Chop-Chop – Press Herald http://www.pressherald.com Thu, 23 Nov 2017 09:00:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.3 Georgetown dinner combines delicious music, food that sings http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/12/delicious-music-and-food-that-sings/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/12/delicious-music-and-food-that-sings/#respond Wed, 12 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1224424 Go out to eat in a restaurant, and chances are some kind of music will be playing in the background, whether it’s Beethoven or Bono.

Sometimes that music is distracting. Sometimes it enhances the dining experience.

Musicians Tracey Jasas-Hardel and Ben Noyes, founders of the Abitare Project, have taken this food-music relationship to the next level, pairing food with classical music the way a sommelier pairs wine with different courses.

This Sunday, Jasas-Hardel, a violinist, and Noyes, a cellist, will join Ali Waks Adams, executive chef at the Brunswick Inn, at the Robinhood Free Meetinghouse in Georgetown, to perform an intertwined concert and menu designed to delight all the senses.

It’s one of a series of events they’ve been holding around southern Maine. Each course will be accompanied by a companion piece from various composers. The second course of fusilli pasta with Maine squid, lobster and clams, for example, will be served while the musicians play the fourth movement of Maurice Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello.

Jasas-Hardel says musicians and chefs use similar language to describe their work, using words such as light and dark, sharp or soft. Chefs and musicians both talk about color, volume and texture, she said.

“We’ll decide this passage needs to be rich and chocolaty, and this passage needs to be light like chiffon, or warm and smooth, so hopefully when we play it for people they get that from us,” Jasas-Hardel said. “They might not know the word for it, but when you put the food with it, they kind of get it.”

Violinist Tracey Jasas-Hardel and cellist Ben Noyes will play Sunday at the Robinhood Free Meetinghouse in Georgetown. The music-food pairing is one of several events they’re holding around southern Maine. Photo courtesy of the Abitare Project

Jasas-Hardel recently spoke with the Press Herald to better explain the concept:

Q: You believe that music should be enjoyed everywhere, not just in the concert hall. Is that why you started this project, or is there a deeper connection between music and food?

A: We definitely think there is a very strong connection between music and food. When you go to a great restaurant with a great chef cooking, they really get into the senses, right? You see the food, you smell the food, you taste the food, and you feel the food in your mouth. And then you’ve sometimes got this random music playing in the background, and sometimes that can even be distracting. So we thought, what if it actually belonged there? What would happen?

What happened was shocking even to us. People were so involved with the food and they were involved with the music, and it brought back memories for them. Everybody comes backstage and says, “Oh my gosh, when you did that, I remembered my grandma.” Then we realized that what we were doing was making classical music accessible. It gives them a language.

Q: You offer a range of music to the chef, who then chooses what will be played and creates a menu around it. How do you choose the music you’ll give the chef? And do you make menu suggestions, or leave it up to their inspiration?

A: We wanted this to be a real, creative collaboration. We go to them and we say, “What sort of thing are you envisioning?” and then we tell them what we were envisioning – really talk it out like that from the beginning. And different chefs have taken it in really different directions. We had one guy who really got into the academic history of each piece. He went to the library and worked with the time periods of the piece. That was really fascinating.

Q: How did that show up in the food? Did he make food from that period?

A: Yeah, he did. It was amazing. We played an old piece by a Hungarian composer (Duo for Violin and Cello, Opus 7 by Zoltán Kodály), and he found this ancient recipe for goulash.

We’ve had somebody think really artistically about it. They actually tried to get into the mind of the composer (Ravel) and (find) emotional content in the food. That was super intense as well. He listened to the piece (the Sonata for Violin and Cello), and he did a little bit of research, and tried to figure out, what was this composer thinking and feeling? Why is this piece filled with opposites? To him the music actually felt black and white, which was interesting to us. He looked and found out the composer’s life was full of opposing forces. His mother was Basque and his father was French, he was gay but he lived as a straight man, all these opposites. So he made this buffet of black and white – white seafood splashed with squid ink, stuff like that. It was very artistic, and people really got the emotion from that.

Q: Would the same kind of project work with other forms of art, like painting or sculpture, or is the participation of the diner a necessary part of the experience?

A: I do think that it would work with art for sure. You could pair food and art, which people have done. You can pair music and art, which is definitely done all around the world. The fabulous thing is when you start bringing together these different art forms, it appeals to more senses at one time, and it makes everything more accessible.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/12/delicious-music-and-food-that-sings/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/07/1224424_137975-Abitarephoto.jpgViolinist Tracey Jasas-Hardel and cellist Ben Noyes will join Ali Waks Adams, executive chef at the Brunswick Inn, at the Robinhood Free Meetinghouse in Georgetown on Sunday for a musical dinner.Tue, 11 Jul 2017 17:59:36 +0000
Boston chef Barbara Lynch tells us about writing a memoir, latest accomplishment in a life full of them http://www.pressherald.com/2017/05/31/boston-chef-barbara-lynch-tells-us-about-writing-a-memoir-the-latest-accomplishment-in-a-life-full-of-them/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/05/31/boston-chef-barbara-lynch-tells-us-about-writing-a-memoir-the-latest-accomplishment-in-a-life-full-of-them/#respond Wed, 31 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1203899 Boston chef Barbara Lynch’s life story, chronicled in her recent memoir “Out of Line,” reads like a classic rags-to-riches movie. The tough-as-nails heroine – with moxie to spare – grows up in the projects in South Boston, a gritty Irish Catholic neighborhood where notorious Boston gangster Whitey Bulger is just another neighbor. Her father dies of alcoholism when she is a child, and her stepfather isn’t much better. Her sister gets hooked on drugs. Lynch herself is wild: she lies; steals – including a city bus once, which she rolls through the streets as a prank; struggles with high school and eventually drops out.

From this most unpromising start, Lynch gradually teaches herself how to cook and, through many twists and turns, and setbacks and triumphs, both personal and professional, she eventually reaches the heights of the culinary world. Today, she owns seven highly regarded restaurants in Boston, including No. 9 Park, B&G Oyster and Menton. She and her restaurants are the recipient of three James Beard awards, and she holds a coveted Relais & Châteaux Grand Chef designation. Earlier this year, she was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.

Yet, as she makes clear in “Out of Line,” a story that gallops along in unadorned language with energy and verve, Lynch never forgets where she came from. The book ends with six recipes for elegant food of the sort she is famous for cooking, dishes like Parmesan Souffle with Porcini and Chanterelle Sauce. Amid the fig sauces and vin santo cured chestnuts, though, one recipe stands out: It is for Irish soda bread. We spoke with her by telephone last week ahead of an upcoming visit to Maine. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Why did you want to write a memoir?

A: Oh I didn’t. I had to Google “memoir” to know what it was. There was an article in The New York Times business section about me: How does this woman do it – run so many restaurants – without an education, with no formal training? She didn’t graduate from high school. From there, an agent from New York City came out and hounded me for about a week to write a memoir. I really thought about it. I thought, I guess she is right. It could be an inspirational story. If I can (make) it, anyone can do it, if they have the passion and the drive.

It was hard (to write). It’s like you have to relive it in a way. Thank God I kept a lot of journals. It ended up being great timing, because of where we are in the world. It’s a hopeful book. It’s not a self-help book, but it’s a very inspirational book.

Q: Meaning it’s not a hopeful time in the world?

A: Exactly. For immigrants, for small business owners, for the American dream. And I think (the book) is especially helpful for woman.

Q: I had a writing teacher once, a famous memoirist, who would tell her students to know what we were NOT writing, what we were leaving out. Are there things you left out?

A: No. I didn’t get that advice. Maybe I should have. (A big belly laugh).

Q: Did you ask permission from the many people portrayed in the book? Has anyone been unhappy – or happy – with how they were described?

A: No. So far, so good. Honestly, I didn’t really care. [Expletive] it. Sorry. They can write their own memoir. You got to be honest.

Q: Did you read other food memoirs before you got to work on your own? Which ones did you like?

A: I think the only memoir I’ve read was Katharine Hepburn when I was younger. I wrote her a 7-page letter. I think I was 8 at the time, no, 10.

Q: Did she write back?

A: No. I’m sure she couldn’t even read it. “I love your clothes. I love pets. If you are ever in Boston, come visit me.” (she laughs). I wrote one to Doris Day, too….

Barbara Lynch, in apron, cooked a feast for friend and fellow chef Sara Jenkins, in blue, at Jenkins’ wedding in Tuscany. “That dinner proved that I was talented enough to cook for anyone,” Lynch says. Photo courtesy of Sara Jenkins

Q: Chefs today of your caliber have restaurants around the globe, in Paris, in Hong Kong, in Vegas, in L.A. Why have you stayed in Boston?

A: I need to be part of the history, or part of the community. I don’t feel like I could live anywhere else really. I could open one in Europe, but I’m not a Vegas girl. What the hell would I do there? Vegas isn’t my cup of tea. I can’t just put my name on it. I’ve got to see it through, beginning to end.

Big fish, small pond? I like it in Boston. I know the one-way streets. I know where I can park my car. I get to have a life here. I think if I worked in New York City – tough grind.

Q: What advice would you give a young chef today?

A: Any young chef has to have a vision. They have to come to me with a notebook and a vision. Then I can help. If they come to me with a blank stare, no way. It’s not going to work that way. And have passion.

Q: It’s clear you’ve a ton of passion, but you’ve been at this a long time. Does the passion stay?

A: It doesn’t go away. It doesn’t go away. If I don’t cook for a few days, I’m just dying to cook.

DINNER WITH FRIENDS

CHEF BARBARA LYNCH will cook a dinner in Maine next week with Nina June chef/proprietor Sara Jenkins. The two chefs worked together, and were friends, as young women at Michela’s restaurant in Boston. In the 1980s, Lynch, who is today greatly celebrated for her Italian food, visited Italy for the very first time with Jenkins, an experience she writes about in detail and hilariously in her new memoir, “Out of Line.”

AT THE CONCLUSION of that weeklong trip, Lynch writes, “Though I couldn’t speak the language, in just a week, I’d tuned in to entirely new frequencies of tastes, smells, sights, and sounds. My connection to Italy was so visceral and intense that I felt I’d discovered my true spiritual home.”

LATER, LYNCH COOKED a wedding feast for Jenkins in Tuscany, an adventure she also details in the book and credits with greatly boosting her then shaky self-confidence, writing, “that dinner proved that I was talented enough to cook for anyone.”

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Author dinner with chefs Barbara Lynch and Sara Jenkins to celebrate the publication of Lynch’s “Out of Line.”

WHEN: 6 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Nina June Restaurant, 24 Central St., Rockport

HOW MUCH: $65

INFO: ninajunerestaurant.com or 236-8880.

ALSO: A special menu based on Lynch’s visits to Tuscany with Jenkins, who grew up there in part. Lynch will sign copies of her memoir, which will be for sale at the meal.

Correction: This story was updated at 1:38 p.m. on May 31 to correct the spelling of Katharine Hepburn’s name.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/05/31/boston-chef-barbara-lynch-tells-us-about-writing-a-memoir-the-latest-accomplishment-in-a-life-full-of-them/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/05/1203899_BarbaraLynch.jpgCelebrated chef and new memoirist Barbara Lynch.Wed, 31 May 2017 13:40:26 +0000
Food columnist’s cookbook shows how sustainability starts with small steps http://www.pressherald.com/2017/05/03/christine-burns-rudaleviges-cookbook-shows-how-sustainability-starts-with-small-steps/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/05/03/christine-burns-rudaleviges-cookbook-shows-how-sustainability-starts-with-small-steps/#respond Wed, 03 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1190007 “GREEN PLATE SPECIAL: SUSTAINABLE AND DELICIOUS RECIPES.” By Christine Burns Rudalevige. Islandport Press. May 9, 2017. $24.95.

The Maine Sunday Telegram Green Plate Special columnist Christine Burns Rudalevige began cooking at age 12. Her mother, a nurse, was working a 3 to 11 p.m. shift, so Rudalevige stepped up to cook dinners for herself, her four siblings and her father. “I wanted to eat what I wanted to eat,” she recalls. It didn’t always work out. There was the time she was cooking pot roast when a friend called to tell Rudalevige about her first kiss. This was when phones had cords, and Rudalevige walked away from the searing meat to give her full attention to the engrossing conversation. The meat burned, but she served it anyway, telling her brothers it was barbecue pot roast. They didn’t buy it, not for a minute, and to this day Rudalevige, now a cooking school graduate, cooking school teacher, weekly food columnist and the author of the just published “Green Plate Special: Sustainable and Delicious Recipes,” still hears about that infamous roast. “And I have made thousands of dinners since then!” she protests.

We chatted with Rudalevige, who lives in Brunswick, about her new book, which is based on her column of the same name. She told us about the 15 years she spent in computer networking technology while her husband went to graduate school and worked his way up to tenured professor (he teaches government at Bowdoin). Once he had, “it was time I could step back from big salary and do what I wanted,” she said. At age 42, she enrolled in cooking school and subsequently returned to journalism. Returned? She had delivered papers as a kid, “my first journalism job,” she says.

Q: Can you explain what the Green Plate Special column is for our readers who don’t know it (shame on them)?

A: Each week, it takes a look at some aspect of sustainable eating, whether it’s how (food) is sourced, how you are cooking it, how you are using leftovers. I write about it in the column and include a recipe that illustrates that point.

Q: Has writing this column changed how you cook, shop, eat or think about food?

A: Oh definitely. Each place that we lived I picked up some aspect of sustainable eating. When we lived in England, food was twice the price. That’s where I learned not wasting a morsel. When we were back in central Pennsylvania, after I had gone to cooking school – which doesn’t teach you how to cook sustainably at all – I was living in the middle of central Pennsylvania with the Amish all around. There is a huge influential organization called The Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture. I was very involved in that. I ran a farmers market. I was catering some of their events – I would go to a farm and cook a meal on a farm.

And then when we lived in France – that’s when I got onto the protein part of it. It’s hard not to buy really good, seasonably raised animal protein in France. You get used to its taste. It’s a stronger taste, so you need less of it. When we moved to Maine, I got the sustainable seafood part of it.

What the column, and subsequently the book, has done is had me look a little deeper into why you do things. Why do you shop at the farmers market? Yes, there is that local angle and you want to support local. But it’s also the biggest profit margin that farmer will get, because they are selling direct. And why should I eat Jonah crab? Because there is plenty of it. It gets caught in lobster traps and the lobstermen can actually make some money on it instead of just throwing it away. (In the column,) I focus on the why. That’s been the personal development for me as a person and an eater.

Q: Name your guilty, non-sustainable culinary pleasure.

A: French cheese.

Q: Which is non-sustainable because it’s coming from so far away?

A: Yes. And it’s also non-sustainable because it’s very expensive. (Laughter.) Also bananas and avocados and lemons. I’m always going to use lemons. I think the success of the column is that I’m conscious that not everybody has the time, the money, the inclination or the wherewithal to eat 100 percent sustainably. I really believe that you have to get the everyday, ordinary eaters thinking more sustainably if it’s going to work, if we’re going to see any “gets.” We are going to have to get sustainable eating out of the homestead and into middle American kitchens. It’s accessible sustainable food. The way I explain to my mother and her friends – it’s how your grandmothers ate. They didn’t waste anything. They only ate within season. They didn’t have the money to buy big hunks of meat.

Q: What’s the nicest response you’ve gotten to a column?

A: I don’t think you ever get tired of hearing “I read your column every week.”

Q: How about the least nice?

A: Online comments are the worst. People are out there trolling. They might write, “I’m going to eat whatever I damn well want to eat.” I really try not to be preachy. So when I get accused of being preachy, I guess those are the worse comments.

Q: Where did the idea for a book come from?

A: It was the positive feedback, people saying, “We like what you are doing. Are you going to write a book?”

Q: So is the book a collection of your columns for the Maine Sunday Telegram or something different?

A: I would say it is about 60 percent new content. Topically, it’s a 100 percent crossover. But things change over the years, and we needed to add more recipes. There were a lot of segues that had to be written. It’s not just a straight collection of columns. I’m not (New York Times columnist) Tom Friedman. I needed to do a lot of work to make it flow. There was a lot of rewriting and consolidating and new information as things evolved.

Q: Among the several thousand cookbooks published every year in English, how would you persuade readers they should buy this one?

A: The food is delicious. The food is the forefront reason for buying it, but then you also learn a lesson about how to incorporate sustainable practices into your busy life.

Q: Which comes first? Recipes or columns?

A: I’m very proud of the column, but I really think the draw is the food. I want (the book) displayed next to the cookbooks, not with (political food writer) Barry Estabrook. I think he’s great. I quote him all the time, but this is a cookbook. Being a cookbook, it’s more accessible to more people. Everybody has to eat, not everybody has the time to read an opus about sustainable meat.

Q: Anything I neglected to ask you that you’d like to add?

A: Sustainable doesn’t have to be impractical. You can be sustainable and practical at the same time. You don’t have to unplug or live off the grid. You have to find where it fits into your own life.

CLAMS WITH FARRO AND BABY KALE

From “Green Plate Special: Sustainable and Delicious Recipes” by Christine Burns Rudalevige: This recipe was adapted from a dish I ate the Palace Diner in Biddeford, made with Mahogany clams, which are bigger and taste a little more metallic than the littlenecks I suggest here.

It will be featured at a Cook the Book dinner on May 9 at the Brunswick Inn. You can use wheat berries, barley or rye berries in place of the farro.

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup chopped fennel

1/4 cup minced shallots

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1/2 teaspoon whole fennel seeds

1 cup clam juice

4 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed

2 cups cooked, warm farro

1/2 cup heavy cream

Kosher salt and white pepper

4 cups washed baby kale leaves

Chili oil

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a pot large enough to hold all of the clams. Add the fennel and shallots. Cook, stirring, for 3-4 minutes to soften. Add the garlic and fennel seeds and cook for 1 minute more. Add the clam juice and bring the liquid to a steady simmer. Carefully scatter the clams into the pan and cover. Cook until most of the clams have opened, 5-7 minutes. Discard any clams that fail to open.

Just as the clams finish cooking, divvy up the warm farro among 4 warm bowls. Divide the clams among the bowls, too.

Return the pot to the stove over low heat, add the cream and bring it to a simmer. Turn off the heat, season with salt and white pepper, and fold in the baby kale leaves.

Split the kale and cream sauce among the bowls, pouring it over the clams. Finish each bowl with a swirl of chili oil.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/05/03/christine-burns-rudaleviges-cookbook-shows-how-sustainability-starts-with-small-steps/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/05/1190007_628521-20170411_Rudalevige2.jpgGreen Plate Special columnist Christine Burns Rudalevige says her china cabinet is "sagging under the weight" of her collection of green plates. She buys them at "flea markets, wherever I see them" and gets help from her daughter Eliza, too, "a Goodwill shopper. She'll spend hours in there and find green plates for me."Wed, 03 May 2017 14:55:54 +0000
Classical Indian dancer Ranee Ramaswamy adept both onstage and in the kitchen http://www.pressherald.com/2017/04/12/hidden-talents-classical-indian-dancer-ranee-ramaswamy-will-performing-westbrook-also-accomplished-cook/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/04/12/hidden-talents-classical-indian-dancer-ranee-ramaswamy-will-performing-westbrook-also-accomplished-cook/#respond Wed, 12 Apr 2017 08:00:13 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1180474 Classical Indian dancer Ranee Ramaswamy and her Minnesota-based Ragamala Dance Company will perform in Westbrook on Thursday. The 25-year-old company has performed at Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center and the Bali Arts Festival in Indonesia, to name just a very few of its venues. The New York Times has praised the company for demonstrating “how Indian forms can provide some of the most transcendent experiences that dance has to offer.” And a video excerpt of “Sacred Earth,” the dance to be performed in Maine, on the website of Maine sponsor Portland Ovations, is transfixing.

So we’re a little embarrassed to admit that what really caught our eye here in the food section is the Indian vegetarian cooking class that Ramaswamy will teach this evening in Portland (the class, at O’Maine Studios, is sold out). Offhand, we couldn’t recall hearing of another famous dancer teaching a cooking class in conjunction with a tour. Curious, we called up Ramaswamy to ask about it. She didn’t remember how this particular class got on the schedule, but told us that she’s often taught cooking in conjunction with dance, and that every year she cooks for hundreds for an annual fundraiser for her company.

We also learned that she began dancing Bharatanatyam, a genre of Indian classical dance, as a girl in India, moved to the States as a young adult with her then-husband and eventually co-founded the dance company here with her daughter. Ramaswamy mentioned that her sacred name is Annapoorna, who is the Indian goddess of food (“In India, everything is given a form. Food is imagined as a beautiful woman”); that she thinks Americans need to tone it down with our current craze for turmeric (“We use a pinch of turmeric. If you use a tablespoon of turmeric, you can’t put it in your mouth, it’s so strong”); and that when she was growing up, her grandparents would clean the stove, then make designs in rice flour next to it “to thank that stove for helping us cook.”

The Indian practice of making beautiful, sometimes elaborate rice flour patterns outside of homes and businesses – the designs are intended to invite in prosperity – in part inspires the dance “Sacred Earth.”

This interview, conducted over two telephone conversations, has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: We were surprised to hear that a famous dancer on tour in Maine is teaching a cooking class. How’d that happen?

A: When I first came (to America), I did a lot of work in schools all over Minnesota. They had a residency program where you teach Indian culture through dance. Many schools where I did these residencies asked me if I would cook and if the chefs in the lunchroom could make one simple thing for the kids to eat for India Residency Week. This is how I started to understand that food was a way to socialize and to get an entryway to the culture of India to Americans.

I started cooking when I was 20. I got married at 20 and had to set up my own household and had to cook, and I wasn’t very good at it. Slowly and surely, I improved. For 45 years I have cooked. I am used to doing fast, quick, easy, tasty food. So it comes from experience, not because I am a professional. I am not a chef. We have an expression – that person has a good hand smell.

It means they are a good cook. Somehow I am a really good cook, and I love to cook.

Ranee Ramaswamy (kneeling) and her daughter Aparna (center) are the founders of the Ragamala Dance Company, which will perform Thursday in Westbrook. Ramaswamy will also teach an Indian vegetarian cooking class. Photo by Grant Halverson

Q: American dancers, at least ballet dancers, are infamous for a tortured relationship with food, many suffering from anorexia and other eating disorders. Is the same true of classical Indian dancers?

A: No. If you go to India, you find dancers of all sizes. Women are voluptuous. Women are curvy. (Indians) like women who are not just stick-like. In general, in India, looking curvaceous is a little connected to wealth. You are well off, and you look good.

The expectation of being very skinny is not there.

Because (Bharatanatyam classical) dance is a solo dance, you don’t have a body type, eight people or 12 people don’t have to look the same. The dancer is an individual who embodies the spirit of the music, the song. In all Asian dance, the strength comes from within. It is not about having long, tall bodies. It’s more about having an extremely emotive face, and a body that goes with that face. Even in my own company, we have five dancers. There is one very tall dancer. I am the shortest. There is all in between. They are all beautifully shaped but nobody is stick-thin. (The difficulty with food) happens when everybody has to look the same.

That doesn’t mean you can let your body go. We keep healthy in every which way. We are careful with what we eat. We exercise so that we keep in shape. We avoid eating sweets and ice cream. It’s not easy to dance when you are overweight. I am 65, and I still dance full time with the company, and I maintain my body. Sometimes, I say, ‘Why am I doing this? Maybe I can eat all I want and just relax.’ But I don’t really feel like I am missing anything. Because what I get out of performing is so satisfying. Just practicing this art form is so satisfying. It doesn’t seem like a sacrifice.

Q: How do you eat before a performance?

A: Traveling, it’s actually a little difficult to keep your food routine. We live such disciplined lives. We need rest. We need food.

And you have to constantly keep fit. Dance takes a lot of energy.

We eat breakfast in the morning, like oatmeal or toast or yogurt. We usually eat our lunch at 2 p.m. Yesterday, we were performing in Winona (Minnesota). For lunch, we had soup, vegetarian soup, rice, some bread – our carbohydrates. We had cheese. None of us are vegan. A lot of us are vegetarians. Some of us have a little salad or munch on a bagel. And after 2, we don’t eat anything.

Then we eat after the performance. The presenters give us dinner. We usually give a list of what we won’t eat. Last night we had a pizza. It’s often easiest for presenters to order a pizza. They can get it vegetarian, and it’s easy for us to carry to our hotels.

When we are traveling, I carry a rice cooker. We always try to find a co-op, where we can buy some yogurt. Once you have toured a lot, you figure out what works. I always carry these things in case there is food that is not…. Sometimes the presenter will provide meat sandwiches, which I don’t eat. It used to be very difficult when I first came to this country as a vegetarian, but now things have changed so much. It’s so much easier.

Q: Dance is, of course, an art form. Do you think cooking is also an art form?

A: There are two words in Indian classical dance: Bhava means expression. Rasa means flavor. So the bhava is the emotion that the dancer puts in their body. They emote as they dance. And the rasa is the feeling the audience gets watching the dancers. It is like the chef. The chef puts in ingredients, the spices you put in your food, that’s bhava. And rasa is the flavor that the person who eats it gets. If the perfect ingredients don’t go in, the taste is not going to happen. But it’s not about measuring 1/2 cup, 1/4 cup, 1 cup. It is about knowing how much to boil, how much to blend, how much to stir fry. That comes with practice.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/04/12/hidden-talents-classical-indian-dancer-ranee-ramaswamy-will-performing-westbrook-also-accomplished-cook/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/04/53734-Ragamala_002GrantHalv.jpgTue, 11 Apr 2017 19:29:13 +0000
Annie Mahle is back with her second ‘Sugar & Salt’ book http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/22/chop-chop-annie-mahle-is-back-with-her-second-sugar-salt-book/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/22/chop-chop-annie-mahle-is-back-with-her-second-sugar-salt-book/#respond Wed, 22 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1157005 At 21, newly minted college graduate and Michigan native Annie Mahle tacked left. She needed an advance degree to make a career for herself in psychology, “but I could not make myself look at Ph.D. programs, take the tests.”

“I knew I needed to take a break from school,” she continued. “I said, ‘I am going to travel. I am going to learn how to sail and I am not calling home for money.’ It’s the first time I made an intentional decision about my own life that didn’t have to do with anybody else’s desires for me.”

She came to Maine, where she found work on a windjammer. In short order, she fell in love with Jon, the man who would become her husband. And she fell in love with cooking. Thus is one’s life course charted.

Today, Mahle and Jon Finger, co-captain the J.&E. Riggin and their teenage daughters serve as crew. Every summer for the last 20, they have sailed the schooner in and around Penobscot Bay, with Mahle cooking lavish meals (local eggs, homemade breads, curried lamb and lentil stew, homemade pies…) over a wood stove for as many as 30 vacationers. Winters, the family lives in Rockland. Over the years, Mahle has written cooking columns for the Portland Press Herald – The Maine Ingredient and Sea Food – and she recently self-published her second cookbook in the series, “Sugar & Salt: A Year at Home and at Sea.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: When did your interest in cooking develop?

A: I didn’t start being interested in food, really interested, until I came out to work on the windjammers, and I saw pies and jams being made by hand. The more I saw things at their origin, made from scratch, the more interested I became in well, how do you make your own vanilla? How do you make mustard? How do you make sauerkraut? And they taste so different! It wasn’t until I came to Maine did that ignite a food curiosity and lifelong investigation into this.

Q: You’ve just written your third cookbook. Do you use cookbooks yourself?

A: I use cookbooks as inspiration. I have a lot of them. The books I buy now are very niched – fermentation or pasta making by a master or sourdough bread. Things where I want to delve deeper into a particular subject. I love looking at general cookbooks and old cookbooks, but I don’t use them in the way that I used to.

I’m sort of constitutionally unable to follow a recipe at this point. I’m always thinking, ‘Oh, interesting, I wonder if I just tweaked it here, how would it be better or what would happen?’ The other thing is that’s something that I have to do, because on the boat there are numerous times when I thought we had enough of some ingredient, but I used it to cook something else, so I’m constantly substituting one ingredient for another because I can’t go to the grocery store and get it.

Q: Do you have a favorite cooking task?

A: I love to make bread. Bread is baking. It can be very precise. At the same time you are dealing with a live organism. You need to be really present when you are making bread.

Q: Some people say there is a divide between bakers and cooks. Do you think so? Which do you consider yourself?

A: Bakers are people who feel most satisfied following the rules. They are more precise, more accurate. Cooks are more fluid, more creative, more flexible but then not always consistent. I am definitely a cook. That doesn’t mean you can’t do both if you know that about yourself: I know for sure the things I have to do the same every time (when I am baking) and the things that I can change.

Q: So now tell us about a kitchen task you don’t like so much.

A: (Long pause.) It’s really nice if I have somebody cleaning up after me.

Q: What advice do you have for someone cooking on a boat?

A: Keep it simple. Stay organized. And remember cooking for your family is always more nourishing than a machine cooking for your family. There is soul in that. There is heart in that. Honor the effort and the care.

Q: What are the most important provisions to stock on the boat?

A: I always have extra of the basics – flour, butter, sugar and eggs. I never leave the dock without 1½ to 2 times what I need of those ingredients. With the basic ingredients, if I am missing something else, I can still make something.

At home I would never be without greens and eggs. To me, an egg is such an elegant protein, and we have our own chickens so they are the freshest eggs you can possibly have.

Q: Do you cook differently on land than at sea?

A: Not really. The biggest difference is that I’m not cooking for 30 people. At home, I have the hardest time paring down the amount we would eat. And we don’t have a dog so that doesn’t help, either. I suppose the other thing that changes in the wintertime is we eat more simply.

Q: Wait a minute! I thought you have no electricity on the boat? That’s not different?

A: (Loud, long laughter) That’s a good point. It’s funny – I make that transition so seamlessly it doesn’t even occur to me. I cook on a wood stove on the boat, so the biggest difference is I don’t have to get up at 4:30 a.m. at home to light the wood stove. (More laughter.)

There are a lot of things you can do to control the heat of a wood stove, but like baking bread, wood heat or heat from a fire is an alive being. It ebbs and it flows and it needs tending. It definitely needs paying attention to. I love it. I love the smell of it. I love the warmth of it. I love the glow of it. I love that stove and the flavor that I can evoke from it.

And at the same time, I am grateful to have a gas oven at home when I am just cooking for three or four people. On the boat, cooking is my full-time job, well, one of 10 jobs, whereas at home cooking is not nearly as central to my daily life. It’s a part of, mixed in with, writing and taxes and balancing the checkbook.

Q: I’m curious about the title of your cookbook series – “Sugar & Salt: A Year at Home and at Sea.” Where did that come from?

A: My life is spent on the ocean for half of the year, so that’s the salt, and then on land the other half of the year, so sugar – sugar cane. These are really basic ingredients that are part of our palate, the palate of life and the palate of food.

BLIZZARD CARBONARA

Annie Mahle says this is one of her favorite recipes in her new book, the second in the series “Sugar & Salt: A Year at Home and at Sea.” We interviewed her just as a blizzard was bearing down on Maine. “This is just about the exact time of year and circumstances that I made that recipe,” she told us.

To get refrigerated eggs to room temperature, place the eggs in a bowl of warm water while you prep the rest of your ingredients. If the hot pasta doesn’t set up the eggs, try returning the pan to the residual heat of the burner – without turning it on.

Mahle likes to serve the carbonara with her Beet, Pear and Cranberry Salad with Shaved Asiago.

Serves 4 to 6

1 pound spaghetti

4 large eggs, room temperature

6 ounces (about 3/4 cup lightly packed) grated Parmesan cheese, plus more to serve

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 ounces prosciutto, sliced into 1/4-inch strips

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1/2 cup minced fresh Italian parsley

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Several grinds fresh black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente according to package instructions.

Beat the eggs with a fork in a small bowl until they are frothy. Add the cheese to the eggs and beat again to mix. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add the prosciutto and sauté for 1 minute. Add the garlic and remove the pan from the heat. After a minute, add the parsley.

When the pasta is done, drain it and immediately add it to the skillet with the prosciutto and garlic. Add the egg mixture, season with the salt and pepper, and gently but quickly incorporate all with rubber-tipped tongs or a wooden spoon.

The process of mixing the pasta should take less than 1 minute. Serve immediately with extra grated Parmesan cheese and black pepper.

BEET, PEAR AND CRANBERRY SALAD WITH SHAVED ASIAGO

Also from Mahle’s new book, this salad and the dressing below.

Serves 4 to 6

8 cups (about 8 ounces) lightly packed spinach

2 tablespoons good quality extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

Pinch kosher salt

Several grinds fresh black pepper

1 recipe Beets with White Balsamic Vinaigrette

1 pear, cored and sliced thinly

1/4 cup dried cranberries

2 ounces (about 1/4 cup) shaved Asiago cheese

Toss the spinach with the olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in a large salad bowl. Add the Beets with White Balsamic Vinaigrette. Top with the pear slices, cranberries and Asiago. Serve immediately.

BEETS WITH WHITE BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE

Makes about 3 cups

1 pound small to medium beets

1 tablespoon good quality extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar

Pinch kosher salt

Several grinds fresh black pepper

Trim the root tips and greens from the beets and wash well. Reserve the greens for another use.

Cover the beets with salted water in a medium stockpot and bring the water to a boil. Boil until the beets are just tender, 30-35 minutes, and drain. Let the beets cool until you are able to touch them. Peel. Cut into quarters or smaller.

Toss the beets with the olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in a medium-sized bowl.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/22/chop-chop-annie-mahle-is-back-with-her-second-sugar-salt-book/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/02/1157005_346017-20170218_ChopChopMah-e1487722352227.jpgAnnie Mahle in her kitchen at home in Rockland. Mahle has recently self-published the second cookbook in her "Sugar & Salt" series.Tue, 21 Feb 2017 19:15:54 +0000
Don Lindgren shares his thoughts on rare, old cookbooks and what they can teach us http://www.pressherald.com/2016/11/09/rare-cookbooks-dealer-don-lindgren-talks-about-the-nature-of-collecting-and-what-old-cookbooks-can-teach-us/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/11/09/rare-cookbooks-dealer-don-lindgren-talks-about-the-nature-of-collecting-and-what-old-cookbooks-can-teach-us/#comments Wed, 09 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1106774 One week ahead of Rabelais’ annual cookbook sale, we phoned proprietor Don Lindgren to talk books and collecting. The store, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary next year, is one of a small number in the United States that specializes in cookbooks and an even smaller number that handles antiquarian cookbooks. Of the total inventory at Rabelais – some 30,000 items – about 20 percent are rare books and food and drink ephemera. When we spoke last week, the oldest book in the store dated to 1535. Need some context? It was the reign of English King Henry VIII, a famous, or perhaps infamous, gourmand.

Lindgren got his first bookstore job – in a mall – as a teen. He earned a divinity degree from the University of Chicago, then worked his way up the “rare books food chain” with jobs in Chicago, New York and Boston, eventually specializing in books about the historical avant garde. “Dadaism, surrealism, Futurism, all the -isms,” he said. The art books market collapsed, Lindgren and his wife, Samantha Hoyt Lindgren (then a photo editor and baker), moved to Maine, bought a “small, low-functioning farm” in Alfred, and wondered how to make a living.

One day over lunch at Flatbread Pizza, the couple sketched out a plan to open Rabelais in an empty storefront they’d just driven by in Portland. Why food? “Farm and food were more relevant to us,” Lindgren said. “It was right there in front of us in Maine. The seed of the Portland food scene was already there.” In 2011, to make space for more rare books, they moved the store to North Dam Mill in Biddeford.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity, especially length. Lindgren is an eloquent, fascinating and fluent talker about books, food and collecting.

Q: A while back, you and I spoke about my cookbook collection, and you gave me a hard time about the word “collection.” So define a collection and a collector, please.

A: For me, and for most people in the antiquarian book world, a collection means having some sort of strategy. It could be very simple, like “I want all the books about strawberries.” Then you can get more refined and say, “I want all the American 19th-century books about strawberries.” But by picking a single subject and drawing these books together and spending time with them, you start to see patterns and to learn things that you might not otherwise be able to learn. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. You can choose a very narrow band of things and pursue them. But no matter how small or how inexpensive, perhaps you will create a collection which is interesting and has something important to tell us historically.

Q: Is there a cookbook you’ve never had a chance to hold that you’d like to?

A: I would love to handle a first edition of Amelia Simmons “American Cookery” sometime before I retire. There are only three known copies. I’ve handled copies of nine different editions, but I’ve never seen the first for sale. There are things that are super hard to find, but it would be exciting to see one walk in.

BIDDEFORD, ME - NOVEMBER 5: Greg Mitchell, chef of Biddeford's Palace Diner, browses the bookshelves while Don Lindgren, owner of cookbook store Rabelais Books, looks on. (Photo by Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer)

Greg Mitchell, chef of Biddeford’s Palace Diner, browses the bookshelves while Don Lindgren, owner of cookbook store Rabelais Books, looks on. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Q: Do such things walk in? Do you ever go to a yard sale and find the cookbook equivalent of a Van Gogh?

A: Stuff turns up that’s amazing. Here’s one: Somebody brought it to a dealer, a friend of mine in Connecticut. It happened to be an 18th-century English cookbook called “Ladies Delight: Or Cook-maids Best Instructor” (London, 1759). It’s quite a rare cookbook to begin with. Something I’d probably price for $3,500. It had an inscription, and we couldn’t quite make head or tails of it. I finally made out Anthony Benezet. A Frenchman who converted to Quakerism. He settled in Philadelphia. He knew Benjamin Franklin. He founded the first school for girls in America, the first school for African-Americans. He was a very early abolitionist. The book is not just interesting anymore for fans of English cookery, but also for people interested in American history, particularly Philadelphia American history or for people interested in abolition in America, women’s history in America, African-American history in America. The book suddenly goes from telling one story – the story the author had to tell – to telling multiple stories. And that’s what I really look for when I look for what makes a cookbook special.

There is the story the author wants to tell. There is the story of the physical production of the book. Then there is the story of the book as it goes through its own life. It’s hard to find a book that tells all of those stories, but when you do it’s pretty cool.

Q: I know condition is a critical issue for rare books collectors. But these are cookbooks, so is it OK if they have gravy stains or drips of melted butter?

A: There are collectors who pursue perfect copies of things, that are looking for an immaculate copy of an important book. We’ve been lucky enough to sell some books like that. We sold possibly the best copy of “The Joy of Cooking” in existence. The book looked like it was printed yesterday.

Q: This is the original “Joy of Cooking” (1931)?

A: Yes. The dust jacket almost never survived. It’s so rare that we had one that was covered with yellow tape that still managed to fetch a price five times what one without a dust jacket would fetch. We’ve sold a good number of copies without dust jacket, for $3,000 to $5,000, depending on the condition. That copy with the taped-up jacket we sold for $15,000. The step above that is the one that was perfect. That went for $32,000.

Q: Who buys a book for $32,000?

A: Even though that book is perhaps the most famous American cookbook, it was not a cookbook collector. It was a collector of important modern books. That is a field of collection where people are much more driven to find a perfect copy. That’s the only cookbook included in the New York Library’s Books of the Century. But the second part of your question – what about the copy that is dog-eared? I was telling you about a fantastic copy of “The Joy of Cooking.” I’m proud we found it, and I am very proud we sold it. But it’s much more interesting to me to see a copy of a book that has interesting evidence of use – that is the technical phrase – than it is a pristine copy. Sometimes it’s easier to sell the pristine copy. But the book with evidence of use tells a whole story that the pristine copy doesn’t tell us.

Q: Will the Internet kill cookbooks? Has it?

A: It’s certainly changing the way people use cookbooks, in some ways for the better. Online delivers things rapidly with little effort. It’s a great thing for efficiency, but it doesn’t take into account the larger role cookbooks have had historically. Cookbooks are one of the few books that are passed from generation to generation, like the family Bible. Cookbooks are dipped into again and again over a long period, and they change over time. (The owner) might mark it up. They might approve of the recipe, say something is good, say something is not good. They might change the instructions, or add an ingredient, or tell us this was good when they had it at Aunt Julie’s Christmas party.

Q: Should we care if someone writes on their recipe that it’s good, or they enjoyed it at Aunt Agatha’s?

A: I don’t want to make it sound like every book that has been scribbled in has been improved. But when you are looking at older books, it’s a piece of historical evidence. Sometimes the marginalia reveals something that allows us to know who owned something or where something started out or where it moved to.

Q: Do we publish too many cookbooks these days?

A: Absolutely. There are hundreds of thousands of titles in the world. Frankly, most of them are uninteresting and undistinguished. There are whole categories of books I don’t care about.

Q: Such as?

A: Books that are by celebrities. Is it possible that a supermodel could write a good cookbook? Sure. But do I care? No. I don’t. When I look at a book and I look at a recipe – this is true whether it’s a historical book or a new one – the thing that most interests me is whether the book and the author have a point of view. Online recipes can deliver a quality dish, a quality meal. They can do that just as well as a recipe in a book. But what a book gives you, and most online recipes do not, is a point of view.

Q: But thousand of food blogs have a point of view, so may I press you on this point. Will cookbooks disappear?

A: No. And I’m not normally an optimist. The market may end up being much smaller. Most people who used cookbooks in the past just needed some information, and that’s readily available on the internet. But there are some people who will always appreciate what’s special about a physical printed cookbook, which can be very engaging – the typography, the binding, the formatting, the type of paper – so there will remain a market for physical printed books. It’s most likely that the most interesting books will be in that physical market and the least interesting types will cease to have a physical presence.

Q: Which modern cookbooks will last? Which will people be collecting 200 years from now?

A: It’s not always the favorite book of the moment. I certainly think the El Bulli cookbooks will be valuable and interesting in 200 years. Partly because they will be hard to find – they are hard to find now. Also, they made a huge impact both technically and aesthetically in the fine dining world. And there are others like that.

In the complete opposite way, there will be technical books we are not even thinking about right now, like the book that introduced high-fructose corn into our lives. At some point, someone is going to show here’s the moment when Americans chose to poison themselves.

When people are looking for books historically, they are not looking for what to make for dinner tonight. That’s pretty much their last concern. They are looking for historical impact.

Q: Every day you handle books that are hundreds of years old. Presumably, you have the long view. Have people ever been more obsessed with food and drink than we are now? Will our obsession last?

A: The most food-obsessed were the people at the dawn of prehistory, where if they didn’t get food today they would starve. But we are at a moment with the most complex fascination with food that’s ever existed, and that is because – I am trying not to be too geeky – the individuation of food is tied up in who we are, in how we identify ourselves. In the past, regions would express their identities through their food, so you have southern food or food from the Low Country, or food from just one city in Italy. Now it’s very individual, and from person to person, we express ourselves through food in very different ways. Our expression may be that we are gluten-free, or that we only drink a particular type of Bourbon, or that we are obsessed that our food be produced locally. But whatever that individual opinion is, we care greatly about it. And short of there being a terrible calamity that changes the way we eat, the fact that food is greatly important to us will stay with us, because it remains real and sensuous at a moment when other things are increasingly virtual.

 

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http://www.pressherald.com/2016/11/09/rare-cookbooks-dealer-don-lindgren-talks-about-the-nature-of-collecting-and-what-old-cookbooks-can-teach-us/feed/ 5 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2016/11/1106774_971714-20161105_bookstore_0.jpgRabelais owner Don Lindgren at his Biddeford store.Tue, 08 Nov 2016 16:59:11 +0000
For Five Fifty-Five pastry chef Yazmin Saraya, Day of the Dead is an important celebration http://www.pressherald.com/2016/10/26/chop-chop-brief-conversations-with-people-in-food-for-five-fifty-five-pastry-chef-yazmin-saraya-day-of-the-dead-is-an-important-celebration-of-family-remembrance-and-food/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/10/26/chop-chop-brief-conversations-with-people-in-food-for-five-fifty-five-pastry-chef-yazmin-saraya-day-of-the-dead-is-an-important-celebration-of-family-remembrance-and-food/#respond Wed, 26 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1099881 Yazmin Saraya, 28, speaks about Day of the Dead the way American ex-pats often speak of Thanksgiving – with nostalgia and longing. “I love it,” she said simply of the holiday, which she grew up celebrating in her native Mexico. Now pastry chef at Portland’s Five Fifty-Five restaurant, Saraya jumped at the chance to explain its traditions, food and otherwise, to Mainers.

She explained in precise and enthusiastic detail the symbolic objects and colors of Day of the Dead, celebrated every Nov. 1 and 2, when Mexicans build tiered altars in their homes to honor friends and family who have died. The altars are meant to entice the deceased to return for a visit and, among other items, hold glasses of water to quench the thirst of souls after their long journey and vividly colored marigolds to help them navigate their way. In deeply Catholic Mexico, a cross is essential, too.

This year, like most years since she left Mexico, Saraya – and her fiancé Kyle Robinson, chef de cuisine at Five Fifty-Five – traveled home in late October to get a taste of the approaching holiday. But not before speaking with us about what it means to her.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: For readers who don’t know it, can you explain what Day of the Dead is?

A: Day of the Dead is a very, very big celebration in Mexico. It started even before the Spanish people came. These days it is a mix between the Spanish and the original people of Mexico. It’s a very complex celebration. There is so much history behind it, and everything has a meaning.

In Mexico – it’s kind of funny, because instead of feeling sad about a person’s passing, it’s usually a happy time. We celebrate the good memories of that person. Everybody is afraid of death. And it makes sad everyone, so in Mexico one way to defense is joking about it. A lot of people make very funny rhymes remembering that person’s life.

There are a lot of places with random altars. You go to a hospital and they will put an altar to the doctors and all the patients they have lost. Or you go to a music school and they will have an altar to all the musicians who are gone, and they might put a guitar next to the altar. Or if that person liked to paint, you put a few paint brushes.

Q: Do Americans confuse Day of the Dead with Halloween?

A: Oh yeah. So much. I think they can’t even be compared at all. The reason that they get confused is they are very close dates. But we don’t wear costumes, and it’s not about hanging out with friends or going to parties. It’s about remembering the people you lost.

Q: There are also all the skeletons and skulls, though. For Halloween, those things are a little scary and creepy. Is it the same for Day of the Dead?

A: No. It’s not meant to be scary at all. Just to remember the person that passed away in a happy way. It’s more happy than creepy.

Q: How did your family celebrate when you were growing up?

A: I never met my mother’s parents. Well, my grandpapa passed away when I was 2 years old. And I never met my grandma. My mom made sure we always had an altar. Usually you put the favorite food of the dead person there so they can have a feast when they come to the altar. Mom would make that dish for the elder, but you would eat the rest of it. You are not supposed to eat anything from the altar. The souls they already ate the essence, the soul of the food.

The favorite drink is a very important thing, too, because it’s an alcohol drink so it’s to remember the happy things. So whenever (the souls of the dead) come, they can remember the happy moments they had in their life and celebrate.

My mom would always cook mole, and she would always put chocolate on the altar for my grandpa. He was diabetic so he was not supposed to eat chocolate, but he would always sneak out to have some. Or for my great-grandma, we would put cigarettes because we cannot even picture her without a cigarette in her hand. She smoked until she was 102, and she would cure everything with tequila. Everything. Head cold, stomachache, you just have a shot of tequila.

My uncle would always make tamales and invite us over every Nov. 1, and we’d drink hot Mexican chocolate and we would have a family dinner.

Q: Tell me about the special sweets for Day of the Dead.

A: Sugar skulls are very important. They represent each family member. (For the altar) sometimes they even personalize them and put their names on their head. They used to be made with amaranth. Also, you bring those little skulls to your friends, like a little gift, and kids definitely eat them.

Q: What about pan de muerto (translation: “bread of the dead”)?

A: It’s kind of like a brioche. It’s like a bowl and on top it has the bones. It’s always present in the altars. Supposedly, it represents the bones of the dead people. (Bakeries) start selling them in August. They start selling them really early. It’s like here with Christmas. We’re like, “Really? (The holiday) is not even until November.” Sometimes on (Day of the Dead), you can’t find anything else in the bakery. You dip the pan de muerto in Mexican hot chocolate.

Q: Is one recipe for pan de muerto pretty much like another?

A: No. Some people brush them in butter and roll them in sugar. That’s what I do. Some people don’t have sugar. They are more on the line of being savory. Some people put in orange blossom water. Some people put in anise. Sometimes they do it with butter; sometimes they do it with a little bit of shortening. Some places they even fill them with stuff. All the states in Mexico fight about which one has the best.

Q: As a professional pastry chef, have you tried to improve the recipe?

A: I played around a lot with it. Especially now that I am here, because I cannot get it here the way they make it where I am from. People have gotten really creative with them, but I’ve been trying to get the traditional one. I haven’t done anything crazy.

Q: How much do Mexican sweet traditions play a part in what you bake for Five Fifty-Five?

A: So much. I always have the Mexican influence on the ice cream or one dessert. Right now I have tamarind sorbet or guava ice cream. Or for example, I made cajeta (goat milk caramel) ice cream. People were scared to order it. They don’t know what it is. I decided to put a berry sauce. Problem fixed. I always have to do little tricks like that.

Or I make the servers try it. They try it and they love it and that takes care of the rest. Or Pastel de elote. Corn cake. But if I said corn cake here they would misunderstand it. They think they would get cornbread, but it’s not like that. It’s like bread pudding but it’s corn pudding. It’s like a cake, but it’s very wet. I put some grilled corn kernels in it, and I put it with the cajeta ice cream and a mixed berry sauce. It was perfect for the summer because we were using local corn and local berries.

That corn recipe is a family recipe and my mom was not very pleased I put it on the menu. That one is a very special recipe for her, so she didn’t want me sharing it. She got over it and is happy about it now.

Q: Is it morbid to ask what will be on your altar when you’re gone? What foods do you love so much they’d bring you back from the hereafter?

A: I would definitely say chiles en nogada. It’s a poblano pepper stuffed with meat, and it also has dried fruit, fresh fruit, nuts. It goes in an egg batter. You fry it. Then you cover it with a walnut sauce. Then you top it with pomegranate seeds and cilantro. It’s for Independence Day, September, because of the season of the walnuts and the poblano peppers. And it’s very representative of Mexico, even the decoration when you plate it – it’s the Mexican flag. It has the pomegranate, cilantro and then the nogada sauce, which is white, so it’s red, white and green. It’s so complex and it involves so many things. It’s savory and sweet and it has so many components that for me it’s my favorite Mexican dish.

Saraya's pan de muerto, a traditional bread for Mexico's Day of the Dead.

Saraya’s pan de muerto, a traditional bread for Mexico’s Day of the Dead.

PAN DE MUERTO

This fluffy, sugary, rich yeast bread is traditionally eaten for Day of the Dead. You’ll need a kitchen scale to make this recipe; Yazmin Saraya, like most professional pastry chefs, measures by weight, not cups.

Yields 6 smallish loaves, each feeds about 2

1.1 ounces warm milk

0.4 ounces dry yeast

1 teaspoon sugar, plus 4.5 ounces

1 pound and 7.5 ounces all-purpose flour, plus extra for “bones”

¼ teaspoon salt

Zest of 1 orange, plus 0.6 ounces orange juice

9.3 ounces eggs

8.2 ounces butter

TO FINISH:

3 ounces melted butter

6 ounces sugar

Mix the yeast, lukewarm milk and 1 teaspoon of sugar together in a measuring cup. Let sit in a warm place for a few minutes until the mixture foams.

Using a stand mixer with a paddle, mix together the flour, salt and zest. Add the warm yeast mixture, then add the eggs and the orange juice.

Add the 4.5 ounces sugar and mix the dough on slow speed until the sugar is incorporated and the dough is not too sticky, 10 to 15 minutes.

Cube the butter into pieces about ½-inch in size, and add the cubes to the dough, little by little, while continuing to mix another 20 minutes to develop the gluten.

Spray a bowl lightly with cooking spray, place the dough in the bowl, spray the dough lightly and then cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Let the dough rise in a warm place until it doubles in size, roughly 40 to 60 minutes, but keep an eye on the dough as the range varies.

Portion the dough in 5-ounce pieces and shape them into balls. You should get 6 balls; reserve the remaining dough.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer the dough balls to the sheet evenly leaving space between them. Let rise for 20 minutes in a warm place. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Take the reserved dough and add a little bit of flour to make it easier to work with. To make the decorations, weigh out 1-ounce pieces and roll each into a strips. Criss-cross 2 strips on each dough ball; these are the “bones.”

Bake the pan de muerto in the preheated oven for 8 minutes. Rotate the sheet pans so the breads will bake evenly, then bake for an additional 8 minutes until the loaves are golden brown.

Brush immediately with the melted butter and roll in the sugar. Let the bread cool at least 15 minutes before eating. Serve the bread with hot chocolate and enjoy.

MEXICAN HOT CHOCOLATE

Ibarra chocolate is flavored with cinnamon.

Serves 4 to 5

1 quart whole milk

1 whole round Ibarra Mexican Chocolate

Bring the milk almost to a boil in a medium-sized pan on the stovetop.

Meanwhile, chop the chocolate into 4 pieces.

Pour the hot milk into a blender, add the chocolate and blend until the chocolate is incorporated and the mixture is foamy. Pour into mugs and serve.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2016/10/26/chop-chop-brief-conversations-with-people-in-food-for-five-fifty-five-pastry-chef-yazmin-saraya-day-of-the-dead-is-an-important-celebration-of-family-remembrance-and-food/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2016/10/1099881_354285-20161019_bread_1.jpgPan de muerto made by Yazmin Saraya, pastry chef at Five Fifty-Five in Portland.Wed, 26 Oct 2016 08:41:46 +0000
New captains at the helm of Portland’s Harvest on the Harbor http://www.pressherald.com/2016/10/05/chop-chop-new-captains-at-the-helm-of-portlands-harvest-on-the-harbor/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/10/05/chop-chop-new-captains-at-the-helm-of-portlands-harvest-on-the-harbor/#comments Wed, 05 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1088661 Some changes are afoot at Harvest on the Harbor, Portland’s annual food and drink festival, as new owners Stefanie Manning and Gabrielle Garofalo gradually put their own stamp on it and bring it, in their words, “to the next level.” This year’s Harvest on the Harbor will be held Oct. 20-23.

The Maine Lobster Chef of the Year event, for example, will be a “celebration,” not a competition. The Grand Tasting has morphed into a partylike “Chef Showcase,” and at this year’s “Market on the Harbor,” you’ll be able to buy the products you taste.

Manning and Garofalo, who lives in New York, purchased the event in February from the Greater Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau. (Manning is vice president of circulation and marketing at MaineToday Media, which owns this newspaper. She and her husband also own the Miss Portland Diner.) The two took time out from planning to answer a few questions about this year’s Harvest on the Harbor. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What made you buy Harvest on the Harbor?

MANNING: When I got here to the Press Herald, we were a media partner and I’d make it to some of the events. I always had fun, but it always felt a little out of sync to me with what was going on in the food scene. The CVB (Greater Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau) created it for the intended purpose of bringing tourism to Maine nine years ago when the food scene was very different. They did a very good job, but it just got to the place where the tourists are coming here for the food scene. You don’t need to bring them here. So I think it had, for their purpose, run its course. I got wind of the fact that they were going to put the assets up for sale. I was on the phone one day talking to one of my dearest friends and telling her about it, and she said, “I would totally do that with you.” She was serious, and we kind of dug in and figured it out.

Q: How does a transition like this work? Do you just sign papers, and they hand over all their files?

MANNING: It all happened really quickly. It was an asset sale, so we paid money for the trademark, all of the digital assets – so the website, all their social media with their followers, everybody who had engaged with them digitally. It was participant lists and email sign-up lists and all of their records and all of their files and all of their artwork. We had a head start. Trying to start something like this from scratch, I don’t think we would have thought about that for two seconds.

Q: Why did you decide to drop the Top of the Crop competition?

MANNING: Last year, it wasn’t that well attended, and doing tasting event after tasting event and just changing the theme isn’t special. We’re trying to come up with formats that feel varied and that shake it up a little bit.

GAROFALO: We got a lot of feedback about that. We don’t really want to pit chefs against one another. Yes, there are great competitions and it’s turned into a whole industry on television, so obviously they’re popular. For us, as first timers, it was important to do a celebration and inclusive approach. We even heard from quite a few chefs that if the lobster chef (event), for example, was a competition again, they wouldn’t participate – even if they were past winners.

Q: So it was the chefs, and not the ticket holders, who didn’t like the competition aspect?

MANNING: It was the chefs. I hope this isn’t out of turn, but it was getting harder and harder and harder for the Maine CVB and the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative to get chefs to participate.

Q: But it was the most popular event, and people came from all over the country to attend.

MANNING: It was popular because it’s lobster. We’ve had a lot of conversations with the (lobster) marketing collaborative about competition versus celebration. Their focus is not about marketing lobster in Maine. Their job is to market lobster outside of Maine. But they feel so strongly about this event and the Claw Down (held in September in Boothbay Harbor) that those are the only two events in Maine that they still support. Because the Claw Down is such a great competition, we felt like offsetting that with a celebration of Maine lobster.

Q: The Harvest on the Harbor competition came first, though.

MANNING: Yeah. We’re experimenting. This is our first year. It’s becoming obvious who is willing to participate in events and who isn’t able to. We’re hearing about staffing issues, which is such a huge problem in town. There’s a lot of factors that go into having chefs decide whether to participate in these events. It’s challenging.

GAROFALO: We’re trying to balance stuff that we know worked and then learn and take it from there, too.

MANNING: This really is a ramp-up year, which is why we’re focused on the handful of events that we’re doing. We feel good about the way that they punctuate a portion of the food and drink scene. Do we think this is perfect? No, but we need to get through year one to figure out what will be perfect.

Q: The marketplace used to be one of my favorite things. But over the years the number and quality of products declined and there were fewer Maine-made products.

MANNING: The market is a huge ask of (vendors). To bring thousands of people through an event and try to sample to them is really hard. The other learning for us is that (vendors) don’t want to participate in food frenzies. They want an opportunity to engage with people and tell their stories and have people meaningfully taste their product and think about purchasing it.

You can’t call something a market and not have things for sale. For us, that’s one of the bigger experiments. You’ve got to bring in inventory, you’ve got to gauge how much you’re going to sell. But it’s going to be awesome. I have a working list of the vendors who have signed up, and they’re really great companies. Certine will be there and Bluet, Spiked Seltzer, Whole Foods, Rosemont Market, Maine Gold – so we’re excited how that is shaping up. We’re expecting, I would say, around 100 vendors.

Q: What events are you thinking about for the future?

MANNING: We have made a pact in blood not to think past Oct. 23 right now. We have a very large parking lot of ideas, but right now we are just very focused on executing with excellence.

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Anthony Bourdain discusses food, cooking for kids and his favorite writers http://www.pressherald.com/2016/09/28/anthony-bourdain-discusses-food-cooking-for-kids-and-his-favorite-writers/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/09/28/anthony-bourdain-discusses-food-cooking-for-kids-and-his-favorite-writers/#respond Wed, 28 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1078582 We asked our readers what they would ask writer and television chef Anthony Bourdain if they had the chance. Here are his answers to some of their questions. This interview has been edited for length and clarity:

Q: Our culture is so engaged with food now – almost to the point of fetishizing what’s on the plate. Is there any turning back? Or is this fascination with food a good thing?

A: We are more educated about what we’re eating and where it comes from and who’s making it than ever before. I think as silly as it is and as excessive and fetishistic, it signals a real cultural shift where we actually care about what we’re eating and who’s cooking, and this is good. I imagine that at some point we will shift to a more emotional response to food without taking pictures of it. We’re sort of catching up with France and Italy. On balance, however ridiculous it is at times and lampoonable, I’m happy with it.

Q: You’re about to release a new cookbook (“Appetites: A Cookbook,” hardcover, $26.69) – your first in 10 years – that apparently contains a lot of home-friendly recipes. How has your cooking changed since you had a child? What’s your advice for parents who want to get their kid engaged with food?

A: Everything changes when you become a parent, of course. That’s a cliché, but it’s a cliché because it’s true. It’s not about me anymore. It’s about “what will my 9-year-old girl eat?” (My daughter Ariane) makes most of the major decisions as relates to food in the house.

My daughter has a very, very, very adventurous palate, but that’s because I never, ever pushed her or suggested that she try sushi or try oysters or try anything outside of her immediate comfort zone. If she wanted pasta with butter every day, I was happy to give it to her. I would continue to eat the way I ate, and the hope was that she would notice and express a curiosity, which is what happened. I think it’s lethal to suggest to a child they should try something. Who ever responded to that? When your mom said try the liver, it’s good for you, that was sort of a death knell for you ever wanting to eat liver. It might even help with reverse psychology: “Stay away from my foie gras, kid, this is grown-up stuff. This is for Daddy.” Now they’re interested.

As it turns out, she is (adventurous) but that’s because she watches a lot of food TV. She finds Alton Brown more interesting than me, and she thinks Andrew Zimmern is a living god.

Q: You’re a writer as much as a cook. Who do you like to read and why?

A: I keep going back to Graham Greene. George Orwell’s essays were a huge influence on me. I love (Vladimir) Nabokov. I love A.J. Liebling as an inspiration. I like good nonfiction writers.

For fiction writers, since I write a lot, I try to avoid people like Martin Amis, whose language is so impeccable and precise. It’s so much better than mine that I find it intimidating and dispiriting. If I get writer’s block, I’ll read Elmore Leonard. That’s just a master class in economy of writing. I’m a huge George V. Higgins fan. I think he’s the greatest crime writer who ever walked the planet and certainly a great New England writer and a great inspiration to me. Joan Didion I’m a huge fan of.

Q: Do you have a favorite world cuisine?

A: I don’t care where I am in the world, if there are 10 chefs sitting around late at night drinking, asking ourselves that same question – where would you eat, what country would you eat, if you had to eat only their food for the rest of your life? – the answer is almost always Japan. And in my case, I agree. It’s just so deep, so varied, so technically perfectionist and precise and interesting. I probably know more about Japanese food than most Americans, but that doesn’t mean I know anything at all about Japanese food. I’m still wallowing in relative ignorance, and that journey of discovery is something that makes me very, very happy.

Q: Do you foresee a time when you’ll slow down and do something closer to home?

A: Well, I have the best job in the world. I choose where we go, I decide what we do when we get there, and what the show is going to look like and what it’s going to sound like. I’ll probably stick with this for as long as they’ll let me.

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Barton Seaver dives deeper into sustainable seafood http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/29/chop-chop-barton-seaver-dives-deeper-into-sustainable-seafood/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/29/chop-chop-barton-seaver-dives-deeper-into-sustainable-seafood/#respond Wed, 29 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=946745 Sometimes it seems like not a month goes by without a new cookbook by fish sustainability expert, chef and South Freeport resident Barton Seaver showing up in the mail. Most recently, it was the 304-page “Two if by Sea,” chock-full of recipes; indexes of fish species; short essays on sustainability, equipment and ingredients; more essays and step-by-step photographs on technique; and pictures of food, fish and Seaver himself fishing and cooking.

Just a few months earlier, it was “Superfood Seagreens,” a book devoted to persuading Americans to eat and cook seaweed.

Seaver, director of the Sustainable Seafood and Health Initiative at the Harvard School of Public Health, has written six cookbooks in as many years, and in the same period he married, bought a home and moved to Maine.

When we called him up to ask how the heck he fits it all in, he mentioned that book number seven is due to the publisher in two months, with book number eight, “another massive manuscript,” to follow next March.

Seaver, 37, had just returned from speaking at a conference in Dallas put on by the giant food service company Sysco. We began our conversation by asking him about, well, sleeping with the enemy, at least from a locavore/sustainability perspective.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: So how did Sysco executives, vendors, hotel executives, etc. take your message of sustainability?

A: I dedicate quite a bit of my time to engaging with the very largest players in the food service – those who are most often maligned as the problem – because of the fact that their ability to create change is so great. And they have, in very authentic ways, come to realize the civic virtues of local and sustainable and the romance that is being revived in our relationship with food. They’ve come to understand that as fundamental to operating a healthy business.

It’s easy to write off the enemy, but it’s a lot more helpful to engage them, and I don’t believe they’ve ever really been the enemy. They are American businesses doing what American businesses do – they are competing, and they succeeded. That’s capitalism, and you can’t blame them for it.

Q: I really called to talk with you about productivity. Six books in six years? What drives you? What’s your secret?

A: When I was first approached to write a book, it happened in a very unconventional way, in that the publisher, Sterling, sought me out, called me from New York, came down (to Washington, D.C., where Seaver had a restaurant at the time) to meet me and presented me a two-book offer. I thought about it and said I would love to write one book on the condition that my wife (a graphic designer) gets to design the entire thing. The only book she had ever designed at that point was her art school thesis. And I wanted to work with our wedding photographer to do all the photos. She had never shot food before. What I wanted the book to be – and what I think we, to a large extent, achieved – it communicates a sense of process, thought and strategy rather than just a static approach. I decided I wanted to write the book because I had something to say about food.

Q: As someone who’d never written a book, you were pretty nervy.

A: I knew what I wanted, and I knew I didn’t want to send my ideas off to some firm in New York who didn’t know me, with whom I had no connection, to whom this was just another project. I wanted it to be intimate, and I wanted it to reflect how I feel about food. This was “For Cod and Country.” Why I wanted our wedding photographer is that wedding photographers are particularly well trained to notice the special moments happening on the periphery and to whip around and capture them.

Q: To return to my question, though, why so many?

A: Because I am so passionate about seafood. Writing a book is a learning process for me. I am forever a student. Especially in the seafood conversation, the dialogue keeps shifting. There is more to say every day. And even my own viewpoints have shifted greatly from book to book as I have become more knowledgeable.

There is also a very practical aspect to this, which is my career is in the food world, and books are my avenue to remain relevant.

Q: You never wish you had more time to write each book?

A: I work very quickly. It’s the nature of being a chef. Chefs don’t have the luxury of taking our time. “I wish I had another half hour on your meal tonight. I could have really made that a ‘Wow’ if I had another half hour.” That thinking is not built in. Also, because I am so deeply involved with seafood in every aspect of my life, I don’t have to (start) thinking about seafood to get my head in the book. Of course, deadlines – I don’t know a single author who says, “I love deadlines. Can you move it up a week?”

Q: How do you describe yourself these days? Are you a chef? A writer? An activist?

A: I am definitely not an activist. I am not an advocate. I make that distinction, because I don’t have your answers to what food, sustainability, community means to you. Advocacy and activism is all too often speaking at people.

And for a long time, I have shied away from labeling myself as a chef out of respect for the folks who bravely don their whites and charge into the breach every single night. As my wife pointed out the other day – we were having this very same discussion – “What are you? What do you do?” I said, “I don’t consider myself an author.” She said, “You published six books, you idiot. I think you should say you are an author.”

The terminology I use is I am a recovering chef and author, and I work to support our civic values and the public health created by them.

Q: I’m not sure I know what you mean by civic values.

A: All too often we look at sustainability as simply empirical scientific measures of the state of a certain biological system, and therefore we end up in conversations that are inherently limited. If it’s only about the fish, where do the fishermen fit in? Where does public health fit in? Where does heritage fit in? That’s what I mean about the civic values. It’s not just about how we impact nature.

Q: May I return to the question of productivity? I know your mother died young. I know you were once very ill yourself. Did these circumstances have an impact?

A: You know, I’ve often asked myself this question. Yeah, I’m keenly aware of mortality, and by virtue of that I do not find a source of pessimism, but I am driven by the sense of optimism. I watched my mother die, and her only (regret) was that she wasn’t going to be able to enjoy another day, to live another day fully.

So I don’t think of it as a pressure, I don’t feel as though I am working against an unfair time line. I’m simply doing things that bring me joy. My mother taught me, and my illness especially, that it is absolutely worth facing the incredible terror of being courageous in your life and in your decisions, and that’s what we did. I wrote a book!

“For Cod and Country” was probably the most challenging, not just because I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, (my wife) Carrie had no idea, the photographer didn’t know what she was doing, and the publisher had no idea what they were going to receive. It was difficult because I was recently divorced from restaurants, and it was a bit of a struggle to write a cookbook and not a chef’s book.

In the process of writing those recipes, I had to learn to occupy the spiritual space of my own home kitchen. I had graduated high school and started cooking professionally a few months later. I never had a home kitchen – well, with anything in it but beer and booze. Dinner was a profession. I had to learn how to be a home cook. That has driven some of my motivation to write cookbooks. I am discovering cooking. This is still kind of new and fun to me. I get great joy out of writing them. Why not write as many as the publishing world will allow?

Q: Tell me about your next project.

A: It’s a very different book. It is 550-page thesis that tells the story and history, both through a culinary and anthropological lens, of the American seafood industry. I am elucidating all of these broad ideas and historical patterns by writing personality sketches and narratives of every single species that is legally landed in the U.S., and that is daunting.

Q: And the book after that?

A: All of these fish are entering my house. I’m tasting. I’m analyzing. Many I’ve had before. Many are new to me. If I have all the fish in the house, I might as well cook them. So it’s a comprehensive book using all these fish. The title is “The Joy of Seafood.” It has about 1,200 recipes.

It reverses one of the unsustainable behaviors consumers force onto the seafood industry. They come to the counter and say, “I need snapper.” We’ve too long told the oceans and the fishermen what we are willing to eat rather than ask them what they are willing to supply. The idea is, shift the order. Purchase first, then come home and decide what to cook.

LOBSTER ROSSEJAT

Seaver describes this Catalan dish as his favorite recipe in “Two if by Sea.”

1 pound spaghetti

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided use

Salt

2 (1 1/2 pound) lobsters, preferably new shell

1 bay leaf

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon smoked sweet paprika

1 recipe Classic Aioli

1 bunch fresh herbs, such as chervil or parsley, leaves only

Lemon wedges

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Working in small batches, break the spaghetti into roughly 1-inch pieces and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 11/2 teaspoons olive oil and toss to coat. Bake the noodles, tossing every few minutes, until deep brown all over, 10 to 12 minutes. (Keep a close eye on them as they can go from pale to overdone in no time.)

Remove them from the oven and let them cool. If the pasta has cooked a little too much, scrape it onto a cool baking sheet to stop the cooking.

Bring 6 cups lightly salted water to a boil. Add the lobsters and the bay leaf and cook for 6 minutes. Remove from the heat, transfer the lobsters to a bowl to catch all the juices, remove the meat from the lobsters and place it in a separate bowl. Add the shells (discarding the innards) to the cooking water. Pour the lobster juices through a fine-mesh strainer into the cooking water. Bring to a gentle simmer to further infuse this quick broth.

Preheat the broiler to high.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a large paella or wide enameled pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until the edges begin to brown. Add the paprika and cook, stirring for 30 seconds. Add the noodles and toss to coat with the oil. Add 2 cups of the hot lobster broth and bring to an energetic simmer. Do not stir the noodles as they cook. When the broth has been absorbed, add another 2 cups, cooking until absorbed. Add the remaining broth and bring to a full boil. Immediately place the entire pan directly under the broiler.

Cook until the noodles have absorbed almost all of the broth, 8 to 10 minutes. The noodles will curl up and the ends will become crisp.

Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside while you cut the lobster tails into small medallions and the claws in half. Place the meat in neat arrangements around the pan. Place a very large dollop of aioli in the center of the dish and scatter the herbs over the top. Serve with the extra aioli and lemon wedges on the side.

CLASSIC AIOLI

Seaver often flavors his aioli with herbs. This recipe is from “Two if by Sea.”

1 egg yolk

1 large clove garlic, grated

11/2 teaspoons sherry vinegar

2 teaspoons salt

2 cups vegetable oil

1 tablespoon water

Combine the egg yolk, garlic, vinegar and salt in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Place the bowl on a damp towel or have someone hold it for you to keep it steady. While whisking, slowly drizzle in the oil until the sauce emulsifies and thickens. As it thickens, add 1 tablespoon water a few drops at a time (this will thin the aioli so it can take more oil). Continue drizzling and whisking until all the oil has been incorporated. Yes, your arm may be a little tired, but this is definitely worth the effort. Aioli keeps in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/29/chop-chop-barton-seaver-dives-deeper-into-sustainable-seafood/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2016/06/946745_760443_20140523_bartonsea_2.jpgBarton Seaver in his South Freeport kitchen in 2014.Wed, 29 Jun 2016 08:28:50 +0000
PR specialists help busy chefs in good times and bad http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/22/chop-chop-pr-specialists-help-busy-maine-chefs-in-good-times-and-bad/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/22/chop-chop-pr-specialists-help-busy-maine-chefs-in-good-times-and-bad/#respond Wed, 22 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=936458 Jim and Gillian Britt, partners in business and life, own gBritt, an 18-year-old public relations firm that specializes in restaurants, hotels and cultural organizations and events.

At times, they’ve had as many as eight employees and an office. These days, it’s just the two of them, married since 1994 and working out of their home in Cape Elizabeth. About 60 percent of their business is food-related.

The couple founded – and still run – Maine Restaurant Week every March, while Gillian Britt’s newest professional venture (with business partner Kevin Phelan, also of Cape Elizabeth) is Eat, Drink, Lucky, a daily emailed newsletter in 10 cities nationally, including Portland, with short and snappy suggestions about what to eat and do.

We spoke with the Britts about how they met, how to handle a bad review and why they don’t want me as a client. (No hard feelings.) The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Imagine I am opening a new restaurant. I think the whole “eat local” thing has run its course. My restaurant is going to be the anti-Vinland. I’m calling it From Away, and the food will be 100 percent from more than 100 miles away. Why do I have to hire you? Can’t I just cook good food, and they will come?

JIM BRITT: The new trend is can-to-table. I read that somewhere. It made me laugh out loud. What we would begin to do is talk about the experience of opening a restaurant in a very crowded marketplace. Typically folks are talking with us because they want their name, their business name, their chef’s name, to be part of the conversation, to be included in Portland Press Herald articles, in magazines and blogs and on television segments talking about the food scene.

That’s the role we play – connecting restaurants with people just like you who report on this amazing restaurant food scene day in and day out.

Q:Still, it’s 2016. Why can’t I tweet/Instagram/website and market my restaurant myself?

JB: Our clients tend to be chef-driven restaurants. There is no marketing person in place. They are trying to do payroll, meet the delivery truck out back, fix that ice maker that stopped working.

Then in the very back of their mind, they are thinking, “We haven’t posted on Instagram in a week,” or “We haven’t updated our Facebook.” Then there is the storytelling. They might have a great story to tell, but they just don’t have the contacts with professional media or the time.

The competition is fierce among restaurants, and breaking through to customers, well, the harder you work to get your name in front of restaurant eaters and drinkers, the better off you are going to be.

GILLIAN BRITT: But I think (our conversation with you) would be more advice, that this might not be the right market for that particular product. We have to be realistic about what can be accomplished. I would be very worried about somebody opening something like that here.

This is a community that is very focused on where does the food come from? There might be some buzz initially and a lot of curiosity, but I think there would be a lot of negativity, and it would not be treated with open arms.

Q: But that’s okay, right? I thought there is no such thing as bad publicity?

GB: There certainly is publicity that clients don’t like and that we don’t like and that doesn’t generate good business, so yeah, there is such a thing as bad publicity.

Q: If one of your clients gets a bad review, what is your advice?

JB: Breathe. Relax. It’s not going to kill your business. Gillian is much better at this aspect than me, but really helping the customer honestly just pause and understand if there are corrections to be made they can be made, whether there are communication issues or marketing issues or kitchen issues.

We do get involved in those conversations, and those can be really tough conversations. But our clients are great people, and they get it. It’s a tough business, and sometimes you don’t hear what you want to hear.

GB: The most important thing that I always remind people is, don’t lash out on social media. Ignore those comments online. We get very nervous when a client calls us and says a photographer was just assigned to take our photo and we’re going to be reviewed.

JB: The rule should be 100 percent consistency 100 percent of the time. That’s what makes great restaurants great. But even the best restaurants have a bad night sometimes, and that makes reviews really nerve-wracking. Certainly it makes for a sleepless night for the chef.

Q: Okay, so say you’ve persuaded me. I’ve hired you. What are you going to do for me?

JB: First an audit. What’s in place? From social media channels and a website presence …

GB: Who is the chef? What is the decor if it’s a brand-new restaurant? We’d compile a fact sheet. Then we’d want to start talking about a launch. What does the soft launch look like and how is that going to roll out?

JB: We’ve always work with our clients on building very strong community, inviting customers to share their emails, a newsletter, events, finding a place in the community. Whether your restaurant is called From Away …

GB: I’m still stuck on that. I’m not sure we’d want to take on that particular client.

JB: We have said no many times. This scenario exactly. A concept we don’t believe in.

GB: We always ask a client about their goals. Let’s say with your restaurant, you want to have a New York Times piece within the first quarter of our relationship, and you want to have a Best New Chef in Food + Wine magazine, we would certainly not take on that client, because the goals are just too unrealistic.

If we found there was just something that didn’t feel right to us, or we were not sensing it would be easy to communicate with that client, that would be a reason to pass. It is all about relationships. We care a lot for the people we work with. It’s very hard for me to imagine promoting something that I didn’t truly care about.

Q: Um, what is this going to cost me?

JB: It could be $2,500 a month. It can go up from there.

GB: If it’s a short-term project, there could be a three-month fee for that, but otherwise it’s a monthly retainer.

Q: Once I’ve opened my restaurant and got some media attention, can I fire my public relations firm?

GB: In the beginning, customers often do (just come in) because there is a buzz about a newly opened restaurant. But to maintain that and to build that loyalty is an ongoing task. It does not end right after you open. In fact, that is when it begins.

Q: You also do PR for many cultural groups. How is that different from food PR?

GB: In my mind, art and food have always gone together. There is a lot of crossover. I am the one who handles the arts organization clients that we have. I think the artists, the musicians, the dancers and the chefs all carry a lot of similar characteristics.

JB: The bankers, the lawyers and the technology people share the same qualities, too. Creativity is creativity.

Q: Jim, you mentioned it’s a crowded restaurant field here. Is there a point where Portland has too many restaurants?

GB: I know a lot of chefs feel that there is. But I think any time a restaurant opens, the restaurant nearby also gets more people. There are extra people on your block. And then the fact that all this activity has created national interest. People are coming here to Portland to eat.

Q: What made you focus your public relations business on restaurants in the first place?

GB: Jim and I met in a restaurant. I was the hostess. Jim was a waiter. It was a really good Italian restaurant. God I loved that job. The adrenaline rush. The diversity of the people coming through the doors. The hospitality. It was certainly something we enjoyed together. And later when we traveled and we got married, food was something that we shared, a passion of ours. Food has always been a part of who we are. I once told Sam Hayward (of Fore Street) how much I loved that job as hostess, and he told me, “Anytime you want to return to it …” You probably can’t print that. I don’t want his hostess to get scared.

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For Mother’s Day, a chat with mother-daughter Mediterranean cooking experts http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/04/chop-chop-for-mothers-day-we-chat-with-mother-daughter-mediterranean-cooking-experts-writer-nancy-harmon-jenkins-and-chef-sara-jenkins/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/04/chop-chop-for-mothers-day-we-chat-with-mother-daughter-mediterranean-cooking-experts-writer-nancy-harmon-jenkins-and-chef-sara-jenkins/#respond Wed, 04 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=863924 In the case of cookbook author Nancy Harmon Jenkins and her daughter, chef Sara Jenkins, the chestnut didn’t fall far from the tree. Aside from cooking, writing and a deep curiosity about “why food becomes the way it does,” as Sara Jenkins puts it, the pair share a love for their olive farm in Tuscany, especially the picnic table set under two ancient chestnut trees with a view down the valley into Umbria. “We’ve been feasting around it for 40 years,” Sara Jenkins said.

With Mother’s Day on our mind, we spoke with the mother-daughter culinary dynamo, Nancy Harmon Jenkins calling in from Camden, where she lives, and Sara Jenkins from New York City, her home of many years. Mom is a 13th-generation Mainer and an expert on the cooking of the Mediterranean, with eight cookbooks (and two non-food books) to her name. Daughter is the chef of two beloved Manhattan eateries – the sandwich shop Porchetta and the pasta-centric Porsena – and is set to move to Maine next month with her husband and 9-year-old son to open a Mediterranean restaurant in Rockport. She is also the co-author of two cookbooks and a former columnist for The Atlantic website. Mother and daughter recently collaborated on their first book together, “The Four Seasons of Pasta.” Our conversation touched on picky eaters, chowder and which of the two is the better cook.

Q: Nancy, was passing on your love of food to Sara intentional, the way my mother wanted her children to learn a musical instrument?

NHJ: No, not at all. I think it came about as a result of our living in so many places. I’ve always had this theory that the way to get into another culture is through its food. We lived in Spain twice. We lived in Paris. We lived in Beirut. And we lived in Hong Kong, all before we ended up in Italy, and in all of those places food was very important. (Her former husband was a foreign correspondent.) Sara and her brother always went out to eat with us. A lot of the time we spent on the weekends was around a big table full of food. That’s just what you do in those parts of the world. She grew up with good tastes in her mouth.

Q: But did you teach her to cook?

NHJ: People always want to think that Sara learned to cook by standing at her mother’s knee in the kitchen, and she didn’t. I think you learned more from Mita than you did from me, didn’t you Sara? Mita was our Italian neighbor and she was, in effect, the Italian nonna, grandmother, of my children.

Q: Did Sara hang around you in the kitchen when she was young?

NHJ: She mostly had her nose stuck in a book. She was a picky eater, we always say that.

Q: Any advice for the parents of picky eaters?

SJ: They should chill out. As long as your kid is eating healthy foods, who cares?

Q: Sara, are you teaching your own son to cook?

SJ: I take a tact with my child that my job is to see what he is interested in and encourage that, as opposed to impose my interest. But he’s a really picky eater. He likes pasta with tomato sauce. He likes fruits of every kind. He did have a Tibetan nanny as a child, so he’s really into dumplings. That’s probably the most exotic thing he eats.

Q: So, Sara, if you were a picky eater, when did you begin to enjoy food?

SJ: When I came back to the States when I was 15 years old. I had never thought much about what was put in front of me. I came back to boarding school in Maine. I was just appalled. I remember ordering a pizza in Bethel and being really puzzled. It wasn’t a pizza the way I thought of pizza.

Q: How was it different?

SJ: I think I ordered tomato pizza and what I got was a pizza with slices of plum tomato. That wasn’t what I meant. I probably meant pizza margherita. It didn’t occur to me that there was any variation on what I ordered. So you’re standing there wondering “What’s the problem? What did I do wrong?”

Q: Had you lived in Maine before?

SJ: No.

NHJ: But they came back every summer.

SJ: My aunt always says we were trained to demand lobster the minute we came over the state border. But when you live in Maine, it’s not as though you eat lobster on a daily basis.

NHJ: Although my mother was a great one for handing out lobster whenever the occasion demanded it. We used to have lobster for Thanksgiving. We used to have lobster for Christmas. Lobster for birthdays. I think my mother just loved lobster and loved any occasion to eat it.

Q: Nancy, were you pleased Sara became a chef?

NHJ: Very much pleased. I was a little bit surprised because she trained as a photographer and worked as a photographer. She really had a natural feel for the kitchen and the restaurant kitchen in particular. She had found her métier. And I think a parent is always happy when a child has found her métier. It means you can stop worrying about them a little bit.

Q: How about your son? Does he cook well?

NHJ: He’s a very good cook, but (disapproving tone) he’s a vegetarian.

Q: So that’s a bad thing?

NHJ: It’s kind of limiting. But he’s a very good vegetarian cook.

Q: What is your favorite dish of Sara’s?

NHJ: I just love the anelloni with lamb sausage and greens. I think it’s a fabulous dish. (See recipe.)

Q: Sara, what did your mother teach you about food and cooking?

SJ: I learned her respect for ingredients.

Q: Did she encourage your love of food and cooking?

SJ: No, not necessarily.

NHJ: You didn’t think I encouraged you?

SJ: I don’t think you discouraged me. But I just kind of took off with it. You were supportive.

NHJ: Yeah, certainly was. Still am.

Q: Do you have a favorite dish of your mother’s?

SJ: Oh yes, her chowder.

NHJ: Clam or fish or corn?

SJ: Lobster.

NHJ: It probably is Sam Hayward’s recipe for lobster chowder.

SJ: No, you’ve been making it much longer than that.

NHJ: That’s true. But Sam has sharpened my technique.

Q: Who is the better cook?

NHJ: She is far and away a better cook than I am. Which is not to say that I am a bad cook. She is speedy in the kitchen. She is focused in the kitchen. Things don’t fail her the way they fail me.

SJ: Honestly, I would agree.

NHJ: That you’re a better cook?

SJ: It’s not that you’re not a great cook and you don’t make fabulous delicious foods, but I have better skills. I do it professionally.

Q: What sparked your collaboration on “The Four Seasons of Pasta”?

SJ: It was (former New York Times food writer) Molly O’Neill. We wanted to do an e-book with her. It never came to fruition.

NHJ: She wanted us to do 25 winter pastas. So we did them. (The e-book) never came to anything, but there we were with these recipes. We thought, why not do spring and summer and fall? And we did, and we sold it to an agent and there we were on the road to fame and fortune. More fame than fortune, I’m afraid.

Q: How did you handle the mechanics of writing together?

SJ: Some recipes were very much mine, some were very much Nancy’s. Some we discussed. I always tell everybody that you didn’t want to make the pasta con sarde with sardines because you didn’t want people having to clean the sardines.

NHJ: I didn’t think you could get sardines. Here even in the capital – what used to be the capital – of sardine country, you can’t get them. But you can get them in New York, I guess. It’s a Sicilian traditional dish, and I think it’s wonderful. I’ve made it in Italy, but I’ve never made it here in the States.

Q: So did you include the sardine recipe in the end?

SJ: Yes, yes, we did.

Q: Sorry, to end with a bit of a snoozer, but I’m thinking readers will want to know. What are your favorite restaurants in Maine and New York?

SJ: I would say Long Grain (in Camden).

NHJ: Yes. Long Grain. And there is Bagaduce Lunch in Brooksville. It depends what you are looking for. Fore Street and Primo are still two great restaurants we have in Maine. My favorite restaurant in New York is, oddly enough, Porcena.

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No stranger to restrictions, Vinland’s famously local chef David Levi hosts Passover Seder http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/20/chop-chop-no-stranger-to-restrictions-vinlands-famously-100-percent-local-chef-david-levi-hosts-passover-seder/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/20/chop-chop-no-stranger-to-restrictions-vinlands-famously-100-percent-local-chef-david-levi-hosts-passover-seder/#comments Wed, 20 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=843290 Observant Jews who keep kosher follow many rules in the kitchen. They cannot eat pork or shellfish. They cannot mix milk and meat or even the dishes used to cook and serve the two. They must wash vegetables very carefully lest a (non-kosher) bug be lurking, and meat must be slaughtered in accordance with ancient laws.

Come Passover, which starts this Friday and ends on April 30, the restrictions multiply. No leavened food may be eaten, nor any food – other than matzoh – that contains wheat. That matzoh, or unleavened bread, is baked according to meticulous protocol.

David Levi, chef and proprietor of Vinland restaurant in Portland, is the son of a Protestant mother and a Jewish father (whose parents and older siblings fled Italy in 1939); he was raised as a Reform Jew, which is the least strict denomination. On Sunday, Levi will hold his third annual Passover Seder at Vinland, his resolutely 100-percent local, seasonal and wild-sourced restaurant. No lemons, no olive oil, no soy sauce, no sugar – all food at Vinland is made from organic ingredients that grew or were raised in Maine. The menu is also gluten-free.

For the Seder, which celebrates the Jews’ freedom from slavery in Egypt, Levi will be superimposing one set of exacting restrictions on top of another. We wondered if, on the Passover holiday, he found himself wishing for a little more freedom himself.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Do you consider yourself culinarily Jewish?

A: Absolutely. Culturally Jewish, and a big part of being culturally Jewish is being culinarily Jewish. And given that I was raised entirely in New York City, even non-Jews in New York are kind of born Jewish. Everyone grows up eating bagels and pastrami.

Q: Will you be serving dishes at Vinland’s Passover Seder that you grew up eating at your family Seders?

A: A number of things we will not have at the Vinland Seder, because they are not seasonally available in Maine. One of the classic things would be artichokes, Carciofi alla Giudia. As the name indicates, it comes from Jewish tradition. We would not be able to get artichokes. We cannot get pine nuts or raisins. The charoset I grew up with had pine nuts and raisins along with apples and wine. Lamb would always be a key part of the dinner. It was cooked with a lot of onion and lemon. The lemon is caramelized as it roasts with the lamb.

But as with any dinner at Vinland, it’s always about how we can make beautiful and delightful and uncompromising – uncompromising, that’s really a key word – food, but make it with what we have. With Passover, we’re a little bit more limited. We’re not using pork. We’re not using shellfish. We’re not using anything that’s overtly treyf. We’re not using leavened grains. Normally, fermented oats are a significant thing we work with. We’re not using those.

That first year (that Vinland held a Seder), I was happy with the meal we did, but it was a little bit too strict. No dairy. The only cooking fat we used was schmaltz. I made it work, but this year I will use ghee and condensed yogurt whey, which really allow us to do better food, recognizing it’s entirely within the form of Vinland, though OK, it’s not entirely within the form of kosher. I decided I would break from the most stringent rules of Passover.

Q: Why not relax your locally grown rules rather than the Passover eating rules?

A: First, I don’t think you need to serve non-local food for Passover to cook a really good dinner. And the second part of the answer is, that’s what Vinland does. I’m not an orthodox Jew, so I’m very open to compromising the strict rules of kashrut – Jews disagree what that means anyway – and I don’t have a kosher restaurant. Vinland is a restaurant defined by its commitment to 100-percent local ingredients. If we couldn’t do a good Passover using our form, we just wouldn’t do Passover.

I’ve never thought of doing all local ingredients as a restriction. I think of it as form. In my background of writing poetry, I don’t think, “Oh god, I am going to be so restricted because I’m writing a sonnet.” Every form allows for different possibilities. What’s critical to consider is that the possibilities don’t exist in the absence of the form. I think the only reason people might look at our 100-percent local form as restrictive is it’s just not as familiar. I don’t think people would look at a Japanese restaurant and wonder why they aren’t using Parmigiano or look at an Italian restaurant and wonder why they aren’t using miso. In a way, by doing 100-percent local, it’s incredibly liberating. We have this overarching form so within that we can do whatever the hell we want, taking inspiration from France or Italy or wherever.

If the meeting place of the form and our ability to work within it is ever inhibitive to the point that, rather than spurring on creativity, it compromises the outcome, then it’s a failure. I’ve chosen this form because I’m extremely confident – and I think we’ve shown over 21/2 years we’ve been open – that the form really does spur on tremendous creativity and new ways of approaching the food.

Q: So what will you be serving for Passover?

A: To be honest, I haven’t yet talked with our butcher to find out about the availability of brisket or lamb, so we haven’t nailed down the protein. We have done our version of gefilte fish; that’ll be back this year. We’ll be incorporating all the fresh vegetables we can because it’s a spring festival. The farmers market on Saturday was very encouraging. Obviously eggs will be in there. We will have our version of charoset – it’s a pretty nonstandard version of charoset because the only fresh apples that are still available now are non-organic, which means we won’t buy them. We’ll be a non-apple-based charoset.

Q: So what is your charoset made from?

A: We will almost certainly be incorporating whey-poached parsnips. The whey really brings out their fruity quality, and we’ll incorporate some wild black walnuts that I foraged in Yarmouth. We have some dried kiwis from a friend’s yard in Munjoy Hill. He has a winter-hardy kiwi vine. We do have some dried apples. We’ll probably put in some kind of all-local spirit, maybe maple spirits. What it needs to be is totally delicious and hopefully interesting to boot. But it should never be the other way around – interesting first and delicious second.

Q: Given that Vinland is gluten-free, what do you do about matzoh?

A: Two years ago, I was testing out this matzoh using a combination of homemade potato flour, buckwheat flour and oats. Some people thought it was delicious. Some did not. It was not the biggest hit of the night. So last year, I did our fermented oat flatbread, which is totally non-kosher for Passover, because it’s fermented (fermented foods from grains are not allowed during Passover), but it’s a flatbread so it’s evocative in that sense. And this year, I think I am going to do a non-fermented oat bread. I am pretty confident that we can do a delicious non-fermented oat bread.

Q: Matzoh’s not that great anyhow, though, right? I mean the bar is not that high.

A: It has to be so much better than regular matzoh. Regular matzoh is gross. We’re not looking to feed our diners the bread of affliction.

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Runner, writer and Yarmouth resident Jen Van Allen on her new book ‘Run to Lose’ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/30/runner-writer-and-yarmouth-resident-jen-van-allen-talks-about-her-new-book-run-to-lose-a-complete-guide-to-weight-loss-for-runners/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/30/runner-writer-and-yarmouth-resident-jen-van-allen-talks-about-her-new-book-run-to-lose-a-complete-guide-to-weight-loss-for-runners/#respond Wed, 30 Mar 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=826749 Jen Van Allen started to run when she was in college, just a few times a week, 30 minutes at a stretch. It was a fast, easy way to exercise. Nothing more. Growing up, she didn’t consider herself athletic. Far from it. She was the kid who “would do anything to get out of sports and gym class.” She was the kid who played piano and violin, not the one who played sports.

But after college, she was living in New York City and writing for American Banker when a friend convinced her to enter the lottery for the New York Marathon “on a whim, and to my horror, I got in.” For the first time in her life, Van Allen trained – and trained – and ran 26 long miles. “Never again,” she told herself as she plodded over the final hills.

Nearly 50 marathons and ultramarathons later, not to mention a six-year stint as special projects editor for Runner’s World magazine, Van Allen has co-written “Run to Lose: A Complete Guide to Weight Loss for Runners” with Pamela Nisevich Bede, a dietitian and sports nutrition expert. We spoke with Van Allen, now a resident of Yarmouth, about the book, food labels and why breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: At the start of your book, you suggest readers take a “Run to Lose” quiz. May I ask you some of your own questions? What is your worst eating habit?

A: Worst eating habit? Oh my gosh. (Long pause.) I try to stay away from sugar, because I don’t like the way it makes me feel. I do like chocolate though. (Even longer pause.) I guess I’ll say chocolate.

Q: OK, maybe this one will be easier. What is your healthiest eating habit?

A: I really love raw vegetables, genuinely. I’m not just saying that. I really do love raw vegetables, and I eat them three meals a day.

Q: Do you keep a food journal?

A: I have in the past when I was training for long-distance races, for the sake of testing out how different foods made me feel in terms of how much energy they provided, what impact they had on my food and hunger level, what impact they had on any GI distress.

Q: Do you read labels on packaged foods?

A: Oh yes. It takes me hours to go to the grocery store. I shudder to think how much of my life I’ve spent on reading food labels. Studies have shown that people who read food labels on a regular basis have better success maintaining weight loss in the long term. You really have to be your own advocate and understand what you are putting in your body. And it’s all right there. It’s an easy way to take the reins of your health. There are so many factors you can’t control that can contribute to your weight and overall fitness – you can’t control your genetics – but (reading labels) is one controllable factor.

Q: Do you ever eat food just because it’s there?

A: Of course. Yes, oh yes, I’m human. There are so many times when you are in a social situation or it looks delicious or it evokes some wonderful memory. Our relationship with food is about so much more than just fueling up to get energized for our workout.

Q: OK, self-quiz is over. I’m wondering whether writing the book changed any of your own eating habits.

A: I was the most interested by what I learned in two areas. One is the impact of the timing of when you eat. I did a story for the Washington Post and research for the book that looked at how a calorie at 10 p.m. affects you versus a calorie at 11 a.m. Mounting research shows that your body metabolizes those calories differently. Part of it is you are going to be less active after dinner than you will be after breakfast. I was definitely a person who ate a big dinner. The other really interesting thing I learned is that researchers are really looking into the impact of stress – not just on creating digestive upset but also on metabolism. It’s interesting to think about how our emotional states impact our bodies’ ability to efficiently work.

runtoloseQ: So you no longer eat big meals at night?

A: Now I really try to make breakfast the biggest meal of the day. I eat much smaller dinners, and what I found is that I wasn’t really hungry for a big meal at night.

Q: What is a typical breakfast for you now?

A: Coffee and eggs, egg whites usually, scrambled up with green veggies like broccoli, kale and mushrooms with some avocado and goat cheese.

Q: And a typical dinner?

A: Vegetables and protein. We are (mostly) vegetarians, though we’ll eat fish and dairy. We have a lot of salmon or tuna or shrimp with veggies. I am a pretty terrible cook, so I keep it pretty simple.

Q: And have you figured out how to lead a life with no stress?

A: (She laughs.) No.

Q: Because if you have, I’d like the secret, please.

A: Everybody does. ‘I wish’ is the answer. But writing the book did help me to understand the extent to which psychological stress of any sort could impact how my body functioned and how I physically felt. It helped me understand what a toll stress can take on the body.

Q: Have you struggled to lose weight in your own life?

A: It’s so rare for me to meet any female athlete who hasn’t. I was never someone (for whom) achieving an ideal weight came naturally. It’s always been something I had to work at. For years, I thought I was a really healthy vegetarian. But when I was struggling to get pregnant and when I was pregnant, it made me completely re-evaluate my diet. I realized there was a lot of not so healthy stuff in my diet – artificial sweeteners and processed foods.

Q: Is running the most effective way to lose weight? What about other sorts of exercise?

A: Running is one of the simplest, most convenient forms of exercise there is, and therefore it’s the most accessible for most people. Aside from a pair of shoes, there are very few barriers to entry. I’ve often heard the question, “What is the best form of exercise?” The answer is the one you enjoy the most and are going to do most consistently. The sport itself is just really a gateway to so many other things: It’s spending time outside. It’s a way to socialize. Running is very simple, very convenient and very cheap. And it is good at burning calories, too.

Q: Is your book aimed at runners who overeat or overeaters who need encouragement to run?

A: Anybody who wants to start exercising and eating right can find a lot of good information in the book. The reader we had in mind was the runner who was exercising on a regular basis but really struggling to fine-tune their nutrition and weight to energize them to run faster. So many people feel they are eating right and exercising regularly but still struggle to lose five or 10 pounds. The book is designed to help them identify their trouble spots and give them the strategies to fix them. There is so much confusing information. The conventional diet advice often contradicts the advice given to athletes and runners about how to fuel up when training and for races. The goal of the book was to clear up that confusion, to sync up fitness and nutrition. Because it’s not intuitive at all.

Q: Not everyone who reads this column will read your book. What three takeaways might you give them? In other words, what’s the short version of “Run to Lose”?

A: You need to customize an eating approach that works for you rather than just adopting an off-the-shelf diet like paleo or low carb. Your needs are so specific. No one else lives your life or has your training program. George Sheehan – he was a famous running writer – and he famously said, “We’re all experiments of one.” Test out different strategies to figure out what works for you and be flexible to let it evolve over time as your life and your needs change.

Second, I would really encourage you to pay attention. Do keep a food diary. Pay attention to the way different foods make you feel physically and emotionally. And as much as you can, keep it simple. The simpler your approach to eating, the more sustainable it’s going to feel and the less stressful it will feel.

Some people get into diet plans where they have to order certain foods or buy it at certain stores, and it gets expensive and complicated. If you have a regular rotation of recipes and meals that feel very doable for you and if you develop a taste for apples or carrots or other simple foods, those can go a long way to helping you achieve your goals, whatever they are.

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when they make resolutions to eat healthy and exercise is they try to cut back on calories at the same time they are trying to get themselves to exercise. It almost always backfires. You really do need to nourish yourself well when you are pushing your body farther and faster than it has gone before. Trying to beat yourself into submission is not a sustainable sports nutrition strategy. And by the way, you should enjoy what you are eating.

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Maine restaurant critic James Schwartz reflects on year of “Dine Out” reviewing http://www.pressherald.com/2015/12/09/chop-chop-after-a-year-on-the-job-maine-restaurant-critic-james-schwartz-tells-us-what-its-like-to-be-paid-to-dine-out/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/12/09/chop-chop-after-a-year-on-the-job-maine-restaurant-critic-james-schwartz-tells-us-what-its-like-to-be-paid-to-dine-out/#respond Wed, 09 Dec 2015 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=763850 In the year that James H. Schwartz has held the job of Maine Sunday Telegram’s restaurant reviewer, he has been enchanted by smoked blueberries, tickled by Mai Tai Pie and disappointed by haddock that was “under-salted (and) over-capered.” One thing he hasn’t had the opportunity to eat lately is his favorite dessert of all time: crème brûlée. His hard-hearted editor – OK, me – judged that he ate it one time too often while on the job and forbade him from ordering it again. Schwartz says when he dines out for pleasure these days, as he did recently, he finds it “incredibly relaxing.”

“Any observations I had could stay in my own head,” he said. “I wasn’t taking notes. I wasn’t trying to remember things. I wasn’t trying to pick something apart so I could write about it later.”

Several months ago, Schwartz won the Maine Press Association’s First Place Critic’s Award. We chatted with him recently about his first year in what many foodies consider a dream job. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Have you grown tired of eating out?

A: No. All it takes is one creative meal to bring all of the excitement and wonder back to the “job” of eating out. You go to a place and are thoroughly surprised by how tasty or unusual or different something is, and it sparks the fascination with restaurants and cooking and cuisine all over again.

Q: What is your strategy the day you are headed to a review meal? Do you skip lunch? Skip breakfast?

A: Always. Always. Always. I don’t really eat breakfast. That’s not a big denial. I have a yogurt for breakfast, and I always skip lunch. I prefer to “Dine Out” hungry. I find that it allows me to enjoy a meal even more if I arrive hungry.

Q: Have you gained weight since you started in this job?

A: I have not. I am blessed with a forgiving metabolism, and I upped my gym time when I started this job. If I go to a place where I think food is extraordinarily good or so different that it requires more tasting to understand, I will polish off my plate – with pleasure. Other times it may be a few bites of things. Of course, that’s a much easier approach when the food is disappointing. When the chef has missed the mark, you don’t have to eat the entire platter to confirm the disappointing conclusion.

Q: If you have a bad experience eating out, the Press Herald sends you back for a return visit. Do you dread the necessity to eat another possibly bad meal?

A: All of us recognize – whether we are eating out for work or eating out for pleasure – that chefs and kitchens and servers can have a bad night. Consequently, it seems only fair that if I have a poor experience, I return to give the place a second shot. I always return with the hope that I’ll be surprised, and it’ll be a much better experience the second time around. Sadly, that has not proven to be the case very often.

Q: You get paid to eat out at nice restaurants. But is it a hard job?

A: It is hard. It’s not the eating. The eating is easy. I am very good at that. It’s the knowledge that my honest assessment of a restaurant can elevate or injure a business. Not just a man or woman in the kitchen, but the owners and the servers and the people responsible for keeping the dishes clean. And I bear that burden every time I go out. That part is hard. It makes me think of a restaurant I reviewed where the owner asked me point blank not to write about them. She said, “The last time we were reviewed, the review was harsh and it could have ruined our business.” I remember exactly what she said. I also remember that I don’t work for the owner. I work for the reader, and my responsibility is to accurately and truthfully report my experience. My hope is that, over the past year, I’ve established a bond of trust with readers, and they know that I am telling them the truth about my personal experience when I dine out. Then it’s up to them.

People should feel free to disagree with me – and I’m sure that they do. It irks me when people think that I have an ax to grind or that I am accepting payment to say something about a restaurant. I am not.

Q: Do you tell your dining companions what they have to order?

A: I do. We will sit down. We will look at the menu, and I will say, ‘It would be great if you would order any of the following.’ And if somebody says, as (somebody) always does, “Can I just have a green salad?” I say no. And I’ll have you know (one guest) tried to order the crème brûlée the other night, and I wouldn’t let him.

Q: Which do you prefer to write, a good review or a bad one?

A: I much prefer to write a good review. The writing itself is much more fun. Absolutely. It flows. For me, I can write enthusiastically all day long, whereas if I am going to criticize someone, I proceed with great deliberation and caution. It’s more like a grind.

Q: If you could give advice to a restaurant about how to do things right, what would you say?

A: The first thing I would say is cleanliness makes a huge difference. Nothing turns off a diner more than a sticky table. Next, warm service is good. Warm, professional service is better. It’s very nice to have a waiter or waitress who is nice. But it’s better to have a waiter or waitress who is nice but knows what they are doing. The last thing for me would be, simple is always better. A beautifully prepared piece of sautéed fish or chicken is better in my opinion than a poorly prepared piece of fish that is exuberantly sauced. I think gilding the lily is unnecessary.

Q: What is the best meal you had last year?

A: The best meal I had might have been very early in this gig when (I) went to the Thistle Pig in South Berwick. The meal was so delicious and so surprising. I was completely unprepared for a meal that exquisite in such simple surroundings in a town I’d never visited in southern Maine. I still think back on the foie gras mousse. Here it is a year later, and I can still remember that – wanting to close my eyes, wanting the moment of discovery to last. I felt such appreciation for what the chef had accomplished, and I felt so lucky to be enjoying his food. I’ve had other superb meals since then, including one recently at 555, where we had the chef’s tasting menu. But I was primed for a good meal there. It’s a restaurant with a lot of buzz. It’s an elegant interior. That meal was confirmation of what I’ve heard, whereas the meal at Thistle Pig was jaw-dropping.

Q: If tonight were your last meal on Earth, what would you order?

A: I think it would be sole meuniere. Something very simple, very flavorful with a crisp glass of Sancerre and a baguette that I was breaking off pieces of myself to dip into the butter sauce. If nobody were looking over my shoulder, I’d have a crème brûlée for dessert.

Peggy Grodinsky can be contacted at 791-6453 or at:

pgrodinsky@pressherald.com

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http://www.pressherald.com/2015/12/09/chop-chop-after-a-year-on-the-job-maine-restaurant-critic-james-schwartz-tells-us-what-its-like-to-be-paid-to-dine-out/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2015/12/763850_290223-chopchop.jpgWed, 09 Dec 2015 11:51:38 +0000
Cape Elizabeth poet Marcia F. Brown talks about reading, writing and food http://www.pressherald.com/2015/10/21/qa-with-cape-elizabeth-poet-marcia-f-brown-on-her-latest-book-well-read-well-fed-a-year-of-great-reads-and-simple-dishes-for-book-groups/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/10/21/qa-with-cape-elizabeth-poet-marcia-f-brown-on-her-latest-book-well-read-well-fed-a-year-of-great-reads-and-simple-dishes-for-book-groups/#respond Wed, 21 Oct 2015 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=734852 Cape Elizabeth poet Marcia F. Brown’s slender new book, “Well Read, Well Fed: A Year of Great Reads and Simple Dishes for Book Groups,” is hard to categorize: part cookbook, part personal essay collection and part Brown’s own Great Books list. (“Friends who have read it – I am interested in whether they are keeping it on their bookshelf or with their cookbooks,” Brown said.)

For food lovers and book lovers, it’s a pleasure on each of these fronts. The 14 recipes (Mediterranean Lentil Soup, Spring Greens, Shrimp Quesadillas) are intentionally easy to make and mostly healthful. The lists of recommended books – each is described in brief – include old friends and marvelous-sounding, potential new acquaintances. The essays, which explore both reading and cooking, are engaging and lucid.

I have already written down on my gift list the names of three family members and friends who I know would like the book.

One month after its publication and – as Brown reminded me – during October, National Reading Group Month, we talked with her about Howard Johnson, a genius index and how she came to write “Well Read, Well Fed.” The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: The book wasn’t what I expected. I expected it to be about cooking dishes from particular novels or dishes that are matched to those novels.

A: A dish from the book? Jane Austen and making syllabub or something like that? That really wasn’t what I wanted to do. It came out of many years of my being in a writing workshop that functions much like a book club. We started out with Poland Springs (water) and pretzels and snacks, and it wasn’t long before we were making increasingly elaborate meals to share, and really talking about all kinds of things before we settled down to work on our writing. As I wrote this book, I emailed and I polled a lot of my friends who I knew were in book clubs to ask them about their practices, and I ended up assimilating a lot of their responses. People use these clubs for a lot of socializing and sharing and enjoying food and books. I thought of this book as the print version of all those great conversations about food and books.

Q: Why is food important to so many book clubs?

A: We don’t, maybe, get together in warm-body groups anymore? We are all so virtual. The book clubs are now filling what bridge clubs used to – like-minded people really like being face to face and enjoying an evening of good food and conversation.

Q: Have you written poems about food?

A: A couple small ones. Not intentionally. I have a little poem in my first book called “Beet.” They might be more what you consider odes on one subject. Food is such an earthy thing, too. Poets tend to steer away from it to more ethereal topics. Sunsets. Not too many poets write poems about food. There’s a magazine called Alimentum that regularly does poems about food. They published a poem of mine called “Searching for Howard Johnson’s,” which is indirectly about food.

Q: So what inspired this book?

A: I have done four books of poetry and an anthology (“Port City Poems: Contemporary Poets Celebrate Portland, Maine”), so this is definitely a departure for me. I guess I was ready for change of pace. I am a very narrative poet, so I have been toying with the short essay for a while. The book was kind of there. I was ready to bring it to fruition. I’ve been an enthusiastic reader and home cook my whole life. I had the material at hand. Everybody is always saying, “I’ve book group this week. What should I cook?” It took its own form after that.

Q: You structured this book by time and theme, suggesting books to read in February (“Love Stories”) and September (“Time Travel”), for example. Summer/beach reading is a pretty standard category, but beyond that, while food is seasonal, I’ve never thought to pair certain books with certain months. Is that how you read, or was that simply a way to structure the book?

A: I had originally twice as many book recommendations, so (the themes) were to give structure and logic to those recommendations. For every one book you put, there are 10 more you would like to put. The editor said I had to cut the book recommendations; we only had a certain number of pages. The food was easy – I planned to do one (recipe) for each month. I ended up with one extra one, which I put in the postscript.

Q: I guess the extra book recommendations will have to be your sequel.

A: Yes, “Better Read, Better Fed.”

Q: Does your cooking style relate to your writing style?

A: Perhaps it does in this book more than in my poetry? A friend told me they found this book very comforting to read. I thought that was wonderful. I don’t think books and reading should be intimidating. And I don’t think food should be intimidating. I’m not a very fussy cook. I cook fairly straightforward food, I use store-bought pie crusts, and I think the best writing is lucid and not too complicated.

Q: What do you value in a cookbook?

A: I look more for notions in cookbooks than actual verbatim recipes. Then I take it from there and try to make it my own. I love Ina Garten – beautiful recipes, very clear and beautiful pictures of how it is supposed to look when it’s done. I use Julia Child’s “The Way to Cook” all the time. And it’s the best indexed cookbook you’ll ever find. It’s brilliantly indexed. There is no major ingredient or technique by which a recipe is not indexed and easy to find. There are some very fun, quirky recipes in Laurie Colwin’s “Home Cooking” and “More Home Cooking.”

Q: Do you ever cook to avoid writing? Or to help you over a writing hump?

A: I cook as therapy all the time. When I am not feeling productive otherwise, I am pretty sure I can put a dish together. It’s one thing you can control, and it’s instant gratification to turn out a nice dish.

Q: A silly question. If you could invite a writer or celebrity to dinner, who would it be and what would you serve them?

A: Of all the writers I could invite? That’s an ambitious one. Maybe Laurie Colwin? My husband likes David Brooks and Mark Shields, from “NewsHour” on PBS. What would I make for Brooks and Shields? They take right and left positions on everything, so it’d have to be a crowd-pleaser. I’d like to have Ann Patchett. I heard her speak, and she’s just delightful. I’d have to be very inventive. She’s just so creative, and she goes all over the map. It’d have to be something international. If I could cook from the book, it’d be the fish tacos with all the exotic trimmings.

SPANISH CHICKPEAS WITH SPINACH

From Marcia F. Brown’s “Well Read, Well Fed: A Year of Great Reads and Simple Dishes for Book Clubs.” This is the dish she gives for October, a month in which she suggests book clubs celebrate “A Shiver in the Air,” reading such books as “Gone Girl,” “Interview with a Vampire,” and “Edgar Allan Poe: The Complete Tales and Poems.”

Serves 6

2 (13- to 15-ounce) cans chickpeas, rinsed in cold water and drained

Chicken broth to cover, about 11/2 cups

4 tablespoons olive oil

4 large cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup coarse bread crumbs or croutons

1 tablespoon sherry

3 tablespoons good red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon powdered thyme

1 pound baby spinach leaves

Salt and pepper, to taste

4 to 5 eggs, optional (1 per person)

Fresh thyme, for garnish

Place the chickpeas in a large pot, add the chicken broth – enough to just barely cover the beans – and heat through on a low burner.

While the beans are warming, heat the olive oil in a medium skillet. Add the minced garlic and brown lightly over medium heat, being careful not to burn the garlic. Turn the bread crumbs or croutons into the cooked garlic and crush with the back of a spoon to make a coarse paste. Scrape the paste from the skillet and set it aside. In the same skillet, add the sherry, vinegar and spices and whisk all together to deglaze the pan.

Add the spinach to the chickpeas and broth, stir to submerge the spinach and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Then add the garlic-bread paste and herbed vinegar mixture, and stir all gently together. Season sparingly with salt and pepper, if needed, to taste. Keep the mixture hot on a low burner.

Optional (but Brown thinks this makes the dish memorable): Heat the remaining olive oil in the skillet. Break eggs, 1 at a time, into a shallow dish and slide them into the hot oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt and freshly ground pepper and cook just until set.

Serve the Spanish Chickpeas with Spinach in large, shallow bowls, topping each serving with a fried egg, and garnish with a sprig of fresh thyme or other kitchen herb that may still be holding forth in your October garden… Follow the meal with good coffee, those wonderfully crisp Bosc or seasonal pears, and vanilla wafers.

 

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http://www.pressherald.com/2015/10/21/qa-with-cape-elizabeth-poet-marcia-f-brown-on-her-latest-book-well-read-well-fed-a-year-of-great-reads-and-simple-dishes-for-book-groups/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2015/10/734852_308478-20141016_chopchop_00.jpgWhitney Hayward/Staff Photographer Marcia Brown in her home in Cape Elizabeth.Wed, 21 Oct 2015 11:13:49 +0000
Cumberland native, former deputy editor of Bon Appétit magazine talks about food in Maine then and now http://www.pressherald.com/2015/08/19/chop-chop-cumberland-center-native-and-former-deputy-editor-of-bon-appetit-magazine-talks-about-food-in-maine-then-and-now/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/08/19/chop-chop-cumberland-center-native-and-former-deputy-editor-of-bon-appetit-magazine-talks-about-food-in-maine-then-and-now/#respond Wed, 19 Aug 2015 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=696584 Scott DeSimon “loves Maine, limes, and late-’60s era Kinks records.” Maine is first on that list, you’ll notice, and DeSimon – who until earlier this month was deputy editor of Bon Appétit magazine (where we picked up that bio) – isn’t just some high-living, glamorously employed New Yorker who summers here. Actually, Maine is home. DeSimon grew up in Cumberland and graduated from Greely High.

He also has a degree from Middlebury College (“They have an incredible food program right now,” he says), and tudied medieval English at Trinity College in Dublin, “mostly by accident because I missed the registration for modern English.”

After college, DeSimon, 47 (“the second-oldest person at BA,” he says wryly), spent a few years writing for television, which turns out to be great training for editors: “The economy of language,” he explains. “There are no extraneous words, whether it’s a voice-over or dialogue. Everything needs to lead to something else. And TV is so good for that despite the fact that it’s a sad, soulless place.”

When we first spoke with DeSimon, he was a few months shy of his fifth anniversary at Bon Appétit, “a gig I love.” When we called back a few weeks later to fact-check, he’d just wrapped up the annual Best New Restaurants issue (two Portland spots, East Ender and Tandem Coffee and Bakery, made the preliminary list of 50 restaurants, but not the “Hot 10” that appear in the magazine). In other news, he’d decided to leave the magazine in order to freelance write and work on a food-related book project. He’ll remain in Brooklyn, where he lives with his wife and two young sons. How does it feel to leave the dream job of not only many food writers but probably the general, restaurant-and-food-obsessed public, too, we asked in week one of his freelance career. “Weird. Very strange.”

We spoke with DeSimon about rhubarb stalks, the noodles at Miyake and elitism in the food world. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: I understand you grew up in Maine?

A: Literally both sides of my family have never lived anywhere but Maine. They came directly from Ireland and Italy and went directly to Portland, Maine. My Irish side grew up on Munjoy Hill, as you tended to do in those days. The Italian side grew up off of Presumpscot Street, the area that got razed to make 295. There used to be an Italian neighborhood somewhere around there. They were all Maine all the time. In my direct family, I am the only one who does not live (in Maine).

Q: So did Maine food shape you?

A: Put it this way – I didn’t have a shrimp that wasn’t a Maine shrimp until I was probably 10. I didn’t even know there were other kinds of shrimp. I didn’t know there were boots other than Bean boots. I grew up in Cumberland. It was just completing its transition to a suburb. It had been farms with just a few houses. Now it was houses with just a few farms. We would go pick fiddleheads in the spring, and (the old-timers) would make this incredible pickle. Everybody had rhubarb and horseradish in their backyards. One of my favorite things in the summer as a kid was walking around with a stick of rhubarb and a coffee cup of sugar and I would dip it in and bite and dip it in and bite. And the preserving – there was a ton of preserving. It was a time there were enough old-school Maine people living in the town that I got a sense of what it was like. We’d go deer hunting and we’d go rabbit hunting. I was fortunate to see that. For a while, in the ’80s and ’90s, that disappeared. Leaving Maine, I definitely noticed that everything seemed a lot more homogenized elsewhere. It was harder to find food that felt like place.

I had a grandfather who came down from Nova Scotia, he was Scotch Irish, and his favorite meal in the world was a gigantic bowl of steamed beet greens with a big glob of butter and some apple cider vinegar and salt and pepper. I still love that. And you don’t find it. You find it in Maine when they thin the beet greens. We waited all summer to eat those things. Then for a week you’d eat them for three or four meals in a row, and you wouldn’t have them again until the next summer.

Maine is a special place food-wise. It’s fortunate to have natural resources, despite the problems with fishing: Have I eaten my last Maine shrimp? I really don’t know. If so, it was pretty uneventful, a bunch of fried shrimp in a basket somewhere. I hope not. But it’s a place with a regional cuisine, and you can’t make that up. The Chamber of Commerce can’t make that up. Growing up, the cookbook in my family kitchen was the Majorie Standish book “Cooking Down East.” I heard she sold something like 60,000 copies. In Maine. That’s incredible. It’s always been like that in Maine, and now it’s just that people have noticed.

Q: Here’s the inevitable question: Where do you eat when you are in Maine?

A: The Portland restaurant scene continues to baffle and amaze me. How is that possible? How are there enough people in Portland to eat and keep these places going? Generally, I used to go directly from the airport to J’s Oyster and get a fish sandwich, a bucket of steamers and a beer. Less so now that I have kids. I really love Hunt and Alpine Club. I love Central Provisions. Everyone loves Eventide. I love Eventide. But it’s (expletive) annoying. It’s always too packed. There’s a late flight, a jet that gets in at 11. What makes me happy is that you arrive and Miyake noodles is open. And it’s crowded. It’s a signal that Portland has come a long way from when I was a kid. There are so many great places. It is hard to keep up. I try to go to a new place every time I’m in town, but I still try to go to J’s.

Fore Street – what they did, the fact they were doing it 20 years ago – is incredible. And you can still get an amazing meal there. And I love the Tandem people. Every once in a while when you guys post a story, people will comment ‘This is fancy food. This is not for us.’ There are still people who see outsiders coming in as a bad thing. I think it’s more of a bad thing when someone comes in and takes that money out again. Tandem and others came because they loved the place, and they want to build a business and they are hiring people. (They) are trying to make Portland a better place.

I am always sensitive about the idea that food is an elitist thing. The whole foodie movement, much as I hate that word. The way I was brought up, it wasn’t a fetishized thing. You loved to eat a jar of fabulous garlic pickles in February from the cucumbers you grew the summer before. There is nothing elitist about that. You have to eat three times a day, why not be engaged in making it as… what am I trying to say? …as good as possible?

Q: Do national food stories about Maine get the culinary scene wrong?

A: Mostly they get things right. I haven’t seen anything that’s totally embarrassing. Sometimes they put in some restaurants I don’t think are amazing, but in general they get it. It’s come a long way since they would recommend a bunch of old-guard places that hadn’t been good in years.

Q: Will the American obsession with food last? Should it?

A: We (at Bon Appétit) ask ourselves that every month: How long is this thing going to last? It still keeps going. It’s now become just another vertical at the top of a website: Food. It’s here to stay.

Q: Bon Appétit drives trends or at least is at cutting edge of them. Is there a trend you wish would disappear?

A: Not disappear, really, but every so often when I go to a restaurant and it’s all small plates, I think to myself ‘Is this how we eat now?’ Every once in a while I just want a gigantic plate of one thing. Also, I also don’t like waiters telling everything about the dish. If I have questions, I know how to ask.

Q: Your own writing is quite quirky. I’ve read stories you’ve written about entire chickens in a can and one with the headline, “I Ate a 15-Year-Old Frozen TV Dinner and Lived.” In general, is food writing funny enough?

A: There is a lot of navel-gazing and super serious writing. But food is a fun thing you share with people you love, and it should be. Yes, there are food politics that aren’t particularly fun. But in terms of what our magazine does, we celebrate food. We touch on those (serious) things, but without beating readers over the head.

Q: Are you the cook in your family? What’s for dinner in the DeSimon house tonight?

A: I am the cook in my family. A pretend dinner? Because my family is not actually in town. I have fallen prey to the grain salad thing – red rice, black rice, brown rice plus a bunch of awesome things from the farmers market. Last week in the BA kitchen we had a salad with grains, charred garlic scapes, charred snap peas, radishes, a lot of fresh herbs, and it was so good. And you don’t have to cook anything except for the grain, so it’s really easy. At the same time, I could eat the hell out of a couple Harmons’ loaded hamburgers.

Peggy Grodinsky can be contacted at 791-6453 or at:

pgrodinsky@pressherald.com

Twitter: pgrodinsky

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http://www.pressherald.com/2015/08/19/chop-chop-cumberland-center-native-and-former-deputy-editor-of-bon-appetit-magazine-talks-about-food-in-maine-then-and-now/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2015/08/696584_510621-DESIMONCHOP.jpgWed, 19 Aug 2015 10:38:03 +0000
Return to writing lands renowned author in New England http://www.pressherald.com/2015/07/29/chop-chop-return-to-writing-lands-renowned-author-in-new-england/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/07/29/chop-chop-return-to-writing-lands-renowned-author-in-new-england/#respond Wed, 29 Jul 2015 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=684085 Twenty years ago, Sarah Leah Chase wrote two cookbooks that I remember wishing I’d written: “Pedaling through Provence” and “Pedaling through Burgundy.” She led what seemed to me a charmed life – cycling through regions of France storied for their food, wine and scenery, and popping off her bike, not even winded, to savor fragrant French delicacies and imbibe exquisite wines (or so I imagined).

At the time she led bicycle tours, and she detailed her journeys in these two books, which were part cookbooks, part travelogues, part sketchbooks and all romance. In the years immediately before those, Chase had written or co-authored several other cookbooks, including the fabled “Silver Palate Cookbook” and “Saltwater Seasonings: Good Food from Coastal Maine,” that latter with her brother, Maine chef Jonathan Chase.

And then she seemed to disappear, and because the food world has been such a very crowded place in the last two decades, other names pushed hers even further from view. In the introduction to “New England Open-House Cookbook,” her first cookbook in 20 years, Chase tackles her absence head on, telling readers and fans that in the intervening period, she married and raised a son and chose to focus on the home front.

Now she’s back with a characteristically personal book in which her stories about New England’s people, restaurants, produce and seafood get as much real estate as her recipes. Chase was raised in Connecticut, summered in Maine, attended college in Vermont and Boston, and has lived as an adult on the Cape and Nantucket. It’s a book with a strong sense of place. Among its 13 chapters are ones devoted to lobsters, to bivalves, to local vegetables. There’s plenty of Maine material for any Maine-centric cooks – a recipe for Fig N Pig from Primo in Rockland, for Castine Ginger Cookies, for Down East Fish Sandwiches, to name just a few.

We spoke with Chase just ahead of her book tour to Maine about the flavor of Maine blueberries, the number of cookbooks she owns (around 2,500) and why she thinks tuna tartare qualifies as New England cuisine. Our interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: How would you define New England cooking?

A: It’s a big question I struggled with to choose the recipes for this book. It’s anchored by a certain practicality, heartiness, locality, the seasons. Some of it now can be somewhat fancy, but I tried to stay for the most part away from that and have it be food that is very satisfying and related to place.

Q: You wrote in the book’s introduction that, when you first considered New England as a book topic, you told your publisher that you did not consider yourself a New England cook. What kind of a cook would you have said you were?

A: I thought I was a very eclectic cook. I’ve always felt I was more driven by European sensibilities.

Q: Now that you’ve finished “New England Open-House Cookbook,” would you describe yourself as a New England cook?

A: I still think I am somewhat eclectic, but I am much more appreciative of what the area I’ve lived in all my life has to offer. From a book I wrote with my brother about cooking in Maine, “Saltwater Seasonings,” a phrase that comes back to me is “the less you do to something, the better.” When you have perfect diver scallops or a Nantucket bay scallop or a Maine lobster or a wild Maine blueberry, just the immediate flavor of it practically unadorned is so sensational that you don’t need buerre blancs and all these other things going on.

Q: But your book includes some recipes one wouldn’t think of as typically New England, say that recipe for tuna tartare. What’s that doing in there?

A: Sometimes it’s something that is made in New England, like the wasabi sesame oil in that recipe, which is made by my friend John Boyajian. He has been making these infused oils in Massachusetts for many, many years. So it’s taking something (tuna tartare) that you see all the time on menus (in New England) and making it a doable recipe at home, and highlighting a New England-made product for use in making the recipe. And certainly people catch tuna here.

Then for the lobster roll – I used Sriracha, an idea that came from Boston chef Barbara Lynch. I did all kinds of disclaimers and apologies because I realize purists would have a fit about it.

Q: Did you think about writing the “Pedaling through New England Cookbook”?

A: I don’t have time to pedal really.

Q: Do you still bike?

A: I do occasionally. It’s one of those things I’d like to take up again. My son turns 18 tomorrow. So you sort of think, “Oh maybe I’ll have time again.”

Q: You’ve written many cookbooks. What would you say makes a good one?

A: It’s a book you want to cook from. It makes your mouth water, and you want to keep it on your shelf forever and ever. As I’ve been doing this book tour, people have brought in tattered copies of my old cookbooks for me to sign. They say they’ve done 10 weedings out of their cookbook shelves, but mine have always made the cut.

I guess I’d say also giving (the recipes) a story that gives them a sense of place, that makes you want to cook them for reasons beyond just sustenance.

Q: Your previous cookbook came out 20 years ago. Has cookbook writing changed since then?

A: This was the first cookbook I have ever written on a computer. All my others were written on a typewriter. All the editing was done online, too. That drove me crazy. In the past, you wrote notes right on the manuscript. I had to do it on screen.

Also, this whole world of social media. When I met the Workman staff in New York (the book was published by Workman Publishing), everyone gathered around and they said, “What do you do social media-wise?” And I said “Absolutely nothing.”

Q: Tell me about your connection to Maine.

A: My family has been going up there for years on end. This is on my mother’s side. When my mother was growing up, she was the only daughter in a family with six brothers. My grandfather bought an island in the middle of Blue Hill Bay and put the six boys to work harvesting blueberries so they wouldn’t get in trouble. Ever since, everyone in our family has been attached to that island. A bunch of cousins have homes on the island. The rest of us have homes on the mainland. Fortunately, my father was an avid sailor, so he fell equally in love with Maine.

Q: You mentioned in your introduction that despite your initial reluctance to tackle this topic, now you’d like to write a sequel. What would that be about?

A: This last week I was in Connecticut on book tour – but not in Litchfield County, where I based my research (for “New England Open-House Cookbook”). I was on the Connecticut shore. The first stop was Madison. It was just the greatest town with this energetic vibe. It captured me right away.

I had two of the best Connecticut lobster rolls I’ve ever had in my life. I just posted (about them) on Facebook – also a totally new undertaking for me. I’d given a talk at a library, and they brought in a food truck called Lobstercraft. This fellow has his own lobster boat. Well, so much for the superiority of Maine lobsters. These were Connecticut lobsters, and he cooked them in a pressure cooker. I’ve never done that.

So all these new (ideas) after the book is already written. I’d like (a sequel) to have a broader appeal – with profiles of the places I visit.

Q: “So much for the superiority of Maine lobsters”?! Did you just say that? You realize you’re talking to a food editor in Maine. Them’s fighting words.

A: In the introduction to the “For the Love of Lobster” chapter, I say, “If asked, I would say the best lobster is probably the last lobster I ate.” So that probably explains it!

 

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http://www.pressherald.com/2015/07/29/chop-chop-return-to-writing-lands-renowned-author-in-new-england/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2015/07/684085_432841-SarahChase.jpgWed, 29 Jul 2015 08:24:59 +0000
Patti Hamilton makes really terrific cole slaw ­– for 900 hungry people http://www.pressherald.com/2015/07/22/chop-chop-patti-hamilton-makes-really-terrific-cole-slaw-%c2%ad-for-900-hungry-people/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/07/22/chop-chop-patti-hamilton-makes-really-terrific-cole-slaw-%c2%ad-for-900-hungry-people/#respond Wed, 22 Jul 2015 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=680060 Maybe the cole slaw was so incredibly tasty because I was eating it outside; it’s often said that food tastes better outside. I happened to be near the ocean, so perhaps that old saw about salt air whetting the appetite is true, too. In my other hand, I held a lobster roll, plus I’d just slurped a local oyster.

All this summer-in-Maine gustatory gratification came after the personal satisfaction of having biked 50 miles. Fifty miles! Way to go, Peggy! I was very hungry. Or maybe, it was just really excellent cole slaw, no matter the circumstances of the eater.

Whichever, I wanted the recipe and intended to use the power of the press to get it. I called Patti Hamilton, food director for the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, also Maker of the Cole Slaw for the Lobster Ride & Roll, an annual fundraiser for the coalition that sent some 1,000 cyclists on routes of various lengths in the midcoast this past Sunday.

When she isn’t cooking and coordinating meals for coalition events (also the weeklong Bike Maine in September and the Maine Women’s Ride in June) or doing similar work for the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Hamilton farms (organically) in Whitefield – her farm is called Hamilton Farm and Barred Owl Creamery. She has no formal training in cooking. (Q: So you didn’t, say, attend the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park? A: Oh gosh, no.) She always liked to cook for her family, then volunteered at the Common Ground Fair. “I cooked home fries. A lot of home fries. I got talked into becoming a coordinator. And then it evolved.” Today, she is kitchen coordinator for the fair.

The coalition website describes Hamilton like this: “Patti is a long-time cyclist, has traveled to more than 38 countries, and homeschooled her children, all while maintaining a wonderful sense of humor.” (Probably necessary in her line of work, we’re thinking.)

We chatted with her about cooking for crowds, large hungry crowds, about Cuisinarts and in what way she resembles a daffodil.

And yeah, we got that recipe.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: How does one make cole slaw for, what, 1,000 people?

A: Nine hundred. I can tell you exactly how many servings I made. It wasn’t quite enough, because we ran out at the very end. I think the last 40 people didn’t get any cole slaw. I just start chopping. Some people help me chop the cabbage – there were three of us chopping.

Q: Wait, you chop this by hand for 900 people?

A: Well, it tastes better. One (person) had a Cuisinart. I prefer not to use a Cuisinart, because it makes it a little watery. The dressing is a recipe, but the rest is not a recipe. I put on rubber gloves and I pick up what I think is a serving and I count. Every time I add something, I count: Okay, there are 20 servings of carrots. There are 20 servings of kale. Okay, it needs a little more red, and I add a little more red (bell) pepper. When I left Saturday night – we were prepping up at the high school in Rockland (Oceanside High School, where the Lobster Ride starts and finishes) – we only had 788 servings. So I came home and I picked more kale and more cabbage and I brought it until I got to 900. It’s always hard to judge. Some people don’t want it at all. Some people want more than one serving. With that number you never know. And I don’t really want tons leftover.

Q: The ingredients are from your farm?

A: Pretty much. When I plant, that’s my goal to cater with things from my farm. All the cabbage was, all the kale was and all the cilantro. The carrots and the red pepper were not. My carrots are just too small and my red peppers were not red yet.

Q: Do you serve this same cole slaw every year at the lobster ride or switch it up?

A: The Lobster Ride every year I’ve done it – three or four years now – it’s the same cole slaw. When I came, they already had a tradition going: the lobster roll and the cole slaw. They used to use packaged cole slaw. I said, ‘Oh man, I’ve got this great cole slaw recipe. It’s light. It’s refreshing. (Eaters) don’t even realize they are eating kale.’ Now, after reading this paper, they’ll realize they are eating kale.

Q: How many people decline the lobster roll?

A: I find it a little bit surprising, just on a personal level: How could somebody not want a lobster roll? A rough guess – 800 eat the lobster roll and then 50 and 50: 50 tuna rolls and 50 vegetarian lunch.

Q: That lettuce on the lobster roll – is that heretical?

A: In my mind, the lettuce is mainly there so the bun doesn’t get soggy and to add a little crunch. I personally never made lobster rolls before I started doing this. I just want it as fresh as possible and as much as they can fit into the roll without it falling apart.

Q: You must be quite organized.

A: I think I am. I can cook for 900, and the food is ready when it should be. I don’t know how. I have good luck. I guess.

Q: Is feeding hungry riders different from, say, feeding guests at a wedding?

A: Yes and no. Not specifically for this event. It’s just a day event and they are all going home. I do think they want to have carbs as soon as they are done. And there are certain nutritional requirements that I think about. But I think of those things more with Bike Maine. They are traveling for a week. Their only food is through us, and it builds up. The Bike Coalition takes care of the riders really well: proteins, carbs, fruits, vegetables. They have everything anyone could want. It’s like the circus – (each night) we come in a big refrigerator truck. We set up the circus. We’re there for a day, then we pack everything up and move onto the next town. When we get there, there is nothing. Then there’s a whole village and the next day there is nothing again.

Q: How do you coordinate these events in late July and September while running your farm? It’s the peak of the season, isn’t it?

A: (She mock screams. Twice.) It’s hard. Every year, we have apprentices, well we have an apprentice. The last three years it’s worked out that the apprentice is gone before Bike Maine starts. I milk, and I have a creamery. So I just have to dry up my animals. My husband is here, and he does a lot. He’ll take care of the chickens and the goats. He doesn’t milk. I’ll dry off the goats and sheep, and he’ll take care of everybody else. It’s a lot of work for him because he is working full-time. He was excited this year – he was planning to ride, but I said, ‘You talked the apprentice into going to college, so you’re not going on Bike Maine!’ Last year’s Bike Maine ride was up here by my house, so that was really convenient. Every other day, I would go home and milk real quick. So it worked out. It always seems to work out. I do as much as I can beforehand, and then I just let go. I look forward to October when I get to sleep again. I’m kind of like a daffodil. Busy busy busy in the summer and then hibernate in the winter. Something like that.

COALITION COLE SLAW
Gauge the amounts of vegetables based on the number of people you are feeding. Multiply the dressing as needed. You can chop the vegetables up ahead of time. If you do, Hamilton suggests tossing the carrots with a little rice vinegar to keep them from browning. Once you dress the cole slaw, she says it’s best served right away.

Serves: Up to 900(!)

COLE SLAW:
Cabbage – mix of green, red, Napa and Chinese cabbages
Carrots
Red bell pepper
Kale
Cilantro
Toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

DRESSING:
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon sriracha (or other hot sauce)

To make the cole slaw, shred the cabbage. Grate or chop the carrots. Dice the red pepper. Chop the kale into small pieces. Combine all in a bowl.
To make the dressing, combine all ingredients in a jar and shake until emulsified. Toss the slaw with the dressing. Chop the cilantro and add. Sprinkle the cole slaw with toasted sesame seeds.

 

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http://www.pressherald.com/2015/07/22/chop-chop-patti-hamilton-makes-really-terrific-cole-slaw-%c2%ad-for-900-hungry-people/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2015/07/680060_183388-lobsterride.jpgA mix of cabbages, an Asian-inspired dressing and toasted sesame seeds help elevate this cole slaw. Recipe, Page C3.Wed, 22 Jul 2015 16:53:46 +0000
Packed with clippings, recipe book stirs sweet memories of Dad http://www.pressherald.com/2015/06/17/packed-with-clippings-recipe-book-stirs-sweet-memories-of-dad/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/06/17/packed-with-clippings-recipe-book-stirs-sweet-memories-of-dad/#respond Wed, 17 Jun 2015 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=659172 Portland resident Jody Sleeper has set out an overstuffed notebook some 5 inches thick and so worn it’s hard to tell what color it once was. Blue? Gray? Brown? She’s moved it from its customary place among her cookbooks to the coffee table. The notebook holds more than 400 pages of yellowing recipes mostly clipped from newspapers and pasted onto faded lined paper; the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin figure prominently. There’s also the New Jersey Star-Ledger, the Virginian-Pilot, recipes from a bag of Indian Head cornmeal and more. Some of the recipes are traceable, but most have been cropped so neatly, their origin is a mystery.

The very first recipe – page 1, upper left-hand – is for Chinese Souffle; its ingredients – bread, paprika, eggs, cheddar cheese – don’t sound remotely Chinese. That same page offers instructions for brown bread, for cucumber-chive sauce, for Oatmeal Flummery… Open the notebook at random and its scope is either stunning – or random: “George Bush’s Mexican Mound” claims to be “the favorite dish of the Bush family” and calls for taco seasoning, 2 lbs. hamburger, 1 cup frozen avocado dip and black olives. Other pages reveal Foie Gras with Apple Charlottes, Tahitian Beef Brochettes, Buttered Whole Chestnuts, Frankfurters with Onions… There are thousands of recipes.

Sleeper, a longtime family friend of mine, took possession of the notebook after her mother, Audrey Adler, died, and Adler’s appraisals (“great,” “very good”) are sprinkled throughout. But the notebook was unmistakably a project and passion of Sleeper’s father’s, Avram Adler. Born in 1919, the child of Russian immigrants, he grew up fatherless and poor during the Depression. He married Audrey on his 33rd birthday, fathered three children – Jody among them – and had a long career as a lawyer in Philadelphia. He died in 1994.

What remains of us once we are gone? What do we leave behind? Does a book of recipes assembled faithfully and methodically over years hold more than recipes? In honor of Father’s Day, we asked Sleeper to tell us about her father’s recipe-clipping obsession, a pastime she says she never asked him about. “It was just something he did.”

Our conversation has been rearranged and edited for clarity and length.

Q: Tell me about this book.

A: It’s just a spiral notebook, and my father used it to save recipes for my mother. One of my strong memories of my father is him sitting at the kitchen table, going through newspapers – he used to get lots of newspapers – clipping out recipes he thought looked interesting that he wanted my mother to cook. But when you asked me about this book I remembered something that struck me – there were poultry recipes. My father never ate poultry. Isn’t that strange? He didn’t eat poultry until he started having heart trouble after his heart attack in 1985. But on page 3 there is something called chicken pâté loaf. My father would never eat that. The truth is my father was hardly ever home for dinner. He’d come home late. He’d sit and have Jewish rye bread and butter, cheeses, all kinds of cheeses, and tea. That was probably 10 or 11 at night.

Q: Did your father cook?

A: He made a very good Caesar salad, but that was literally the only thing he ever made.

Q: Did your Mom resent your dad telling her what to cook?

A: She was happy to oblige my father. He thought she was a good cook, and she liked that he thought she was a good cook. She liked to cook, too, but she liked pleasing him. This one is interesting – cranberry nut bread. She put a big X through it and wrote “Terrible!” Terrible! This is another interesting one: Broiled Shad Fillet with Roe. Mostly, all my father did was pick out the recipes for my mother. But in this one, my mother wrote “Try this: Poaching the roe before broiling.” That’s my mother’s writing. And he wrote – “Roe still raw.” And somebody Xed it out. I’m sure it was him. His handwriting is thicker and bolder. Hers definitely looks more spindly.

Q: When did he embark on this notebook?

A: Probably prior to 1971. I graduated from high school in 1974. He was definitely doing it before I left home. It was a hobby. My father liked food. He was a big fan of Craig Claiborne. I suspect he was always cutting out recipes. At some point he decided to put them in a notebook, to bring a little organization to it. Page 161 is Nov. 8, 1981, so that’s a span of it least 10 years. He did it for years and years and years. Which is part of the reason I wanted it. I knew it would remind me of him. OK, this one is really interesting – page 38. He numbered all the pages, up to a certain point. He numbered up to page 405 … 407 … 409. It looks like he stopped numbering at 410. He wasn’t quite at the end. Usually (my mother) would write ‘good’ or something like that. On page 38, Paddy’s Beef Pie, she wrote “marvelous.” And I thought, ‘Wait. I remember Paddy’s Beef Pie!’ But no recipes adhere to that page. But when I went to college, I made my own notebook. I hand-copied recipes into my notebook, so I went to look at that, and what did I copy? Paddy’s Beef Pie!

Q: Did you have to fight over the notebook; did your siblings want it?

A: Nobody voiced an interest. I got it after my mother died. I don’t think she would have given me it beforehand. She would have kept it. It would have been important for her to keep it.

Q: And do your own kids hope to inherit it?

A: I don’t think they even know about it. Manya was 8 when (my father) died. She’s the mostly likely to remember him. And Adam was 5 and Noah was 2.

Q: Did your mom continue to cook out of it after your father died?

A: I don’t think so. Maybe she had some favorites in there that she continued to cook? But she got really depressed after my father died. I don’t think she did a whole lot of cooking. She did occasionally invite people over and make a nice meal. She may have cooked from that book. Obviously, she saved it. I don’t think her children were particularly gratifying to cook for because we all had our schtick. She would make tuna ala king – I wouldn’t have anything to do with the tuna, and my brother wouldn’t have anything to do with the ala king.

Q: Do you cook these recipes yourself?

A: A lot of it isn’t the kind of food I cook. Although this one, I remember. It was stir-fried broccoli stems. I might make that – although it includes ¼ teaspoon monosodium glutamate. A lot of recipes seem very complicated. And I don’t cook that much meat. (My dad) used to talk about when he was a kid growing up his mother used to feed him and his brother cream because she thought it was healthier. He had his first heart attack when Manya was born. His brother died of a heart attack when he was only 48. (My dad) was vegetarian for a while. I think it was an ethical thing. He was religious. He never ate pork or shellfish. And we didn’t mix milk and meat until he decided the rabbis had interpreted (the kosher laws) wrong. There are no recipes for shellfish in this book. No. No. No.

Q: This seems such an unusual hobby for a man of his generation. I’d have thought the closest that most American dads at this time got to the kitchen was the backyard barbecue.

A: No grilling. No grilling. He fought in World War II. He enlisted three days after Pearl Harbor and fought to the end. He would not do anything outdoors. He did not picnic. We did not hike. He did not grill.

Q: What did he eat in the Marines?

A: They had rations. The breakfast portion had bacon in it, and the dinner portion had pork, and the lunch portion had cheese. So he would swap because he didn’t eat pork, so he could have cheese, cheese, cheese. When I was thinking about why I wanted this book, it was because it represented my father. I thought about the other things I wanted because they represented my father. (She holds up several items). This was when he was still alive, I asked him for these – the dress helmet and the pith helmet. To me, these also represented him. He was a person of some habits. The first thing I wanted when he died was his prayer book. Always the first thing he did in the morning, every morning, he said his prayers (She picks up a tiny, fragile, very well-used prayer book.)

Q: You took objects with no value, except to you.

A: Right, right. I haven’t even looked at (this recipe notebook) all that much. It was mostly a matter of I wanted it. I just wanted it.

Q: But clearly you cherish it.

A: Yes, I’m happy to have it. I’m really happy to have it.

Q: What’s the last thing in the notebook?

A: At the end is rather a grand inked “Finis” – underlined. Although underneath that flourish, is that a 1??! Maybe there was another notebook?

 

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http://www.pressherald.com/2015/06/17/packed-with-clippings-recipe-book-stirs-sweet-memories-of-dad/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2015/06/659172_287204-20150611_Food.Chop2_.jpgJody Sleeper’s father, Avram Adler, clipped recipes from newspapers and saved them in a spiral notebook for years. Sleeper’s father died in 1994, and the notebook is now one of her most treasured possessions.Fri, 19 Jun 2015 21:46:03 +0000
Recipe exhibit at Maine Historical Society shows state’s changing tastes http://www.pressherald.com/2015/04/22/chop-chop-recipe-exhibit-at-the-maine-historical-society-reveals-the-states-changing-tastes/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/04/22/chop-chop-recipe-exhibit-at-the-maine-historical-society-reveals-the-states-changing-tastes/#respond Wed, 22 Apr 2015 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=626221 If you’re an avid home cook, you’ve probably got a stash of recipes that you refer to often when you cook or bake. The Maine Historical Society also collects recipes, using them to reveal not only how Mainers have eaten through the ages but also such things as what ingredients were available, how we responded to war and the advent of the electric stove, what medicines we once prescribed (our word “recipe” comes from “receipt” and was originally used by doctors for prescriptions).

Some of the society’s recipes are on display through May 31 in the small, eclectic and engaging exhibit “Sugar and Spice: Our Vintage Recipes.”

“Food has played an important role in history, period, but especially in Maine with our natural resources and economy being tied to food,” said curator Jamie Kingman Rice, the society’s director of library services. “We can sometimes live in a bubble at the Maine Historical Society. It’s all Maine all the time. But food and drink are fundamental to Maine.”

We chatted with Rice about calf’s feet jelly, whoopie pies and how our own recipes may look to future generations. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: The recipes you chose to exhibit are quite eclectic, ranging so widely both in time and type. What made you group this particular set of recipes?

A: I wanted to be able to show a range from different time periods, to go from the Federal period, where you have the manuscript (hand-written) recipes, up to the more modern period. Also, I wanted to demonstrate the breadth of our collections. A lot of people think a historical society has only older material. I wanted to emphasize to people that we have objects from the 20th century. The 1960s is still history. The 1990s is history. Everything is history – to show people that if they have things from these time periods, we’re still interested.

Q: Many of us keep collections of recipes we like to cook, in recipe boxes, in notebooks, on the computer. What would make a recipe interesting enough for the Maine Historical Society to want to archive it?

A: We really want to document Maine: Maine ingredients, traditional or regional recipes like brown bread, things that have been passed down in families, or even things that have become more modern regional favorites, especially with the boom Maine has seen from the restaurant industry and locally sourced foods. Going forward, I think recipe collections that document (locally sourced food) would be integral to our collection. So quintessential New England recipes, and not just old ones. What does it mean to be the quintessential New England recipe in 1975? I’m not from Maine. When I moved here, I never knew what an Italian sandwich was. Things like that. Or whoopie pies.

Q: Do recipes tend to have short, hard lives? They get well used in messy kitchens and are made of (fragile) paper in the first place. The gin recipe in the exhibit, for one, looked quite delicate.

A: That gin recipe is from the Prohibition period. The fascinating thing about it is that it came with the kit to make the gin. The gentleman (who wrote the recipe) was an officer in the Navy. Some of his recipes for illegal gin were on Navy stationery. I couldn’t display those because they were so tattered, they wouldn’t have (been legible). But we’ve kept them for the story they show: There was this officer using U.S. Department of the Navy Officer’s Club stationery to write illegal gin recipes during Prohibition.

Q: The old recipes, the ones written by hand, like the recipe for tomato ketchup, were so nice to look at; you feel a connection with the cook. Will archivists of the future miss handwritten artifacts?

A: We think about that on a regular basis. The older recipes were visually beautiful. Even with my limited culinary skills, the recipes I do make I make from the Internet. And I don’t even print them out. I bring my iPad right into the kitchen. As an archivist, I hope there is a way to capture those recipes for future generations. Maybe cookbooks? Cookbooks will be available in a lasting way. But it’s not the same as manuscripts. And recipes in those recipe boxes like the one I have from my husband’s grandmother? To me they are just as important and they are just as beautiful as something from the 1780s.

Q: While you were putting together the exhibit, did you come across any recipes where you knew instantly, that one is definitely going in the show?

A: The calf’s feet jelly was one that I think most of us were kind of “eew.” (Before commercial gelatin was marketed, women made it themselves from calves’ feet and then turned it into desserts that were precursors to Jell-O.) Also, World War I is a great interest of mine, so I found those really interesting. We made some of those, including the peanut butter soup. Surprisingly, it was pretty good. It tasted like a warm milkshake. We made some of the tea sandwiches, too, the peanut butter and pickle relish one, which wasn’t bad. And we made the Washington Pie from the Civil War. There was so much sugar in that cake. I love sugar, but it was too much for me.

Q: I was interested in the fact that as early as the Civil War, they’d named a dessert after George Washington.

A: George Washington was a celebrity almost as soon as he died. They also called it Lafayette Pie for Marquis de Lafayette (a French aristocrat who fought for the U.S. during the Revolution.)

Q: Fifty years from now, what will archivists and the rest of us make of the food we eat today?

A: The most off-putting (recipes we uncovered) were from the 1950s and 1960s. There are plenty of things I saw when browsing the really early ones that seemed good, maybe they needed a little more spice, but basically they seemed good. So I wonder if (our contemporary recipes) will fall into that same 1950s category where we think “Oh yikes.” Like French dressing on fruit salad – that seems so awful. It made me wonder, “What do we eat now that is so gross?”

RECIPE FROM YESTERYEAR

The recipe, on display at the Maine Historical Society, is from the mid- to late 19th century. Its author is unknown. Saleratus was a leavening agent, much like baking soda.

Steamed Brown Bread

For a boiler the size of ours. take a little more than a quart of Indian meal, 1 cup of molasses, 1 teaspoonful of saleratus dissolved, mix thin so that it will run, with cold water or milk, milk is preferable, to be kept in boiling water five or six hours. Have the boiler thoroughly greased. Do not fill it quite full, have about two inches for rising.

 

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http://www.pressherald.com/2015/04/22/chop-chop-recipe-exhibit-at-the-maine-historical-society-reveals-the-states-changing-tastes/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2015/04/626221_501189-20150417_FoodChopCho.jpgJamie Kingman Rice, director of library services at the Maine Historical Society, and curator of “Sugar and Spice.”Fri, 24 Apr 2015 06:24:18 +0000
Andrew Taylor, Mike Wiley took sharp turns on way to chef-hood http://www.pressherald.com/2015/03/18/chop-chop-brief-conversations-with-people-in-food-4/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/03/18/chop-chop-brief-conversations-with-people-in-food-4/#respond Wed, 18 Mar 2015 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=606142 EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third and last in a series in which we chatted with Mainers who are semifinalists for a 2015 James Beard Foundation award. The finalists will be announced March 24 and the winners on May 4.

Savvy restaurant-going Mainers could not have been surprised that Mike Wiley and Andrew Taylor were nominated for a James Beard award as Best Chefs: Northeast this year. If anything, we wondered what took the Beard Foundation so long. In partnership with general manager Arlin Smith, the pair owns Portland’s beloved Eventide Oyster Company and the adjacent Hugo’s restaurant on Middle Street. As locals who have waited for a coveted seat know all too well, even in the dead of winter, even on a Sunday night, even at an odd, sleepy hour of the afternoon, Eventide will be jumping. Then there’s Hugo’s (previously owned by Rob Evans), where the space and service are simultaneously posh and relaxed, the cooking intricate, elegant and assured. Hugo’s, an admiring chef friend of mine said after a recent meal, “is the real deal.” Both restaurants regularly make national and regional Best of and Where to Eat lists. And within the next few weeks, Wiley, Taylor and Smith plan to open the noodle-focused Honey Paw in a contiguous space.

We spoke with Wiley and Taylor about the perils of partnership, the beauty of brown butter and why it’s important to maintain a sense of humor in the kitchen. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What would you be doing if you weren’t chefs?

WILEY: Originally, I was going to be a professor. I went to graduate school. I was good at school. And I got my master’s in rhetoric. I had cooked for a long time in Colorado, where I was a ski bum. I didn’t like the university life and I got to the place where I was thinking about cooking seriously, not just as a ski ticket.

TAYLOR: Similar to Mike, I had parents that valued education highly. I got a BA in economics. I didn’t love school. I didn’t do particularly well at it, and I didn’t try very hard. But I had an obligation, almost, to be in that world so I was thinking about going to law school. I got some advice from my father (an attorney): “Don’t do it. You’ll hate it. You like working with your hands. Do something with your hands.” I think he was imagining sports medicine. But I was imagining cooking. I had always loved cooking. I knew as soon as I got into it, this is what I want to do the rest of my life. And I knew I wanted to have my own restaurant – or at least 30 percent of it. (He laughs)

WILEY: I’ve cooked with people who say, “I want to be the chef. I don’t want to be the owner. I don’t want to have any input on anything but the menu.” I don’t understand. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

TAYLOR: I want something that’s mine. I love the business side of running a restaurant. I enjoy being responsible for it. Trying to make good decisions, seeing those decisions pan out with the numbers.

Q: Have you made bad decisions?

WILEY: Certainly as cooks, we have. (He turns to Taylor) Like that chicken thing you made. The chicken sausage. That was a bad decision.

TAYLOR: Not being well prepared enough for the opening of Eventide. Also, bad hires.

WILEY: But I don’t regret anything about the opening. There was no way of knowing we were going to be so insanely busy.

TAYLOR: We were understaffed and under-equipped.

WILEY: Woefully under-equipped. We exceeded our projections by something like 700 percent. And that affects things like how much cooler space we needed, how much space we needed for cooks to do their work. We survived. We worked like animals for several months. We made it work.

Q: Neither of you went to cooking school. Is cooking school important?

TAYLOR: I think cooking school can be great. It’s a great way to get a base of knowledge. Having said that, I sort of feel the earning potential to the cost of culinary school is not in favor of the students. You go to business school and you know you’re going to come out making $80,000. You come out of culinary school, even the Culinary Institute of America, and you’re going to be at the bottom of the kitchen, $8.50 an hour, living in New York City.

WILEY: I like the idea of learning in kitchens, in situ. If you want to get bookish, the amount of information out there is mind-boggling. You can find lots of second-hand cooking school textbooks. Like a dork, I read some of those. And if you want to see a chef taking down a monkfish, YouTube has got a bunch of those.

TAYLOR: It’s not brain surgery.

WILEY: Our business partner, Arlin (Smith), is the only one of the three of us who attended cooking school. The Culinary Institute of America.

TAYLOR: And it got him out of the kitchen.

Q: You are both owner/chefs. What’s the division of labor?

TAYLOR: He focuses much more on Hugo’s, and I focus much more Eventide. We’ve hired an old sous-chef for Honey Paw. Both of us are intimately involved with the menu at Honey Paw. If I have a flash of inspiration that fits better at Hugo’s, I’ve no problem saying that. And the same for him. We try to cultivate a collaborative atmosphere in the restaurant. I really like it when a cook says, “I’d really like to do this.” It’s much better if the cooks have a sense of ownership because it’s going to taste better.

WILEY: It sounds clichéd, but we have a really awesome community that helps us run the restaurants.

TAYLOR: Sometimes I think I am the luckiest guy in the world doing what I love every day. And sometimes I think it’s a curse because I need to be here every day. It’s a lot of fun and it’s a lot of work.

Q: Working this closely together must be like a marriage. What happens when you disagree?

TAYLOR: There’s a third partner, so it’s a three-way marriage.

WILEY: It can be (hard), yeah.

TAYLOR: Three very different personalities so we can’t always get along great.

WILEY: Can’t all be (he starts singing) sunshine and lollipops.

TAYLOR: I feel really fortunate to be working with these guys …

WILEY: … these handsome, talented guys. What’s nice is the odd number. Somebody can get outvoted. We’ve done it long enough to know you can’t cling to every little decision. If nothing else, you can gloat later on.

Q: Speaking of three, three restaurants on one block? What’s your model?

WILEY: A lot of good decisions and a lot of good food but also a fortuitous abundance of good luck. Our landlord told us the space was going to be opening up and offered it to us.

TAYLOR: Eventide has been so busy. We shared one small kitchen between the two restaurants. We were actually looking for a commissary kitchen, an offsite kitchen. We’d be making all this product and shipping it here, which would have been very difficult.

WILEY: Now we can walk from place to place to place. Just having it contiguous is amazing. Every time (Portland chef/proprietor) Masa Miyake wants to go check on Pai Men he has to get into his car or take a walk.

TAYLOR: As soon as you get in the car and go someplace, you are absent. Here at any moment I can be over a cook’s shoulder and telling them what they’re doing wrong.

WILEY: (Laughter). Or how about telling them what a great job they are doing?

Q: I read that the menus at Hugo’s are hand-stitched. Why go to the trouble?

WILEY: When we were designing Hugo’s, we talked a lot about how important touch was. We wanted everything to feel like we really cared about making it nice. Our partner Arlin likes to say, “Nothing is an afterthought.”

Q: Eventide, on the other hand, is so “playful” – the food, the decor, even the website.

WILEY: It just seemed so natural to me. That’s what we do professionally – play with food, manipulate food. Humor has always been the draw to me of working in kitchens. When you stand next to the same person in a kitchen for 13 hours a day, 90 hours a week, you’ve got to joke.

TAYLOR: More than anything, I want to be having fun. I want the cooks to be having fun.

Q: Your lobster roll at Eventide, for one, is fun. What was its genesis?

TAYLOR: We knew we wanted lobster roll on our menu. We had to have one. But when you get yourself into those regional specialty dishes – gumbo in New Orleans, cioppino in San Francisco – everybody has their own idea. It’s hard to please people. We wanted to take ourselves out of that conversation, to do something totally differently. We worked diligently to get the split top lobster roll. And tossing it in the warm butter is actually classic.

WILEY: The butter – there was definitely a brown butter period at Hugo’s. It was ridiculous. We were just throwing brown butter at everything.

TAYLOR: Once we tossed it in the warm brown butter and threw it on that steam roll, we knew. In those Best Lobster Rolls lists, ours comes up sometimes. Well, it’s not really a lobster roll, but (our thinking was) it still has to make those lists.

Q: Your menus wander into Asia a lot, too. Have you traveled there?

WILEY: I lived in Nepal for five months. But the incredibly drab diet of Nepal, rice and lentils, is not an influence. Both of us had a lot of French food crammed down our throats. French food is great food. I love it. But there’s just something different about Asia. The culinary history of China alone – there are four PhDs in that.

TAYLOR: It’s so different from the way you train. Everything you were taught about French rules, you find yourself breaking those. It turns out that is just one set of rules. There are many sets of rules.

Q: Getting back to the idea of fun in the kitchen reminds me of that hysterically funny video you made a few years back when you were up for that Food & Wine award (“The People’s Best New Chef 2013”). How did that come about?

WILEY: It was right after campaign season, I think. (Thinking about) the whole chef celebrity thing. Crazy. We were nominated and Food & Wine said to us, “You need to campaign if you want to win.” So we decided to just run with it, to be a little tongue and cheek with it.

Q: Is there a video in the works to try to secure the James Beard Award?

(Both shake their head no.)

WILEY: We were informed about it (the nomination) by our friend Chris Gould, from Central Provisions. He’s also up for an award (Best New Restaurant). He texted me, “Congratulations.” And I texted back “For what?” And he said “For the Beard nomination, you idiot.”

Peggy Grodinsky can be contacted at 791-6453 or:

pgrodinsky@pressherald.com

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http://www.pressherald.com/2015/03/18/chop-chop-brief-conversations-with-people-in-food-4/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2015/03/606142_731188-20150313_ChopChop.jpgAndrew Taylor and Mike Wiley of Eventide Oyster Company and Hugo’s.Wed, 18 Mar 2015 16:03:51 +0000
Talking with Alison Pray and Matt James of Standard Baking Company http://www.pressherald.com/2015/03/11/chop-chop-brief-conversations-with-people-in-food-3/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/03/11/chop-chop-brief-conversations-with-people-in-food-3/#respond Wed, 11 Mar 2015 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=602325 EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of a three-part series in which we speak with a few of the record 10 Maine 2015 semifinalists for a prestigious James Beard Foundation Award. The New York-based foundation will announce the finalists on March 24 and the winners on May 4.

I love the baguettes at Portland’s Standard Baking Company. I love the financiers. I love the chocolate rye cookies (and I don’t even like chocolate that much). But these are not the reasons that the story of the bakery, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, is a love story. Some 25 years ago, co-owners Alison Pray and Matt James, who met while working at Rebecca’s restaurant in Boston, fell in love. A few years later, they traveled to France, where Pray fell profoundly in love with that country’s bread and the pastries. The bakery’s story also encompasses the couple’s passionate belief in the importance of neighborhoods, and it’s about a city that has steadfastly loved Standard Baking right back.

Pray and James flirted – OK, had a full-fledged affair – with a second bakery, Two Fat Cats. But after some five years, they sold it. “We didn’t have the ability to divide our attention,” Pray said. “It’s not natural to us to just grow and grow and grow for the sake of growing. It’s so much more important to focus on the details – to wake up every day and just try to make the best bread you can make.”

In February, Pray was named one of 25 semifinalists for a James Beard Award in the first-time category of Outstanding Baker. We spoke with her and James about that, about choosing a vacation spot where they could escape from pastry, and about the heartbreak of making a less-than-perfect loaf. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: I’ve been reading your lovely cookbook, Googling you, researching in our own archives and asking others about you, but I couldn’t find much. So how did you get started?

PRAY: I had worked in restaurants through college and in my 20s. It was in the ’80s. It was a really exciting time in food. Really good restaurants were starting to open – Chez Panisse and this new awareness of local food. But at the end of the ’80s I thought, ‘I’m going to get out of food and do something more in line with what I had gone to school for – economics.’ I was interested in community development. I thought I would travel and build villages. I took a class in architecture. For awhile I thought I wanted to join the Peace Corps. It was really important for me to find work that was meaningful. I was thinking ‘I’m getting out of food service because that was something you did temporarily, right?’ But after all that exploration, I realized there was a lot I really loved about food service. I did a total 360. At around that time, Matt and I started seeing each other. Matt had been waiting tables. He was an art student.

JAMES: I got a degree at Massachusetts College of Art in painting. I had good friends living in Portland, and I really wanted to give this city a try. I moved to Portland. And Alison moved up a year later.

PRAY: I was still taking classes and still trying to find ways to stay out of the food business. But I was waiting tables a couple nights a week at Street + Co. You could make really good money waiting tables, so we wanted to plan a European trip together. We took off for five or six weeks to Europe.

JAMES: Alison was totally smitten by the bakeries in France. She caught the bug right then and there.

PRAY: I was stunned that making food could be a profession, and not just a bunch of drunken line cooks. All the restaurants where I worked – really nice restaurants – but the lifestyle … that wasn’t the future I could see for myself. So the boulangers and patisseries were just astounding to me. The beauty and precision of patisserie, and the quality of the bread was like nothing I’d ever had in the U.S. Naturally leavened, whole-grain crusty loaves baked at that moment that you walked into a shop. I thought, ‘If you want to build an amazing community or neighborhood, you have to have one of these bakeries.’ It was a revelation. This is everything I want to do. Except that I didn’t know how to do it.

Q: Do you have a sweet tooth? Was that the appeal?

PRAY: I never really had a sweet tooth. I didn’t even like chocolate until my 20s. But they were just such beautiful works of art. It elevated the whole experience of eating. It’s not about gluttony and sitting down and inhaling a box of Ring Dings or Ding Dongs but these fine, beautiful, little, handmade, handcrafted pieces of art. Just one individual pastry was so satisfying. And they are not about super-sugary sweetness. The flavors are much more complex than that. The whole experience was unlike any food experience I had ever had.

Q: OK. So a revelation in France. But you didn’t know how to bake. Now what?

PRAY: Coming back from a long trip, I had this feeling, I think it’s common, this feeling of ‘I am going to make major changes in my life.’ I was adamant that I was going to make European-style breads. The breads really got to me. The patisserie was, well, icing on the cake. I really wanted to find a job in a bakery in the U.S. and learn how to make this bread. There were no culinary schools at the time that taught European-style bread. And there were just two bakeries in America doing this – Acme in San Francisco. And we knew of a really small bakery in Boston, owned by a husband and wife – Clear Flour Bread. They were the epitome of a neighborhood bake shop. I said to Matt, ‘How about if I apply for a job at Clear Flour and if I get it, we’ll move back to Boston? If it’s work that I love it as much as I think I’m going to, maybe we can come back to Maine and open a little bakery.’

JAMES: To pick up extra money, I got offered a job being the delivery person at Clear Flour. As the driver, I was responsible for tallying up the invoices. Even though I went to art school, I’m sort of a numbers person. So I was looking around at how many employees they had, how much they were paying for flour per pound, and I started thinking about the numbers. And then I got involved at the shaping table, too. The whole thing was very much a group effort. It was a really, really great atmosphere. That’s how I got drawn into the world of baking.

PRAY: The environment was really dynamic. It was very focused on making the best bread possible. You would be heartbroken if your bread did not turn out. The owners were wonderful people. They were the best role models for what the life of a baker could be: Here are two really normal, stable, interesting, creative people, and they’ve made a life for themselves and a place in their neighborhood. And now they are going into their 32nd year.

Q: Speaking of which, did you ever expect to be here for 20 years yourself?

PRAY: Never. We opened because we had dear friends with the resources to invest in us. We didn’t have the resources. Our first location was just 800 square feet. It was just Matt and I.

JAMES: We started baking bread for Street + Co.

PRAY: That was our only account. We didn’t have a sign out front. We didn’t have a cash register. We went in every day and made a batch of baguettes to sell to Street + Co. We had no business plan.

JAMES: We opened the door and had faith that if people walked by they’d be curious. And it really did happen that way.

PRAY: It was a bootstrap startup. We thought: What can we do with nothing? The very first day we made our baguettes and we walked them over to Street + Co. The next morning, Matt and I are back there at 4 in the morning and we’re mixing our dough. Our screen door was open – there was horrible venting in that place – that screen door was both our air conditioning and our heat. At 6 a.m. someone walked in, Jacques Chazaud. He was from France. He was married to an American and lived in Portland. He said in his thick accent, “I had dinner at Street + Co. last night, and they served me this bread. I have lived in U.S. for 20 years, I’ve never had bread like this. Never. They told me you make it here. So I must come. I must come.’ Imagine a thick French accent. I wish I could do it. It was a defining moment for me. ‘Oh, this is a bakery. We have a bakery.’

He wanted to buy a baguette. ‘Well, we’re not selling them, but I’d be happy to give you one.’ He insisted on giving us money. We had no place to even put the money. And he told us his story – about growing up and what bread meant to him.

But it’s not just French people. It reaches all demographics. The first time we got a fisherman – just a regular guy. That’s when I felt, this was our idea of what a neighborhood bakery should be. Good bread should be accessible to everyone.

Q: Why didn’t you study baking in France?

PRAY: Because I’m not bilingual. After three years of Clear Flour, I thought ‘OK, we know how to make bread and a small menu of pastries.’ But I felt woefully inexperienced to be starting a bakery. The training is continuous, from reading and doing, from hands-on experience and talking with other bakers and working with other bakers.

Q: I run into bakers and pastry chefs all the time with Standard Baking on their resume. Is mentoring important to you?

PRAY: Mentoring is huge. That is the beauty of baking and bread especially. You can’t learn it from a book. You have to learn by having your hands in the dough. And you have to learn from master bakers, or just bakers better than you. Watching what they do, trying to duplicate their movements, watching as they make adjustments to the dough. You learn from every batch that you make. It’s a constant work in progress to try to make good bread consistently.

Q: This seems like an amazingly interesting time to be baking. Suddenly, interesting grains are everywhere.

PRAY: The quality of our raw ingredients has improved in ways we couldn’t even have imagined 20 years ago. The idea of baking with local grains wasn’t even on the horizon. In Europe … well they are small countries. The farms – the grain farmers – are not very far away. The United States being so large and the industrial food system being what it is, to get a raw ingredient like wheat flour from any closer than Kansas, it wasn’t even a pipe dream. For me, right now, this is what excites me and inspires me more than anything else – sourcing better and better quality ingredients, more local and organic. To be able to have both of those is our dream come true. Chefs have been able to do this for years – to have local tomatoes and to work with the seasons. It’s now coming true for bakers.

Q: I understand you just returned from a vacation in Mexico. Will we see Mexican sweets at Standard any time soon?

PRAY: We’ve played around with pan dulce. I like them, but it’s not my favorite style. We try to make food that we love and hope that people will love it as well. We’ve spent years without taking any time off. I wanted a yoga retreat because I was exhausted. And I think we chose Mexico with the idea that there is not a bakery culture that we would be researching. We take research trips to Germany and France – all you do is run around to bakeries.

JAMES: Our hotel room is filled with bread, stacks of bread.

PRAY: Because we take one bite of everything.

Q: We haven’t yet talked about the James Beard Foundation Award. What would winning mean to you?

PRAY: We were shocked, obviously.

JAMES: We found out from correspondence from friends and customers.

PRAY: I got a text from a baker friend in L.A. about congratulations and Beard nominations. I didn’t know what she was talking about. I texted back, “Who got nominated? Who are we toasting?” She texted, “You did!” I’m amazed. Really amazed. First of all, the James Beard Foundation has never awarded bakers. The first thing I think is what an amazing crew we have that have allowed this to happen. And also the support that we’ve had in Portland from our very first customer. It acknowledges all the work and the relationship and the effort.

Q: Isn’t Clear Flour also a semifinalist? Is it strange to be competing against them?

PRAY: Oh, they should win. They should win. They have sustained their business for 32 years. They are what they are: A neighborhood bakery trying to do the best for their customers every day. There is so much integrity in that.

Q: Not to end on a downer, but I read this morning that the World Health Organization wants us to cut back drastically on sugar.

JAMES: Drink less Coca Cola!

PRAY: That is the chronic problem: Sodas, breakfast cereal, processed foods that have sugar in them where there is no need to have sugar in them. And the serving sizes! We eat organic. We really believe in nutrition and good health and local and in moderation. Soda is not a part of our lives. Candy bars are not a part of our lives. Breakfast cereals? Packaged breads? I don’t even consider them food. Do you mind if I have a little rant here? When I see these reports, I feel we are not even part of that. The quantity of sugar in our pastries is very low. It’s just a little treat, part of a well-balanced diet. Local whenever possible. Organic when possible. And good bread. Good bread does not need sugars and fillers and egg. It’s about the flavor of the grain and long fermentation and a tiny amount of salt. I honestly feel that what we make is health food. I don’t think artisanal neighborhood bakeries are the cause of chronic obesity in this country. It’s processed food. It’s cheap overly processed food in quantities that will kill you.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2015/03/11/chop-chop-brief-conversations-with-people-in-food-3/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2015/03/602325_626477-20150309_StandardB2.jpgAlison Pray of Standard Baking Company in Portland is a nominee in the newly created Outstanding Baker category of the James Beard Foundation Awards.Wed, 18 Mar 2015 16:04:08 +0000
Maine chef Brian Hill is living the dream http://www.pressherald.com/2015/03/04/chop-chop-chef-brian-hill-is-living-the-dream/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/03/04/chop-chop-chef-brian-hill-is-living-the-dream/#respond Wed, 04 Mar 2015 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=598408 EDITOR’S NOTE: This week and over the next several weeks, we’ll speak with a few of the record 10 Maine 2015 semifinalists for a prestigious James Beard Foundation Award. The New York-based foundation will announce the finalists on March 24 and the winners on May 4.

Brian Hill – Maine native, former rocker, dad to a boisterous toddler (Piper, by name) and chef/owner of Francine Bistro in Camden and Shepherd’s Pie in Rockport – is living the dream.

“Every chef’s dream is to have a little place where they can have control over the food every night, and it’s romantic, and they’ve a great staff and great ingredients,” he says. “It’s an incredibly hard job, but it’s so cool.” Hill, 49, grew up on a farm in Warren, one of four children of back-to-the-landers from Rhode Island. “We had incredible stuff to cook. Knowing how things taste right out of the ground rather than after a few hours in the fridge has always driven my approach to cooking. At the restaurant, I always try to make it a much better version of what I ate growing up.”

“Don’t tell my Mom.”

We spoke with him about celebrity chefs, happy chickens and how he feels about his sixth James Beard Foundation nomination for Best Chef: Northeast. The interview has been edited and reordered for clarity and length.

Q: I read an interview where you said, “You know, we live in this time of celebrity chefs, and I think it’s kind of silly.” Elaborate, please.

A: I always felt that a chef’s job is to be in a kitchen and not tweeting and posting photos on Instagram. I’m not good at posting tweets while in the middle of cooking. It just seems crazy. I have an account that somebody set up for me, but I don’t tweet. I have chef friends in New York that post stuff on Instagram; it’s interesting to see what people are doing. But to be a chef in New York now, they have to do so much with social media to get that market share, and that seems horrible. I hate that sort of modern chef thing (where it’s) necessary to publicize yourself.

With the James Beard Foundation, I’m so honored that I’m in the middle of nowhere and we still get recognition every year. I think that’s really nice.

Q: But, um, it’s not disappointing to be nominated so often yet not to win? Kind of like that soap opera star …?

A: It happens to a lot of chefs that they are nominated again and again. I don’t know the process they use. But yeah, we’ve been making the Susan Lucci joke all week. I’m wig shopping right now. (Lucci, who played Erica Kane on “All My Children,” was nominated for an Emmy 18 times before actually winning one.)

Q: So are you the Best Chef in the Northeast?

A: That’s a question that I kind of hate to answer. I try. I try to be the best. Or one of the best. We have a pretty good crew up here, a pretty good bunch in the Northeast. Those guys at Hugo’s do a great job. Melissa (Kelly) at Primo is fantastic. Krista (Kern) with that shack at Sabbathday Lake – she is one of the greats. She could do anything.

Q: Have you got your speech prepared?

A: (He laughs.) No, but I promise I’ll be funny.

Q: You’re up for an award for great chef. But what makes a great restaurant?

A: There is a restaurant in Georgetown in Washington, D.C. – Cafe Riche – that I always thought of as my favorite restaurant ever. I’m sure it’s not there anymore. I’m sure that the chef isn’t still with it. He was a Tunisian guy named Benny who made really cool French Tunisian food – duck couscous. And he made a tableside salad of pears and ouzo and butter lettuce – it was just incredible. I stole that trick. The lighting was dark. There were Christmas lights up.

I hate it when tables are all perfectly lined up and austere. A restaurant has to have a real twinkle to it. And it’s got to smell great when you walk in. If I walk into a restaurant and it doesn’t smell great, I’ll tend to leave. A great restaurant is a kind of magical experience.

Q: From your bio, I see you lived and cooked in New Orleans, New York, Hawaii and California.

A: I tried to fit as much experience as I could and have as many adventures in the kitchen as I could. I played guitar in a band until 1992. From that point, I really had to catch up. I knew a few chefs from being on tour. Hans Röckenwagner (of the eponymous Los Angeles restaurant) was nice enough to give me a job. Everything about those years was an amazing learning curve and a real struggle. It’s great to be in the right place at the right time and learn amazing tricks and amazing ways to cook. Looking out the window, I miss Hawaii pretty intensely right now. The cool thing about Maine, though, is that everything tastes better here. It really does. There’s something about the terroir.

Q: Did you always know you would return to Maine (or as his website bio puts it, “Like a salmon, the ambitious young chef headed home”)?

A: It was a surprise. I was working in New York City, and I quit my job and went to Florida. I surfed and fished my way up to Maine and checked out towns all the way up the coast with an eye out for where I could open a restaurant like Francine. At the end of my travels, I was back home to say hi to my folks, there was a cute little coffee shop called Francine (which he bought and turned into a bistro). It seemed like such an obvious fit. We had amazing chickens right down the road, incredible Caldwell Farm beef, the cheesemaker was right here. Not so many places had that then. When you are a kid here, the first thing you want to do is get out. Being here as an adult, I appreciate it a lot more.

Q: Now you keep your own chickens at the restaurant. For eggs? For meat? For rustic charm?

A: They are our pets. We use their eggs when we have soft-cooked egg on the menu because they are perfect. Those chickens eat so well. They are very happy girls. They eat leftovers from making dashi – kelp. And bacon, mushrooms, salad trimmings, and they eat the garden, too. They fight with my daughter to get the ground cherries that we grow in pots.

Q: Was the food in Maine different when you were growing up?

A: I’m sort of nostalgic about some of the stuff that was in this area. There was a restaurant called The Helm run by French Canadians. It was the only place in Maine serving mussels. It was so cool. My grandmother came up and ordered a salad of Roquefort dressing. Wow! I was so impressed. I’m going to order that. It probably wasn’t as delicious as I remember, but I love the idea of that sort of food.

Q: So a guitar band, huh? I read the names of some of your songs from back in the day – “Static Rat,” “Radioactive Sluts.” That doesn’t sound anything like the charming, romantic Francine Bistro.

A: I like to play a lot of loud rock ‘n’ roll. But it’s not the best thing to enjoy your dinner to. It was fun to be a punk rock kid. It was fun to do a lot of crazy stuff and tour with Joe Strummer from the Clash. It was a great extended adolescence for me.

Q: I stumbled on another chef named Brian Hill when I was researching you. Apparently, he has been on “Top Chef,” and Food Network’s “Private Chefs of Beverly Hills” – he cooked for Eddie Murphy and Mariah Carey. Plus he was named one of Hollywood’s Most Eligible Bachelors. Is your life anything like his?

A: I wholeheartedly disapprove of celebrity chefs. What a revolting thing to call yourself – a celebrity chef. It just seems like the craziest thing: You can put on a crazy bandana and get a bunch of tattoos and you can get a TV show. It’s so weird.

Q: What question would you like me to ask you?

A: One of the crazy things about being a year-round restaurant in Maine – very few people ask you, ‘How do you do this?’ We keep a staff throughout the winter. It’s an amazingly challenging thing. There may be a couple busy nights, but if Monday and Tuesday are slow… It’s such a financially crazy thing.

Q: So why do you do it?

A: It’s hard to stop. I’ve been doing it for 11 years. Our employees have worked here for a long, long time. They have kids and families and mortgages. You can’t really just close the door, like I used to, and go to Mexico for a month. And lots of restaurants in Camden are closed for the winter, so it’s really fun here on snowstorm nights when everybody in town comes. It’s when the restaurant is at its most magical. The challenging part is keeping everybody paid.

Q: I recently read the term “restless palate syndrome.” Do Americans have this? Do your customers? Do you?

A: What does that mean?

Q: I think it means that American diners get bored very easily. Unlike Italians, say, who eat the same dishes their grandmother and great grandmother ate, we always want to be eating the next big thing.

A: Restless palate syndrome sounds as bad as alien hand syndrome.

Q: What’s that?

A: Alien hand syndrome is when you have a hand that tries to attack you. So this food is attacking itself. It seems so destructive to food when people try to make food from their so-called imagination. It’s funny I just watched a video of (French-born British chef) Pierre Koffmann. He went to the MAD Symposium (founded by world-famous Danish chef René Redzepi), where they cook all those crazy, crazy things, and he made an omelette. I’ve been thinking about omelettes a lot lately: They are so simple but so hard to get right. He got a standing ovation. I do a lot of things in the kitchen that maybe are unconventional – we cook mussels with pine needles – but everything is based on classic technique.

Q: Well, I bet Redzepi would approve of you cooking with pine needles.

A: (He laughs.) Yes, I did it first, though.

 

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http://www.pressherald.com/2015/03/04/chop-chop-chef-brian-hill-is-living-the-dream/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2015/03/598408_118768-20150226_BrianHill2.jpgBrian Hill with daughter Piper at Francine Bistro in Camden, one of his two restaurants. He has no plans for a third – “Two restaurants and a baby are enough,” Hill says.Wed, 18 Mar 2015 16:04:00 +0000
Q & A with Jackie Conn, Weight Watchers of Maine http://www.pressherald.com/2015/01/14/chop-chop-brief-conversations-with-people-in-food-2/ http://www.pressherald.com/2015/01/14/chop-chop-brief-conversations-with-people-in-food-2/#respond Wed, 14 Jan 2015 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=570355 It’s the season to lose weight – or at least to resolve to lose weight – so we called up Jackie Conn, general manager of Weight Watchers of Maine, to ask her why dieting is so darn difficult.

Q: Does your membership swell in January, given all the New Year’s resolutions?

A: It swells quickly, but there is an ebb and flow. It goes up pretty quickly, and it drops pretty quickly. The people who have decided to stay are those who have decided to stay for the right reasons: They want to be fit. They want to be healthier.

Q: What would be a wrong reason?

A: The wrong reason is because you are disgusted with yourself and you want to punish yourself: “I need someone to kick me in the butt so I lose weight.” But nobody wants to pay someone to get their butt kicked.

Q: Why is it so hard to lose weight?

A: (We live in) what they are now calling an obesigenic environment. That means there is food available everywhere, highly palatable food. There are cues to eat it. And we don’t have to use much of our own energy. There are so many labor-saving devices. You put all of that together, and it encourages overeating and sedentary behavior.

Q: Is it harder to lose weight in Maine than in other places?

A: The long winters. The cold. And as far as little cities go, there is a lot to do in Portland. Still, in Portland, in Maine in general, there is not as much to do in the winter. So one of the nice things to do is recreational eating and sitting around. And there are a lot of good restaurants in Portland. In other places, there are more activities, more things than just eating to keep minds and mouths busy. And we are the oldest state. Most of our population is right in the middle-aged spread years. Though I’ll add that as a state, we are right in the middle in terms of weight. So with all of the disadvantages, Maine people do particularly well in managing their weight.

Q: Good restaurants make it harder to lose weight? Because personally, I find it harder to stop eating junk food than good food, which seems strange.

A: I don’t like to make judgments and call food “junk.” But it’s not so strange. Really great food, prepared well, has so much other pleasure built into it, the experience, savoring. And some food is just built for shoveling. Also, a lot of people have it in their head when they walk into a great restaurant that they are going to have some baked fish or baked chicken, maybe broccoli on the side, and a salad with lemon. You walk in and are planning to have a very plain meal. And then you look at this wonderful menu. And especially if you are not the first person to order, it makes it very hard to stick to that spartan meal. And who would want to, anyhow?

Q: So what strategy would you suggest?

A: A lot of times now restaurants are online, so you can go online before you go and build a satisfying meal and fit it into what else you’ll eat that day or maybe for a few days. You go in with a good plan, and you can be really satisfied but not get sidetracked by whatever everybody else is ordering.

Q: The United States is in the midst of a food revolution with a lot of emphasis on healthy food – plant-based diets, healthy smoothies, kale as the trendy new food. Yet more Americans are overweight than ever before. What explains the paradox?

A: People are looking for a magic cure. They are looking for kale, the food of the moment, to be the answer. Or the magic five foods I should never eat to trim belly fat. But it’s not a magic cure. It’s a matter of boring old moderation. And if you don’t like kale and you are forcing yourself to eat a lot of kale and give up food that you love, you’re setting yourself up – like a pendulum, swinging in the opposite direction. At some point, you’ll find yourself overeating all of the foods you have been trying to avoid. What we need to do is help people have a healthy relationship with all foods. And that includes McDonald’s – if they like it.

Q: Do men and women diet differently?

A: They have different struggles. Men really jump on a dieting bandwagon, not all men obviously. But typically the male approach is “I’m giving up beer, I’m giving up sweets, I’m giving up pizza. I’m going to get to my goal fast and then I am going to eat everything I haven’t been eating on my diet.”

Q: So men both lose and gain weight fast?

A: Yes, that seems to be what happens. And the female approach tends to be more micro-managing, reading everything they can find. They read about lots of different diets and try to put them together for the one perfect diet. Endless, tedious tracking and portion control. Then at some point they say, “This isn’t worth it. I’m just not losing enough weight for all the work I’ve put into it.”

Q: Does cooking help people lose weight?

A: (Yes), especially when they are really mindful of cooking meals that are satisfying and have a variety of nutrients and maybe building it on vegetables and using meats as a seasoning. And smaller portions. Not eating all those (specially formulated) no-fat foods. People are finding that eating foods they enjoy and eating smaller servings is more satisfying than eating – I’ll call it a big bowl of chemicals. There is certainly a movement that says real food is more satisfying and conducive to healthy weight management.

Q: May I ask you a personal question: Have you struggled with your own weight?

A: Yes. I joined Weight Watchers after the birth of my third daughter. The oldest was a 5-year-old. Until then, I was able to keep my weight under control by eating two doughnuts and a cup of coffee for breakfast and a junior sundae for lunch, and then I wouldn’t eat for the rest of the day. But after the third daughter was born, I had my 5-year-old saying, “Mom, why are you having a doughnut for breakfast and making me eat oatmeal? And why don’t you ever join us for dinner?” And I thought to myself, “Oh! This is not what I want to be teaching my daughters.” I had four daughters. And they are all adults now and none has a weight problem. So I think four girls and none of them struggling to lose weight is pretty remarkable.

Q: If you could give just one piece of advice to someone who is struggling and about to give up on their diet, what would it be?

A: I would say, “Quitting is not an option.”

Peggy Grodinsky is the editor of Food & Dining. She can be contacted at:

pgrodinsky@pressherald.com

Twitter: @pgrodinsky

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http://www.pressherald.com/2015/01/14/chop-chop-brief-conversations-with-people-in-food-2/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2015/01/570355_560188-20150108_ChopChop_02.jpgJackie Conn says Mainers have the odds stacked against them in regards to weight control.Wed, 18 Mar 2015 16:04:20 +0000
A talk with Maine Sunday Telegram’s new restaurant critic http://www.pressherald.com/2014/12/03/chop-chop-we-talk-with-maine-sunday-telegrams-new-dine-out-maine-restaurant-critic-james-h-schwartz/ http://www.pressherald.com/2014/12/03/chop-chop-we-talk-with-maine-sunday-telegrams-new-dine-out-maine-restaurant-critic-james-h-schwartz/#respond Wed, 03 Dec 2014 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=547556 Why do Americans love to dine out? We posed the question to Maine Sunday Telegram’s new and always well-spoken restaurant critic, James H. Schwartz.

Variety and theater, he replied without hesitation. Also, “I think dining out is so delightfully social. Even if you go by yourself and sit at the bar, it’s still a community experience. You tend to chat with someone, even if it’s only the server. In a world where so many people I know sit alone with a mouse in their hand, we crave those community experiences.

“The last piece – which may be the first piece – most of us have a repertoire of what we cook and eat at home,” he continued. “Part of the reason that people around the world like to dine out is that we are always searching for something different or something better.”

In his new post, Schwartz will have plenty of opportunity for that search as well as to answer each week the dictate he posed himself in his application: a critic should “tell if you left happy or desperately hungry.” Schwartz, who says he grew up eating “standard 1960s fare” (cornflakes-crusted baked chicken, Sauerbraten made with gingersnaps), spent many years editing and writing at the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C., Cottage Living and Coastal Living magazines in Birmingham, Alabama, and the Washington Post. We chatted briefly with him about his new Dine Out Maine gig. Is he happy? Desperately hungry? Our lightly edited conversation follows:

Q: Foodies – all sorts of people – think being a restaurant critic is a fantasy job. I realize you’ve just started. But is it?

A: Going to restaurants you’ve never heard of or only heard a little bit about and getting to enjoy the experience and think about it critically is a blast. If you’re fascinated with food and with the theater of serving people, it is a fantasy to be able to immerse yourself in that world.

Q: So I assume you are fascinated with food and restaurants?

A: I have loved to cook since I was a child. I had a very indulgent mother. Even at the age of 6, one of us (children) was in charge of dinner one night each week. She would do the grocery shopping, and then we were really on our own. Even the electric stove. She said, ‘You’ll figure it out.’ My first meal was scrambled eggs. It started a lifelong fascination with cooking. I am equally fascinated with the drama of serving in restaurants. When it’s done well, it appears so effortless: Things appeared and disappeared. Glasses were emptied and refilled. It’s a wonderful compliment to be able to say ‘The service was invisible.’

Q: It’s often said that service is the Achilles heel of restaurants. In your experience, is the service usually as good as the food?

A: Is the food easier to get right? I think it may be. The food is within the control of the chef to a large degree, even to the extent that if the sauce breaks, he or she can make it again. I think service begins within the control of the restaurant but can spiral out of control in no time, depending on whether the staff showed up that day, whether there is a particularly difficult client, whether things break or spill, or a neighboring table is disconcertingly noisy. The service is harder to get right because there are more variables.

Q: Does a critic need to have worked in a restaurant? Have you?

A: I have not worked in a restaurant. And I don’t think so. A restaurant critic needs a strong sense of observation and a good taste memory. Since I don’t have the option of typing my review at the table, I think it’s important that I can recall the distinctive qualities or flavors of a certain dish. I do keep a small notebook in my jacket pocket, and I will often jot down a single word as a quick reminder of something. It might say “custard” or “crusty” – I’m looking at my notebook right now. Those actually help me. Then I try to jot down my impressions when I get home.

Because of my background as someone who has spent his professional life asking questions, I think being a good reporter helps. You can ask questions of the chef and restaurant owner – I do that after I’ve eaten there. Plenty of people just want to know how the steak tartare tastes, and I hope my reviews make that clear. But I think having additional information, understanding more about the goals, challenges and hopes of the restaurant can paint a fuller picture of what the restaurant is like. It may not change how the steak tartare tastes, but it may enhance your understanding of where the restaurant wants to go.

Q: Many restaurant critics say that awarding stars is the hardest part. Is it?

A: Yes, it’s my least favorite decision. I am conscious of two things: First, I am standing in for the reader, because I have had the good fortune to go to the restaurant. So I feel a responsibility to the reader to accurately describe my experience. And I am conscious of the fact that the number of stars awarded can positively or adversely affect the business life of a restaurant. That is a second responsibility that I take very seriously.

Q: So are stars a good thing? If you had your druthers would you get rid of them?

A: They are a quick reference tool. If I had my druthers, I would ask readers to check the number of stars and then read the review as opposed to turning the page or clicking to the next article.

Q: How do you decide what to order?

A: I never go alone, so that is extremely helpful because I can experience a range of offerings from the kitchen. I try to order a combination of something that reflects a signature dish and a special to demonstrate how comfortable the kitchen is with new terrain.

Q: How do you decide whom to bring?

A: That’s actually pretty easy. Friends have been so interested to be part of this adventure that they are willing to put up with having me eat off of their plates, having me ask them countless questions about their experience and abiding by the rule that we don’t discuss the review until we are out of the restaurant. I never tell the people that I had dinner with what I am going to say in the review. I ask them to read it in the newspaper or check it out online.

Q: How much of a part does that person’s reaction play in your own review?

A: It has not changed my thinking. It will sometimes give me pause. For instance, I remember tasting a pork dish that I thought was impeccably spiced and my guest arched his eyebrows and said, “This is way too spicy.” So I took another bite and I still believe – and said – it was impeccably spiced. But I took note of his response. At the end of the day, a review is consciously subjective. And what I hope to do is to develop a sense with readers that they know I am accurately reflecting my experience at the restaurant and that, if they read enough elements that are tantalizing, they can and will try the restaurant for themselves.

Q: What would you like your readers to know about you?

A: Nothing. (Schwartz laughs). I loathe Facebook. This constant sharing of information is anathema to my soul. (He pauses.) I have to think about this. (A longer pause.) Here’s something I’d like readers to know about me: For me, elegance has little to do with an outstanding experience. One of my favorite restaurants in the state of Maine is a fish shack that offers fried fish, but it offers the best fried fish I’ve ever had. Also, I want people to know that success for me is not taking pot shots at anybody. I go to every restaurant with the expectation that I will discover something new. The best experiences are when the things that I discover are both new and delicious.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2014/12/03/chop-chop-we-talk-with-maine-sunday-telegrams-new-dine-out-maine-restaurant-critic-james-h-schwartz/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2014/12/547556_799655-20141201chopchop0163.jpgWed, 18 Mar 2015 16:04:31 +0000
Maine State Ballet artistic director talks about ‘Nutcracker’ sweets http://www.pressherald.com/2014/11/26/chop-chop-maine-state-ballet-artistic-director-linda-macarthur-miele-talks-about-the-nutcracker-sweets/ http://www.pressherald.com/2014/11/26/chop-chop-maine-state-ballet-artistic-director-linda-macarthur-miele-talks-about-the-nutcracker-sweets/#respond Wed, 26 Nov 2014 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=544112 In Act 2 of “The Nutcracker” ballet, Clara and the Prince travel to the Land of the Sweets, ruled over by the Sugar Plum Fairy and inhabited by dancers who are assigned countries, characters and confections. The pair is entertained by chocolate/Spain, marzipan/shepherdess, candy cane/Russia, coffee/Arabia, tea/China and Mother Ginger (she of the giant skirt hiding many dancing children). What’s with all the food? We called Linda MacArthur Miele, artistic director of the Maine State Ballet in Falmouth, for some answers. Our edited conversation follows:

Q: What is a sugarplum, anyway?

A: Do you mean the actual food? Or the actual dancer? It’s like figs and almonds crushed and a little citrus sometimes, and it’s mashed up into a little ball. And you roll it in sugar. I’ve never eaten one. I’ve been one, but I’ve never had one.

Q: Do the dancers know what sugarplums are? Do they ask?

A: I don’t think anybody knows what it is. I don’t. You are the first person who has ever asked me. There is a lot of marzipan going around. Marzipan is a little bit easier to come by. You can actually get marzipan in nice stores, covered in chocolate. The (dancers) will buy it for each other. But I’ve not had sugarplums. But I don’t get out much. I’m stuck in the theater. I live in the theater. It’s very possible the whole world is eating sugarplums every night. But I’m in the dark. I choreograph them. I clothe them. But I’ve never eaten them.

Q: What are coffee and tea doing in the Land of the Sweets?

A: There’s a party in that first act. These are all things Clara has seen at the party, and this is what she dreams of. Perhaps in Germany, all they had at a party was tea and coffee and confections?

Q: Do the set and costumes reflect the food theme?

A: (The set) looks like spun sugar. All pinks and rose colors. And giant large cupcakes. And giant large ice cream with cherries on top. It’s very beautiful.

Q: Are there other ballets that feature food?

A: There is one place in “Cinderella,” at the ball, where the jester comes in with oranges. And in our production, we juggle with actual oranges. In that era, especially, oranges really were a show. The prince is wealthy enough to be able to serve oranges to his guests. And “Alice in Wonderland” – there is a lot of food in “Alice in Wonderland.” There is a Lobster Quadrille; we didn’t just add that for Maine. It’s in the dance. And of course there are the tarts. (The Jack of Hearts steals the Queen’s jam tarts.)

Q: Do dancers eat a lot of candy?

A: I would say to the exclusion of any protein. (She laughs.) I think you find that most dancers have a sweet tooth, like everybody does, to be honest. Dancers are particularly excited if there is candy backstage.

Q: I suppose all that dancing must make the performers hungry?

A: We get pretty hungry. And nobody likes to eat before a show, because of nerves. But after a show, get out of the dancers’ way!

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: There is a sign on my dressing room door that says, “If you are coming in here, you better have a hot chocolate with you.” During show week, don’t even bother Mrs. Miele unless you have a hot chocolate. I don’t drink coffee or tea but I’m a hot chocoholic. I also can be bribed for parts with chocolate. (She laughs.) That’s not really true.

Peggy Grodinsky is the editor of Food & Dining. She can be contacted at:

pgrodinsky@pressherald.com

Twitter: @pgrodinsky

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http://www.pressherald.com/2014/11/26/chop-chop-maine-state-ballet-artistic-director-linda-macarthur-miele-talks-about-the-nutcracker-sweets/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2014/11/544112_722647-sugarplum.jpgThe Sugar Plum Fairy is surrounded by Angels who watch over the Land of the Sweets in Maine State Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.” “Wouldn’t want anyone smuggling in vegetables,” director Linda MacArthur Miele jokes.Wed, 18 Mar 2015 16:04:45 +0000
The mysterious Jerry Brooks revealed http://www.pressherald.com/2014/11/19/chop-chop-the-mysterious-jerry-brooks-revealed/ http://www.pressherald.com/2014/11/19/chop-chop-the-mysterious-jerry-brooks-revealed/#respond Wed, 19 Nov 2014 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=540210 Page through a copy of “Adventures in Comfort Food,” Rockland chef Kerry Altiero’s new (and first) cookbook and you may notice a recurring theme – dishes named for a fellow named “Jerry.” There’s Jerry Dressing, Jerry Fries, Jerry Pizza and I Dreamt of Jerry (a burger that uses Jerry Dressing as a condiment). A few weeks ago, when Press Herald reporter Meredith Goad was interviewing Altiero, chef/owner of Cafe Miranda, she made an apparently common mistake – assuming that the Jerry in question was the late Grateful Dead musician Jerry Garcia. (Altiero is a fan.) “No!” he said adamantly. These dishes, he corrected her, are named for Union resident and former Cafe Miranda waiter Jerry Brooks.

Wait, who?

We thought we’d call Brooks up and ask him a few questions about being the muse of a well-known chef. That interview, punctuated with a lot of laughter and later lightly edited, follows.

But first, the background. In the early 1990s, Brooks was working three jobs, as a landscaper, caretaker and waiter. Exhausted and hungry one evening after a long day followed by a long shift at the restaurant, he apparently sat down to a fortifying meal of blue cheese and chili sauce on bread. Altiero, a chef with an unusually imaginative palate, took this “psychedelic combination,” as he called it, and ran with it, ultimately combining blue cheese and Sriracha sauce in a number of dishes that he has served at Cafe Miranda over the years.

Q: So if I went to your house today, would I find blue cheese and Sriracha in the fridge?

A: Oh yes. Yeah, yeah. Definitely Sriracha, you’ll find a barrel full. Blue cheese, sambal oelek, all those things.

Q: Where did you learn to like these foods?

A: It would have been Kerry. He opened the doors to a whole new dimension in terms of taste. Back then, when he opened (in the early 1990s), he was so far ahead of anything in Rockland. Of course, I grew up in my family, where we really like spicy food, which is odd for English descendants. And I had been in the Navy for six years down South, so I had a lot of culinary experience. But he really opened up the Thai food realm to me.

Q: What other oddball combinations do you like?

A: I don’t know if you have enough time. Tons of stuff. Anyone who knows me knows I put some wacky combinations together. I love peanut butter, jelly, Sriracha and green olives.

Q: So this is in a sandwich?

A: These days I prefer a wrap. That’s one of my favorites. Also there used to be a deli in Rockland – I’d call up and order liverwurst, green olives and sauerkraut. They always knew it was me.

Q: You’d eat these things together?

A: Well, I’m not known for finesse and taste. I kind of go for the gusto.

Q: Do you like to cook?

A: I prefer to eat.

Q: Is it good to have dishes named after you? Or would you prefer, say, an airport? A concert hall? A hospital?

A: It’s great! I love food. I don’t have much good experience in hospitals, but I have plenty of good experiences with food. Everyone thought it was Jerry Garcia initially, and they still do. There was Chicken Jerry. Panko-breaded chicken with sambal oelek and blue cheese and jasmine rice. It was fantastic, actually. It was mind-blowing.

Q: Any reaction since the story appeared in the Press Herald? Has NBC or ABC called?

A: Some friends copied the sections that had me in there. But you are definitely the first reporter. When you called, I thought, ‘Geez, the Press Herald. Did I do something wrong?’

Q: Altiero named pizza, fries and a burger for you – junk food, mostly. Is this the sort of food you still like to eat?

A: I try to be a little bit more moderate in my approach these days. I am climbing up around 50. I am trying to avoid having my waistline approach my age.

Peggy Grodinsky is the editor of Food & Dining. She can be contacted at:

pgrodinsky@pressherald.com

Twitter: @pgrodinsky

 

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Talking beaver with a wild game cook http://www.pressherald.com/2014/11/12/chop-chop-brief-conversations-with-people-in-food/ http://www.pressherald.com/2014/11/12/chop-chop-brief-conversations-with-people-in-food/#respond Wed, 12 Nov 2014 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=536373 Bridgton resident Kate Krukowski Gooding seems to be, ahem, game for anything when it comes to eating. Author of “Wild Maine Recipes,” with such items as Thai Moose (tamarind paste, sesame oil, moose steaks) and Roasted Cumin-Rubbed Bear with Cabernet Glaze, she casually dropped Burmese python into a recent conversation about what’s for dinner.

We consider ourselves reasonably adventurous eaters but admit that the mention of beaver in a description of a class she is co-teaching Saturday in Falmouth caught our eye.

We called to ask her for cooking tips for North America’s largest rodent. Part of what scares eaters off about wild game, she told us, is its gamy flavor.

But if the hunter or trapper handles the meat properly and if neither the animal nor the meat is too old, that shouldn’t be a concern.

Excerpts from our conversation follow:

Q: So why don’t most of us eat beaver?

A: Because people think of it as gross, although it’s really good meat because they are herbivores. That’s part of the reason I wrote (my) book, so people get an idea how delicious it is.

When did you first taste it?

A boyfriend took me trapping, and his mother made a dinner for me. She made this delicious beaver in barbecue sauce over buttered noodles, and I was hooked.

You weren’t squeamish?

No. Because I’ll try anything once.

How do people in your classes react to the idea of eating beaver?

The one thing people have a hard time with any kind of wild meat, they are afraid to taste the gaminess. So I start them with dishes that have lots of layers of spices. For the class, I’m making Beaver Bourguignon. If people aren’t used to something, it’s always good to marinate, because a marinade will help flavor the game meat and break it down a little, make it a little more tender. Although beaver itself is tender. Fresh beaver really is yummy.

 Do you eat all parts of the beaver?

I like the legs and the backstraps – the loins. That’s where the most meat is. Well, the loins don’t have a lot of meat, but they are really good. Like a tenderloin. And you can eat the tail, but I don’t like to. I don’t like fat.

So I have to ask – does beaver taste like chicken?

It tastes like a sweet red meat. It’s so red and it’s so good. I had some beaver chili last night. And I just discovered this place in Boyd Lake where they smoke all sorts of things. I am going to have him make me some beaver sopressata and beaver kielbasa. I am so excited. I get like a little kid when I find something new that I know is going to be really awesome.

OK. You’ve convinced me. Say I want beaver for dinner. Where can I buy it?

You have to know a trapper. You can’t buy it.

Peggy Grodinsky is the editor of Food & Dining. She can be contacted at:

pgrodinsky@pressherald.com

Twitter: @pgrodinsky

Beaver Chili

From Kate Krukowski Gooding’s “Wild Maine Recipes.” If you don’t happen to have beaver on hand, she suggests “substitute critters”: elk, caribou, venison or moose. And she recommends pairing the chili with cabernet sauvignon.

1/2 pound bacon

3 pounds beaver in 1-inch cubes

2 tablespoons cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons Mexican oregano

1 tablespoon roasted ground cumin

1 tablespoon sea salt

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 large yellow onion, chopped

1 large sweet onion, chopped

Cook bacon in a 3-quart stockpot. Place cooked bacon on paper towel, reserve for another use. Brown the beaver cubes in bacon fat until well-browned. Pour off extra fat, if any (beaver is very lean, and I rarely have fat left over).

Combine meat and all spices in Dutch oven. Mix to coat meat thoroughly. Return to heat. Add 1/2 cup water and cook 10 minutes more. Add onions and simmer for 1 hour. If you need more moisture, add more water.

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Fifteen minutes with Alton Brown http://www.pressherald.com/2014/11/05/quickly-speaking-fifteen-minutes-with-alton-brown/ http://www.pressherald.com/2014/11/05/quickly-speaking-fifteen-minutes-with-alton-brown/#respond Wed, 05 Nov 2014 05:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=531925 We had just 15 minutes on the phone with Alton Brown, the quirky, antic, whip-smart Food Network star (“Good Eats,” “Iron Chef,” “Cutthroat Kitchen”) who will be in Portland Nov. 12 to perform his Edible Inevitable Tour.

At least he talks a blue streak. Ready, set, go!

As Brown sipped coffee (does this man really need stimulants?) and watched Indiana roll by out his tour bus window, Food & Dining asked him about bow ties, songwriting and his impressions of New England. Alton has spent most of his life in Georgia, but studied cooking at the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont. Our conversation, lightly edited:

Q: We were surprised to read you started your career behind the camera. We’d fingered you for an actor.

A: The only reason I ended up in front of the camera in “Good Eats” (his first show) is because we couldn’t find anyone else to do it. On the first day of taping, I showed up and thought to myself, “I’ve never been in front of the camera before. Can I do this?” But it was way too late to do anything about it. I still would argue that I’m not too good at it.

Q: We doubt anyone would agree with you.

A: That’s because standards have slipped. Look at YouTube. People think cat videos are compelling.

Q: What’s with the bow ties?

A: If you wear expensive ties and you eat a lot, you drip food on your tie.… For me, it’s a practical thing.

Q: We understand you’ve written and are performing food songs on your Edible Inevitable Tour.

A: I’ve been a musician since I was a kid (playing saxophone and guitar). I put it aside for a number of years. When I realized I wanted to do a culinary variety show … well variety shows have music. I abuse many musical forms. The show now opens with a rap song. There’s a punk rock song – if you can play punk on an acoustic guitar. There’s a country song. And a lullaby. So I’m all over the place.

Q: A country song about food?

A: It’s about airport shrimp cocktail, getting food poisoning at the airport and having to get on the plane. True story.

Q: That must be a first. A country song about food poisoning.

A: You’d be amazed how perfectly it suits the genre.

Q: We read an interview in Garden & Gun that focused on Alton the Southerner, which made us wonder about your impressions of New England.

A: Before I went to school in Vermont, I’d never seen snow on Halloween. Or Mother’s Day. But I adore (New England). I like the people and I like the food. As long as I can avoid the black flies. You have a lot of seasons there. Black fly season, leaf-peeping season, stick season, mud season. A lot of seasons to be aware of.

Q: Stick season?

A: It’s a Vermont thing. Or maybe I made that up. Anyway, Vermont is a lot colder than Maine. In the winter, people in Vermont go to Maine just to warm up. The best thing about Maine is I can eat my body weight in lobster, and I intend to as soon as I get there. Not before the show, but as soon as the theater is over. I am going to weigh myself and see if I can eat that much lobster. And I can.

Peggy Grodinsky is the editor of Food & Dining. She can be contacted at:

pgrodinsky@pressherald.com or

Twitter: @pgrodinsky

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