Chris Geer gets a lot of questions about his life as a sous chef at Cinque Terre, an Italian restaurant on Wharf Street in Portland.

“People talk to me every day about what my job entails,” Geer said. “It’s hard work. There’s a lot (going on) behind the scenes, not just cooking.”

Portlanders can learn more about the city’s sous chefs and what they do through a new booklet Oakhurst Dairy is distributing through November called “Salute to Sous.”

The booklet profiles 14 Portland sous chefs from restaurants as varied as Walter’s, Sonny’s, Hugo’s and Nosh Kitchen Bar. It includes a recipe developed by each sous chef. The chefs were not required to use dairy products in their dishes, but they all did, and the recipes in the booklet specify Oakhurst butter, cream and other Oakhurst products as ingredients.

Six of the recipes, along with a Q&A with each chef, will run in the Food & Dining section of the Portland Press Herald, beginning this week with Geer’s profile. One Q&A and recipe will run each week through November.

The “Salute to Sous” booklets will be available this week at Harvest on the Harbor and through November in the restaurants and on the Oakhurst website, www.oakhurstdairy.com.

Jim Lesser, vice president of marketing and sales at Oakhurst, said people can also call the dairy to have a copy sent to them.

The sous chefs’ signature dishes will be on the menus of their restaurants through November. At the end of the month, for every sous chef dish sold, Oakhurst will make a donation to Share Our Strength Maine’s Operation Frontline, a nutrition education program for families, up to a total of $1,000.

Lesser said the project has been in development since late spring/early summer.

“We kind of fell in love with the concept of really putting the sous chefs out in front of the restaurant for a little while because we all know how hard they work and how much they really make happen back in the kitchen,” he said. “We talked to some of the restaurants. Our concern was that no, they may not want to have sous chefs really in the spotlight, but they were very receptive to it as well, so we decided to run with it.”

What does a sous chef do? Geer said he’s in charge of everything from staffing to making sure the right food products are stocked in the kitchen at Cinque Terre. He also works the line every night.

He is the eyes and ears of the executive chef or the restaurant’s owner when they are not around.

“To have a sous chef is to make sure that everything runs smoothly and the frost heaves in the road, per se, are no longer there,” he said.

Geer graduated from Freeport High School and got his start in the culinary world washing dishes at the Harraseeket Inn, where he worked his way up to working with food. He earned an associate’s degree from Johnson & Wales in Providence, then took a year off to work as a butcher.

He did an internship at Foxwoods, “which was amazing. That really got me to kick it into high gear and decide to go back and get my bachelor’s in culinary.”

After his earning his bachelor’s, Geer went to Asiago, Italy, for three months, where he worked with Riccardo Cunico at Ristorante da Riccardo al Maddarello. He says the experience was “intense.”

“It was long hours, 14-hour work days, but it was probably the best experience of my life to date,” he said.

Geer’s recipe in the “Salute to Sous” booklet, beet and potato gnocchi, is a dish he learned from Cunico. It takes gnocchi a step beyond potato dumplings.

“It’s a combination of taking the potatoes and beets together and making a dough, but also rolling it out and then cutting it with a cookie cutter into sort of round, cylindrical shapes,” Geer explained. “And the whole idea behind the dish was to lay it out on the plate so you’d have these nice, dark, ruby-red potato discs that were laid out to look like a bunch of grapes, and then arranged on the plate with a nice gorgonzola cream sauce.”

Geer still gets back to Italy frequently, on trips with his mentor, executive chef Lee Skawinski, and the rest of the staff at Cinque Terre.

“They’re foodie vacations,” Geer said. “It’s interesting to meet the people who make the products that we use here in America.”

 

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: [email protected]