May 19, 2010

A Beard award, finally!

Maine's culinary community rejoiced when, after six nominations and zero medals, Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier won the prestigious James Beard award for Best Chef in the Northeast.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

OGUNQUIT - Three days after winning the James Beard Foundation's award for Best Chef in the Northeast, Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier sat down in their dining room at Arrows to talk about what it felt like to win, at last.

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Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier, chef/owners of Arrows and MC Perkins Cove restaurants in Ogunquit, pose with the Best Chef/Northeast medals bestowed on them by the James Beard Foundation. " can't even describe the moment (when the prize was announced in New York)," Gaier says. "I was just so ecstatic and so happy, and wanted to just leap out of my seat."

Photos by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Frasier and Gaier opened Arrows 20 years ago and have always been “ahead of the curve,” said Melissa Kelly, chef/owner of Primo restaurant in Rockland and herself a Beard award winner in 1999.

John Patriquin

Additional Photos Below

Maine now has four chefs who have been awarded the title of Best Chef in the Northeast by the James Beard Foundation.
In addition to the Arrows chefs in Ogunquit and Melissa Kelly, chef/owner of Primo in Rockland, two Portland chefs have brought home the honor. Sam Hayward of Fore Street took the prize in 2004. Rob Evans, chef/owner of Hugo’s, won the medal last year.

Who’s next?

Kelly thinks there are more chefs working in Maine – and outside of Portland – who should be nominated.

“I think Rich Hanson from Cleonice (in Ellsworth) is very talented, and I think he’s doing really smart sustainable cooking,” she said. “And to me, that’s more important than putting your ego on a plate.”

Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier say the state shouldn’t hold its breath for another win next year, even if more Maine chefs are nominated. After all, Maine has now won two years in a row, and there are some other New England chefs who have had multiple nominations with no wins. Michael Levinson of Lumiere in West Newton, Mass., has been nominated three times, and Marc Orfaly of Pigalle in Boston has seen his name on the list six times.

“Now it’s kind of their turn,” Frasier said.


CONSIDER TRYING one of the restaurant’s “Around the World” dinners inspired by the chefs’ most recent travels. The dinners offer five courses for $58, or $89 with wine.

MAY 23: Dinner at San Domenico, Italy’s best restaurant.

JUNE 27: A Mediterranean dinner featuring food from Constantinople, Damascus, Amman, Jerusalem and Florence.

OCT. 17: “Arabian Nights” dinner based on the chefs’ visit to Narange, the best restaurant in Damascus.

OCT. 31: A dinner at Cibreo, a favorite restaurant in Florence.

FOR MORE INFORMATION on these and other dinners, or to make reservations, call 361-1100 or go to

Outside, their famed gardens were greening up nicely for the growing season. Tulip beds provided a splash of color, and the wisteria over the doorway to the 18th-century post-and-beam farmhouse-turned-restaurant was in luscious bloom.

At a table covered in white linen, "the boys" (as many of their fans call them) cradled their medals attached to kelly green ribbons, and pondered where the prizes would be displayed. Most likely, the medals will end up in frames, they said, with one displayed here and one at MC Perkins Cove, their other Ogunquit restaurant.

When it was suggested that their diners would probably be very interested to see what a James Beard medal looks like, Gaier couldn't help himself.

"I wanted to know what they look like," he blurted out, and both men dissolved into laughter.

The James Beard awards are often referred to as the culinary equivalent of the Oscars. After going home without the coveted medal six years in a row, Gaier and Frasier have learned to have a sense of humor about the situation. There's no doubt that they've always been considered deserving. Indeed, Maine's food community seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief when it heard the news that the award was finally theirs.

"I'm definitely really happy that they won," said Melissa Kelly, chef/owner of Primo in Rockland and the 1999 winner of Best Chef in the Northeast. "I always nominate them. I think they deserve it. They really are icons in the business."

Kelly said Frasier and Gaier have been "ahead of the curve" ever since they opened Arrows just over 20 years ago. Yes, they planted a restaurant garden in 1992 when the concept was practically unheard of, but even the idea of Arrows was a gamble in the late 1980s -- the act of "opening a great restaurant that's not in a major city," Kelly said.

"I'd say they were trendsetters there, because I think that took a lot of guts to do back then," she said.

But with each loss at the James Beard awards ceremony at Lincoln Center, the Arrows chefs faced the prospect of becoming the culinary equivalent of Richard Burton, the iconic actor who was nominated for an Academy Award seven times but never won.

Last year, when it came time to make travel plans for New York, the chefs sort of threw up their hands and stayed home.

"Last year, we were kind of -- not sour grapes, but I'm like, 'You know what? I'm not going to go anymore,' " Gaier said. "Marc Vetri (a well-known Philadelphia chef), who had been nominated quite a few times, said, 'You know, I stopped going and then I won.' "

"So we didn't go last year " Frasier said.

"And we still didn't win," Gaier finished. "So this year, I thought, 'You know what? I don't really want to go.' And Clark said, 'I think we should.' And then I kept hearing from different people, people in the business: 'I think you should really go this year. I think you should go. I think it's your year.' "

So they decided to go, even if Gaier was feeling "a little uptight about it, because what if we don't win again? I'm going to jump out the window of Lincoln Center."

They were given two seats down front, at the end of an aisle, which was their first clue their luck was about to change. As they watched the nominees' names flash on a giant screen in front of the 3,000 guests, their palms began to sweat and they thought their hearts would pound out of their chests. Then the winner was announced.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Happiness is: Mark Gaier, left, and Clark Frasier smile for the cameras moments after winning their James Beard award for Best Chef in the Northeast.


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