Thursday, May 23, 2013
SOUP TO NUTS
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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
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.
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.
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.
NEVER BEEN TO ARROWS?
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 www.markandclarkrestaurants.com.
Or, this time, the winners.
The host said Frasier's name first.
"I can't even describe the moment," Gaier said. "I was just so ecstatic and so happy, and wanted to just leap out of my seat."
Just what is it about a James Beard award that excites chefs so?
For Frasier and Gaier, it's validation from their peers of everything they have done at Arrows.
It's recognition that, with no financing but their own credit cards, they were able to transform a rambling house in the Maine countryside into a destination restaurant that Gourmet magazine once named No. 14 on its list of the top 50 restaurants in the country. (The name Arrows comes from the old Indian shutters on the house that were used to deflect attacks.)
The award is also an acknowledgment that Maine has been quietly leading the farm-to-table movement for years.
"For Mark and myself, I always feel like nobody handed us anything," Frasier said. " 'Oh, boys, here's five million dollars, open a restaurant on Madison Avenue.' It was definitely the hard way, every step of the road."
They lived at Arrows for the first seven years, something they could never do now. The gardens (and now mini-farm) have quadrupled in size, there's a greenhouse to care for, and there is staff on the premises seven days a week.
Arrows eventually begat two more restaurants. MC Perkins Cove, a more casual place with a stunning view of the Atlantic, opened in 2005. Summer Winter, located at the Marriott in Burlington, Mass., opened in 2007. The structure of Summer Winter allows a more hands-off approach, so the chefs visit it together about once a week.
The chefs are known to treat their staff like family, and many of their employees have been with them for years. Justin Walker, their executive chef, has been at Arrows for 11 years, and Frasier and Gaier are quick to give him a lot of credit for their success.
To keep things fresh, Gaier and Frasier travel every winter to pick up flavors, textures and techniques from other parts of the world that they can bring back to Ogunquit. Their many trips to Southeast Asia led them to plant lemongrass, Vietnamese coriander and shiso in their garden.
This year, they headed for the restaurants and markets of the Middle East. They spent six days in Turkey, then flew to Damascus (where they claim to have tasted the best ice cream they've ever had) and traveled all over Syria. Next came four days in Jordan, where they took cooking classes "just for fun." Then it was off to Israel, where they spent a few days in Jerusalem.
After that came Italy, where they dined at the country's best restaurant, San Domenico, a place they describe as happily frozen in time. "You know, Craig Claiborne went there in the 1970s and called it the best restaurant in the world, and it's perfect. It's really perfect," Frasier said.
The chefs want to keep traveling, and have India, eastern Europe and Bhutan on their radar. They have a new cookbook coming out next spring, called simply "Maine Classics."
And they are leaving themselves open to the idea of opening another restaurant, as long as they don't stretch themselves too thin.
Gaier and Frasier were barely out of their seats at Lincoln Center when their cell phones started buzzing with congratulatory calls. The day after their win, Arrows received more than 200 phone calls for reservations, compared with the usual 20 to 30 per day the restaurant gets this time of year. Mother's Day reservations doubled overnight.
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click image to enlarge
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.