. They source only the finest fresh & local ingredients, and tastefully bring you back to your most beloved southern cities. With a deep (southern-style) love for the Charleston and Savannah culture, they carefully curate a unique dining and bar experience offering a new world approach to classic favorites. In the heart of the ever growing and ever beautiful downtown Wilmington, NC.
Friday and Saturday: 5pm-10pm
121 Grace St, Wilmington, NC