Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier knew they wanted their next cookbook to focus on the Maine traditions they’ve always tried to showcase through the food they serve in their restaurants, particularly MC Perkins Cove in Ogunquit.
But it wasn’t until they decided on a title – “Maine Classics” – that everything began to come together.
“Everything just kind of came from that: Well, what is a Maine classic?” Frasier said. “What defines that? And then everything just fell into place.”
They knew they needed to write about things such as foraging and dairy farming in addition to the expected chapters on food from the sea and shore. So they divided the book into chapters with titles like “The Forest,” “The Farm,” “The Bakery” and “The Root Cellar.”
“One of the things that people from away tend to think about Maine is the coast, and only the coast,” Frasier said. “It’s lobster, it’s crab, it’s clams.
“That’s obviously a huge part of what defines our food in Maine and New England, but there’s a huge history of the forest and farming in Maine, and I think that’s one of the things the book (and I’m obviously prejudiced) does a really good job of talking about – traditions of farming, and traditions of foraging and utilizing the forest and dairy and all of these things that are traditions in our state and are frequently overlooked.”
FOOD PRODUCERS PROFILED
“Maine Classics: More Than 150 Delicious Recipes From Down East” (Running Press, $30) includes profiles of lobsterman Ted Johnson, who supplies the chefs’ restaurants with lobster, as well as other well-known artisanal food producers in the state. Cheesemaker Jennifer Betancourt is profiled, as are Alison Pray and Matt James, the founders of Portland’s Standard Baking Company.
This much-anticipated cookbook, written with Portsmouth, N.H.-based food writer Rachel Forrest, has been in the works for three years and is already getting national attention. In the time that Frasier and Gaier have been working on it, they won the James Beard award for Best Chef: Northeast for their work at their three restaurants: Arrows and MC Perkins Cove, both in Ogunquit, and Summer Winter in Burlington, Mass.
Their first cookbook, “The Arrows Cookbook” (Scribner, $40), was released in 2003.
The chefs recently held a book launch dinner at Arrows and a brunch at MC Perkins Cove featuring some of the dishes from “Maine Classics,” and they taught a cooking class from the book at Arrows on Sunday. If you missed these events, there will be more “Maine Classics” dinners at Arrows in October and December.
Gaier and Frasier began vacationing in Maine when they were working together in San Francisco. Gaier, who grew up in the Midwest, had already been introduced to the state by his siblings, and had lived here for a time. Eventually, the pair packed their bags and moved here to open their ground-breaking restaurant, Arrows.
Frasier said they learned about Yankee food traditions by reading old cookbooks from the region and spending time with people whose families have lived here for generations. The chefs, known for hosting dinners that recreate historical menus such as the last meal on the Titanic, also did a lot of general research into Maine’s food history.
“One of the things I think is kind of funny now is a lot of times Yankees aren’t really interested in having things that are historically Yankee food,” Frasier said. “They don’t want to have salmon wiggle and Harvard beets and dilly beans.
“And I don’t know if that’s just because people have grown up with them and they’re bored with them, or they want novelty, or if they’re not interested in them because they don’t know what they are and they have forgotten them.”
Harvard beets and dilly beans both make an appearance in the Root Cellar chapter of the new book.
‘CLASSICS’ TOUCHES ON TRENDY, TOO
“Maine Classics” covers the classic Maine shore dinner and lobster rolls, but also includes the chefs’ take on the currently trendy lobster mac ‘n’ cheese.
In addition, the book incudes a discussion of the Maine oyster industry that’s growing by leaps and bounds, along with plenty of recipes for how to serve them. Whoopie pies and blueberry tarts have not been forgotten, but you’ll also find a recipe for butternut squash doughnuts with maple syrup.
The chefs put their own twist on some Maine classics, and combine some traditional Maine foods in different ways. They serve grilled venison with a huckleberry sauce made with berries from their garden, and pile Johnnycakes high with peekytoe crabmeat. Bacon-wrapped cod is served with a hominy cake and dilly beans.
Some of the food in the book has an ethnic twist, such as a lobster dish served with a green curry sauce that was inspired by the chefs’ visits to southeast Asia.
Gaier and Frasier also included one of their signature dishes, a pan-fried trout inspired by the flavors of Chinese Shao Xing wine, but they don’t feel this is out of place in a book called “Maine Classics.” The trout has become a kind of classic on its own – the chefs have served it in their Maine restaurants for 25 years – and the flavors of the dish harken back to the days of Maine’s clipper ships and their journeys to other parts of the world.
“Frankly, a lot of Maine’s prosperity was built on being connected with the rest of the world 200 years ago,” Frasier said. “We built the clipper ships and sailed to China and the Hawaiian Islands. We went all over the place and brought back all sorts of food traditions. It’s not like Maine existed in some vast space unto itself. We’ve had mulligatawny stew, and we’ve had spices and curries in the cooking.
“It wasn’t all potatoes and pork.”
Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: [email protected]
Follow her on Twitter at: Twitter.com/MeredithGoad