Home Food Dish Chef Bret Jennings Cooks for a Crowd

Chef Bret Jennings Cooks for a Crowd

Whether feeding family or friends, the Elaine’s on Franklin chef makes fresh, crowd-pleasing dishes

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From left: Kendall Jennings, Julie Jennings, Prity Kukovich, Bret Jennings, Sherri Johnson, Julie Crowe, Jennifer Strauss and Joanna Ramsey dig in.
From left: Kendall Jennings, Julie Jennings, Prity Kukovich, Bret Jennings, Sherri Johnson, Julie Crowe, Jennifer Strauss and Joanna Ramsey dig in.

Julie Jennings might have the best book club in Chapel Hill. With husband Bret taking the lead preparing food for the group, it’s no wonder they’ve stuck together as long as they have. “We’ve had the book club since before [our daughter] Kendall was born and she’s 16,” Julie says. Members Prity Kukovich, Sherri Johnson, Julie Crowe, Jennifer Strauss and Joanna Ramsey gather once a month to chat about their most recent read over wine and plenty of snacks.

Using local ingredients and commanding flavors – the same approach he takes at his West Franklin Street restaurant – Bret put together a spread for lettuce wraps. Firing up his grill on the patio, he threw on marinated meats, such as pork tenderloin, shrimp and shredded duck, and vegetables. Bret also made a spicy peanut sauce that works on so many other dishes from kebabs to raw vegetables. Garnishes like basil, mint and sprouts added depth to the meal and gave everyone options when creating their wraps. “The idea is that there are no rules,” Bret says. “You can add whatever you want to your wrap. I think two veggies and a protein works well.”

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With Bret at Elaine’s, Julie working at her shop, Uniquities, and the kids at various activities, Sunday evenings are their go-to family dinner night. All five – including Kendall, Spencer Rose, 11, and Curry, 8 – are fans of the same lettuce wraps and spaghetti and meatballs. On weekend mornings, they’ll gather around the kitchen island for breakfast or head out to shop for produce. “My kids will go to the [Carrboro Farmers’ Market] and everyone gets to pick something out,” Bret says.

The Jennings family – Bret, Kendall, Curry, Spencer Rose and Julie – on their back patio.
The Jennings family – Bret, Kendall, Curry, Spencer Rose and Julie – on their back patio.

Spicy Thai Coconut-Peanut Sauce

2 Tbsp. chopped garlic
2 Tbsp. chopped ginger
1 cup peanut butter
1⁄4 cup tamari or soy sauce
2 Tbsp. Sriracha
4 oz. unsweetened coconut milk
2 oz. hot water
Scallions to taste
Cilantro to taste
Mint to taste
Sesame seeds to taste

Combine all ingredients through Sriracha in a food processor and pulse until incorporated. While processor is on, slowly drizzle in water then coconut milk. Do not overprocess. Check for flavor and consistency and adjust to personal preferences. Lastly, add some scallions, cilantro, mint and sesame seeds and pulse a couple more times so herbs are chopped into sauce, but not totally pureed.

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Photography by Briana Brough

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Jessica is the Executive Editor for Chapel Hill Magazine. As a 2010 grad of UNC, she's happy to be back in town writing, editing and eating around the Triangle.