Sunday, April 20, 2014
Matthew Delisle, the chef de cuisine at L’Espalier in Boston, didn’t just wake up one day and decide, “Hmmm, I think I’ll go cook in Portland, Maine.”
I knew there was a good story behind Delisle’s upcoming visit to Five Fifty-Five in downtown Portland. I could just smell it.
Delisle, the man in charge of one of the most acclaimed kitchens in Boston, will be the guest chef at a seven-course dinner at the Fives on Sept. 12. The dinner, including wine pairings, is $150 and starts at 7 p.m., with optional hors d’ouevres and a cash bar from 5:30 to 6:45.
Delisle, a Harvard graduate and native of New Hampshire, will be bringing one of his cooks and a sous chef with him from Boston, along with many of the ingredients for the evening’s dinner, sourced from L’Espalier’s Apple Street Farm.
Steve Corry, chef/owner of Five Fifty-Five, is hoping Delisle will also bring Frank McClelland, the James Beard award-winning chef of L’Espalier, with him. But at the time Corry and I talked, McClelland had not yet been convinced.
So why is L’Espalier coming to Portland?
It all starts, Corry says, back in 2006, when he hired Matt Ginn, a cook from Cape Elizabeth who had never been to culinary school or worked in a fine dining restaurant. Ginn, Corry said, had “very little” experience, except for some part-time gigs in restaurant chains and other places that were decidedly not culinary meccas. Corry decided to give him a shot, “and he loved it. He excelled at it.”
Ginn was so good that, after working at Five Fifty-Five for about three years, Corry was ready to promote him to sous chef. But then Ginn announced that he was thinking of following his girlfriend to Boston, where she had been accepted into nursing school.
“I said, ‘Why don’t you go, and I’ll open some doors for you down there and we’ll get you into some kitchens so you can see something other than what Five Fifty-Five has to offer,’ “ Corry said. “He learned all the basics from me. So he went down and worked at Harvest and Radius. I think the first year he was down there he was at Harvest for the year. He was at Radius for a short stint, and then he got a job at L’Espalier for about two years. He rose through the ranks there, and just loved it, loved it, loved it. We kept in touch all the way along, and as it was getting close to (his girlfriend’s) graduation time, we went down there and he cooked dinner for us, and it was just phenomenal.”
Corry asked Ginn what he was going to do next. “He said, ‘We’re coming back and hopefully work with you.’ “ Corry recalled. “That was kind of the unspoken plan all along. I said ‘Great, that’s what I was hoping for.’ He has been back now since May, and he has just been stellar.”
Ginn is now chef de cuisine at Corry’s restaurant, and it’s his connection to L’Espalier that is bringing Matthew Delisle here to Portland.
Now that Ginn is back in the fold at the Fives and injecting some youthful enthusiasm into the place, Corry hopes he’ll be able to bring a bit of an edge to the restaurant’s menu as well, incorporating some of the modern techniques he learned at L’Espalier.
Corry is also hoping the L’Espalier dinner will spark interest in a new seven-course chef’s tasting menu that will be available very soon after the Wednesday event. While the regular menu won’t radically change, the tasting menu will feature some items diners don’t normally see at the restaurant.
Corry would love, for example, to have a squab entree on the menu.
“The number of people that really want to eat pigeon isn’t that great,” Corry said. “However, it’s phenomenal, and I wish I could have it on my menu all the time. Things like that will be featured on the chef’s tasting menu because I do think there’s a contingent of real foodies out there who have some time and the money to spend on these occasions.”
That all sounds great. But what’s for dinner Wednesday? Corry calls it a “very New England” menu.
Here’s a breakdown of the courses and which restaurant will be preparing them:
First (Five Fifty-Five)
Heirloom tomato salad: ricotta-stuffed Snell farm tomatoes, olive crumble, basil “caviar” cherry tomato jam, 20-year aged balsamic. 2007 Domaine Reverdy, sancerre blanc
“Ham and eggs”: coddled local hen egg, prosciutto broth, Apple Street Farm late summer vegetables.
2009 Chateau Thivin, beaujolaiss brouilly rose
“Just poached” grey sole: whipped fennel-potatoes, broken blossom vinaigrette, Apple Street Farm baby arugula, braised lemon.
2008 Bruno Colin, bourgogne blanc, “les clos”
New England “clam bake”: Aroostook potatoes, butter-braised Maine lobster, enriched clam froth, house-smoked pork belly, native sweet corn emulsion.
2011 H. Brunier, le pigeoulet en provence
Fifth (Five Fifty-Five)
Prime Pineland Farms strip loin: foie-gras filled ravioli, micro horseradish shoots, caramelized shallot-consomme, Fishbowl Farm Swiss chard.
2010 Gros Nore, bandol rouge
Sixth (Five Fifty-Five)
Dessert and cheese
Intermezzo (Five Fifty-Five)
Corry said the menu will be subject to some changes “because we’re going to go to the farmers’ market Wednesday morning and feature whatever looks best at the market.”
When Corry and I talked this week, there were still some seats available at the dinner. I’ll keep you updated and let you know right up until Wednesday if it sells out.
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.