March 17, 2010

it's a chef magnet

— EDGECOMB — Philadelphia-area chef Alison Barshak wrapped up her ''Chile-dusted Skate,'' and before you could say ''mise en place,'' David Carmichael swept into the kitchen to finish the final prep work for his ''Maine Huckleberry Creme Brulee.''

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Jack Milton/Staff Photographer: Roger Bintliff, Hope Cohen, and chef David Carmichael, of Gilt restaurant in New York City, tape an episode of The Chef's Kitchen, in Edgecomb, Tuesday, April 29, 2008. Carmichael made Maine Huckleberry Cr�me Br�l�e.

Jack Milton

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Jack Milton/Staff Photographer:Creative director Laura Malandra, and director Steven Horn tape an episode of The Chef's Kitchen, in Edgecomb, Tuesday, April 29, 2008.

Jack Milton

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The TV crew for ''The Chef's Kitchen'' took a short break to enjoy one of the perks of their jobs -- tasting small plates of Barshak's skate, prepared with citrus brown butter and served with masa cakes and a bite of jicama and avocado salad.

''How long do you need, chef?'' a voice boomed in Carmichael's direction.

''Oh, 5 to 10?'' Carmichael replied as he scurried around in his white chef's jacket and beret.

Carmichael is executive pastry chef at Gilt in midtown Manhattan, and has also worked at famed establishments such as Daniel, Le Bernardin, Lutece and Oceana. He has made numerous appearances as a guest chef on ''The Today Show,'' and even baked the cake for Katie Couric's last show on the program.

Now here he was in Maine, explaining to cooking show host Hope Cohen (in a very short 25 minutes) how to make dulce de leche; why he prefers Bourbon vanilla over the Tahitian variety; the difference between coastal and mountain huckleberries; why he uses strudel leaves instead of phyllo; why he doesn't like silicone pastry brushes; how turning your hand up disperses the sugar more evenly on top of the custard; and, finally, how to use a heated iron instead of a torch to caramelize the sugar on top of the dessert.


Carmichael was one of 17 top chefs who visited a new cooking show studio last week on Route 1, just over the Wiscasset bridge, to tape episodes of ''The Chef's Kitchen,'' formerly known as ''The Fretz Kitchen.''

The show airs locally on Channel 8 every Saturday at 12:30 p.m. It can be seen online weeknights at 5 p.m. on the Comcast Network ( as well as on YouTube and iTunes.


''The Chef's Kitchen'' began filming in Maine in October after years of being based in Philadelphia. Steven Horn, director of the show, has partnered with Maine restaurateur and developer Roger Bintliff to create a new ''culinary arts campus'' in Edgecomb.

The idea is to tempt tourists to visit Maine during the winter months by offering them a cozy place to stay, cooking lessons with some of the country's best chefs, wine tastings, chef's tastings, and classes in everything from dining etiquette to waitering and bartending.

Bintliff has developed a 59-acre luxury resort just down the road on Davis Island, where the chefs and tourists who buy one of his culinary vacation packages will stay while they're in Maine. Horn, who owns a home in Kennebunk, plans to turn his barn into a gluten-free bakery, baking school and studio.

The collective project is called the New England Culinary Arts Forum. Bintliff wants to brand Maine as an East Coast version of California's Napa Valley by showcasing the region's fresh local foods.

''The Chef's Kitchen,'' with a weekly viewership of 20 million, will be key to marketing the venture. There are plenty of Maine chefs in the mix -- Steve Corry from Five Fifty-Five, Melissa Coriaty from Hugo's and Jonathan Cartwright from the White Barn Inn, among others -- but the lineup last week also included Matt Levin from Lacroix at The Rittenhouse in Philadelphia and Evan Deluty of Stella in Boston.

All of the out-of-town chefs have fans at home, fans who will hear them talking about Maine on the TV show and in their restaurants.

''It's awesome,'' Carmichael said after his taping, adding that the Edgecomb kitchen rivals any he's seen on network television. ''I would do this at the drop of a hat, any time they asked me.''

The chefs fly to Maine on their own dime, and ship many ingredients at their own expense. Why? It's more than just media exposure for the restaurants, said Christopher Lee, executive chef of Gilt, who has appeared on the show many times.

Lee, who prepared Australian lamb loin on this visit, said he likes ''The Chef's Kitchen'' because it's ''not dumbed down.''

''It's also a challenge,'' he said. ''You're cooking two dishes, start to finish, in 20 minutes.''

Close. Horn said each segment is filmed in 25 minutes from mirepoix to plating. Except for some advance prep work, there's no pulling of pre-made dishes out of the oven for host and chef to ''ooh'' and ''aah'' over. Everything is cooked on the spot, and with seven tapings in a single day, there's very little room for error.

''If you don't have a good chef, they can't do it,'' Horn said in between tapings, as he took a bite of one of Lee's Maine peekytoe crabcakes. ''There's no takes. This is the only reality cooking show on television.''


Horn sat just off set with Laura Malandra, creative director of the show, and watched the action on three screens. Occasionally, he whispered into a big microphone, feeding comments into host Hope Cohen's earpiece. Sometimes it was a time warning, with Cohen announcing seconds later: ''You have 10 minutes, chef.'' Other times, it was an observation Cohen had not thought of herself.

As chef James Taylor of Stripers in Kennebunkport began butchering a huge North Atlantic salmon, Horn picked up the mic and whispered, ''You make it look easy.''

A couple of seconds later, Cohen commented on camera, ''You make it look so simple.''

''What was the weight of the fish?'' Horn whispered, and again Cohen parroted his question. (It weighed 14 pounds.)

Cohen doesn't need much prompting because she's a chef in her own right, but admits she improvises a lot on camera because she wants to keep an element of surprise in the show. This time around, she didn't even see the shooting schedule before flying up to Maine from Philadelphia.

''It can be more interesting that way, because if I prep too much, then it sounds canned,'' she said.

Cohen frequently plugs both the chefs' restaurants (''Tell me a little about the menu at Stripers'') and their Maine ingredients, products such as Bangs Island mussels (''They smell great, they're perfectly tender'') and Taylor's just-off-the-boat salmon from York (''It's so fresh. I mean, it really looks like it's been swimming up until a few minutes ago'').

Despite the no-starting-over rule, Horn does occasionally have to stop the action briefly to let a crew member wipe a chef's sweaty brow or to let Cohen or the chef ''catch up'' so the show doesn't go too long.

''Stop tape!'' he shouted when Chef Taylor had difficulty finding the pliers he needed to remove the pin bones from the salmon.

''Chef, there's a piece of skin on that fish that you didn't get off,'' Horn remarked. ''Do you know that?''

''Yeah, I do,'' Taylor replied, and he took the opportunity to remove the skin before the cameras rolled again.

Toward the end of Taylor's 25 minutes, Bintliff wandered onto the set, as he always does, with a bottle of wine. For this salmon with a corn and chorizo ragout, he chose a Napa Valley chardonnay.

After a toast, Horn yelled, ''We're out. Very good. Good job, chef.'' The crew applauded.

Horn made a point of going up to the kitchen counter to speak to Taylor. ''You did a really nice presentation,'' Horn told him. ''It looked really good.''

Horn, a vegetarian who eats fish, wandered back to his seat with a small plate of salmon.

''That's good,'' he said, nibbling on some of Taylor's fish while Jonathan Cartwright prepared the kitchen for his tuna loin dish. ''That kid's talented, you know?''

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

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Additional Photos

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Jack Milton/Staff Photographer: A sign hangs on the door as Roger Bintliff, Hope Cohen, and chef David Carmichael, of Gilt restaurant in New York City, tape an episode of The Chef's Kitchen, in Edgecomb, Tuesday, April 29, 2008.

Jack Milton


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