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Updated: Mar 31, 2023

Before Chef Zac Zaytoun was even born, his grandfather owned a deli in his hometown of New Bern, NC. Food, restaurants and the organized chaos that goes hand-in-hand with this business, is in his blood. He is now Co-Owner and Executive Chef at Pipeline Poke.

Chef Zac Zaytoun, Photograph by Allison Bowman

In 2011 Zaytoun moved to Wilmington, NC and attended the Cape Fear Community College culinary program while working in several kitchens in the Port City for 4 years. He then moved to Oahu, Hawaii, to work with his brother at Morimoto Waikiki and quickly fell in love with Hawaii's culture, land, and the people. After almost 2 years, he moved back to Wilmington and accepted a position as sous chef at The Bento Box, where he met Chef Lee, owner and executive chef. He added poke, Hawaii's most famous dish, to the menu and its popularity grew immediately as people learned how authentic Hawaiian poke was prepared. After years of recipe testing, he formed a menu full of flavors and styles that correctly paid homage to the authentic Hawaiian food. Chef Lee and Zaytoun partnered with Adrian Kugatow, owner of Surf City Crab and marketer Paul Pinto, and opened Pipeline Poke.

What makes Pipeline Poke unique?

My first goal when Chef Lee and I sat down and began working on this concept was to keep everything we sold as authentic Hawaiian as possible. Over the years, I've gained too much respect for the culture and its food to do anything different. Therefore, we source as many ingredients as possible from the islands so that when you walk into Pipeline Poke, you will feel as if you stepped onto the north shore and are experiencing the fantastic flavors of Hawaii.

How would you describe the food you like to cook?

I like combining a few simple ingredients to create something well-balanced and flavorful. Less is more when it comes to ingredients in my kitchen. If a cook uses high-quality ingredients, the food will speak for itself, whether there are 15 ingredients or just 3.

What motivates you and inspires you as a chef?

No matter how hard you work, how many hours you work, or what incredible dishes you create, it is impossible to achieve perfection in this industry. It's what all cooks strive for, yet, it is only achievable sometimes. Things will always go wrong in the kitchen. It's how we react to those things that make us great. At the end of the day, pursuing perfection and making exceptional food for people drives me to be great.

What might diners not know about you?

I love sports. I played football and lacrosse growing up. My Sundays in the fall are usually spent screaming at the tv while watching the Philadelphia Eagles play. I've been a super fan since the 2nd or 3rd grade. I also love fantasy football. I play in a league going into its 11th season, so things can get heated. I also play lacrosse for the Wilmington Riptide, the men's recreational team. This is our second season, and I have a blast getting out there and being competitive with the guys.

What's your current favorite dish on the Pipeline Poke menu?

The Lava Flow tuna poke and the spam musubi. Lava Flow is our spiciest flavor and has some serious heat to it. I love anything spicy. The spam musubi is a Hawaiian classic. We take spam fresh out of the can and slice it thinly before slowly braising it in our signature Hula sauce, a sweet and spicy sesame soy sauce. It then goes on a ball of rice mixed with furikake before being wrapped in nori, like a palm-sized nigiri. It is incredible.

Favorite local product, and how do you use it?

Beautiful yellowfin tuna we get from Surf City Crab. You can really taste the difference in our fresh, responsibly sourced tuna.

Best foodie city?

It's hard to say. I've eaten at many delicious restaurants across North Carolina. Raleigh and Asheville are a few of my favorites. However, Wilmington is right up there. I also can't downplay my experiences in Hawaii. You can pretty much find any type of Asian cuisine you're looking for there.

What is your all-time comfort food?

It has to be pizza. There is nothing better than a properly made pie. House-made dough, freshly made sauce, dried chilis, and topped with freshly picked herbs. I'm drooling just thinking about it. Tacos, however, are a close second. You can't beat street tacos and cold margaritas.

Describe the best meal you've ever eaten.

Once a year, typically on my father's birthday, my mom prepares a Lebanese feast. Anyone that has made Lebanese food knows it requires a great deal of time and patience to be made it correctly. We usually have kibbeh, a lamb meatloaf made with bulgur wheat and pine nuts, grape leaves, and tabouleh salad, just to name a few items. This meal is truly a labor of love because of all the tedious prep that goes into it. Best day of the year.

Three songs on your current playlist.

An important piece of advice you have for new chefs?

I would ask any new cook the same question my brother did to me almost 15 years ago: "Do you love to cook? Figure it out because it will eat you alive if you don't. Even if you love it, it will probably eat you alive anyway." That said, work hard, work efficiently, show up early, and treat kitchens like family, and you'll love your job.

102 Autumn Hall Drive - Suite 130

Wilmington, NC

MON - SAT: 11am - 7pm

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