August 10, 2011

Soup to Nuts:
Farm to table, the Miyake way

Eminent Portland chef Masa Miyake is living his dream of producing meat and vegetables for his restaurants on his own farm in Freeport.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Chef Masa Miyake prepares lunch at his restaurant on Fore Street in Portland. This summer some of the food served at Miyake’s two restaurants has been produced at the farm behind his home in Freeport.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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Chad Conley, seen here with quail chicks, manages the Miyake Farm in Freeport.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

The chef immediately began looking for land where he could fulfill his longtime dream of having "a country life" and producing healthy, local food for his own restaurant. Part of the dream came true fairly quickly: in 2007, he opened Miyake on Portland's West End, where he prepared traditional Japanese fare fused with his French and Italian training.

The land hunt didn't go as well, but he was so busy managing Miyake on his own that he wouldn't have had time for a farm anyway. "In the beginning, it was very hard because nobody know me," Miyake said in his heavily accented English. "I think when I move here, I almost give up, but God give me another chance."

That chance came in the form of three acres in Freeport, behind the simple clapboard house where Miyake now lives with his wife, 12-year-old son and two daughters, ages 8 and 18.

The trees on the property were cleared last year, and in the spring, Miyake began working with Conley to decide what kind of poultry he wanted. Guinea hens were at the top of the list because no other Portland restaurants have them on the menu. The pigs were born and bought in May. Vegetables, including many Japanese varieties, were planted in June.

Miyake believes it's important to have chefs who are also farmers, because bigger American farms are interested in "just making money" and growing things that are easy to sell. Chefs think about how things will taste, and aren't afraid to experiment with growing or raising different things.

"This concept is very interesting for the chef and the farmer too," Miyake said. "It's not easy, but not easy means very exciting or challenging."

Most importantly, he added, his new farm project will challenge him personally. He does not like to be bored.

"That's why I'm keeping busy – exciting, challenging," Miyake said. "That's my style."

GOOD FARE FOR FOWL

Chad Conley lifts the lid on a chirping box of day-old chicks that just arrived that morning. They are Freedom Rangers, a meat bird that are bred to be good grazers and reach slaughter weight in about nine weeks, three weeks later than industrial birds.

The chickens are moved around the pasture in portable pens so they have continual access to fresh ground.

"They'll get more out of the grass and weed seeds and bugs than the standard meat chicken will," Conley said.

Conley, 25, met Masa Miyake five years ago, when the former was working at Hugo's restaurant on Middle Street and spending his Monday nights off working at Yosaku. "We kind of hit it off behind the sushi counter," Conley said.

Conley then left Portland for about three years, about the same time Miyake opened his first restaurant. He worked for a time at Jean Georges in New York, then came back to Maine to work for and learn from organic gardening expert Eliot Coleman in Harborside.

Miyake had told Conley "when you come back, you have a job," so earlier this year, Conley took him up on it. Now he manages Miyake Farm using both his culinary expertise and valuable lessons he learned from Coleman.

Today, there are only three guinea hens running around the farm, all escape artists who managed to avoid the previous week's trip to the slaughterhouse in Gardiner. The farm's first harvest was about 120 birds.

Some of the meat went to the new Miyake, where the legs were used for confit and the breasts were brined and grilled over binchotan, an aromatic Japanese hardwood charcoal. Rosemont Markets bought a dozen of the birds, and four went to Hugo's.

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Additional Photos

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Miyake Farm manager Chad Conley inspects a daikon plant. Conley is experimenting with three different varieties of the Japanese radish this season.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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The Miyake Farm in Freeport is also home to chickens, guinea hens, turkeys, ducks and these happy pigs.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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A flock of blue Swedish ducks, which are being raised for eggs.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer



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