Monday, December 9, 2013
Last week I paid a visit to the White Barn Inn & Spa in Kennebunkport to research the column on wine cellar dining that appears in today’s Press Herald.
To get to the White Barn’s wine cellar, you have to make your way through the kitchen and the inn’s new bakery. On the day I visited, bakery manager and head baker Janine Schassberger was busy making crackers to go on cheese plates.
The bakery is brand-spankin’ new. All of the inn’s baking used to be done in a building in the courtyard of Grissini, a local restaurant that was also owned by the same group that owns the White Barn Inn, according to Grand Chef Relais & Chateau Jonathan Cartwright. When that restaurant was sold, Schassberger needed a new home.
“We just finished building this,” Cartwright said, showing off the new space. “She has a new oven, a two-deck oven. We have refrigeration under counter, wood surfaces for her to work on.”
Schassberger is responsible for making baked goods for the White Barn Inn and its three sister properties, the Beach House Inn, the Yachtsman Lodge, and the Breakwater Inn & Spa, home of Stripers Seafood Restaurant.
“We have afternoon tea at all those properties as well, which she produces baked goods for,” Cartwright said. “When you’ve got someone talented like Janine, we can get a really unique product cooked with love and care.”
Cartwright said the inn’s bakery makes quiches for breakfast in the morning for all of the properties, and “beautiful breads - sourdoughs that are fantastic.”
When I visited, there were crackers in the top oven.
“We have a guest count of about 150 people average every day, so I was actually just pulling all the croissants and danishes that I’ll need for tomorrow,” Shassberger said. “We do croissants, danishes, muffins, quiches for breakfast for everyone. And then the breads are made all for the White Barn, and that can be up to 120 guests a night.”
Shassberger works from about 4 a.m. to 2 p.m. - often longer during the busy summer season. She has an assistant from Stripers who helps her during these hectic months.
Cartwright also showed me the famous White Barn kitchen, where six staff members were busy making lunches for guests lounging by the pool and, presumably, doing some dinner prep.
“On an average night, we have seven or eight people in the kitchen,” Cartwright said. “On a busy night, 10 people, just to make sure we keep things movingin a timely manner and for the expected quality level.”
The kitchen retains its original footprint, but the floor plan has been redesigned to work for the inn’s modern menu.
And trust me, this place has, well, everything.
There are gas stovetops and electric salamanders, and induction heads at the front of the pass.
There’s under-the-counter refrigeration everywhere. For pastry, there’s a granite countertop with a freezer underneath, a pastry fridge and an induction head. There’s an ice cream refrigerator and a conventional ice cream machine. There are two ovens that can produce any combination of dry or moist heat for baking and garde manger apps.
There are wine refrigerators for the servers, and there’s a warming box for breads.
“We have a lot of gadgets,” Cartwright said. “We have thermal circulators now to do a lot of stuff. We have a vaccuum packing machine, all the modern stuff.”
If you’d like to play around in a tricked-out kitchen like this one, the White Barn Inn offers private cooking classes with either grand chef Cartwright or executive sous chef Derek Bissonnette.
For about two hours, you basically get to be a member of the kitchen staff, helping to create dishes for the evening’s menu. You’ll get an apron and a signed cookbook to remember the experience by. The class is $185 per person, or $300 if you add in a four-course dinner.
Meredith Goad has harvested oysters on the Chesapeake Bay, eaten reindeer in Finland and sipped hot chai in the Himalayas. She writes the weekly Soup to Nuts column and enjoys a good cocktail.
Susan Axelrod's food writing career began in the kitchen; she owned a restaurant and catering business before turning to journalism more than a decade ago. To relax, she bakes, gardens and hikes with her husband and their two dogs. A newcomer to Portland, she is an online content producer for the Press Herald.
Susan can be contacted at 791-6310 or saxelrod [at] pressherald.com.
On Twitter: @susansaxelrod