Thursday, April 17, 2014
PORTLAND — Sam Hayward is a James Beard Award-winning chef who is known for his commitment to local foods that express the terroir of Maine.
Chef Sam Hayward, left, and Maine Fresh CEO Jeff Johnson at Hayward's Fore Street restaurant. Twenty-five percent of net proceeds from Maine Fresh seafood pie sales will go to the Cobscook Community Learning Center, which works to improve the lives of residents of Washington County, one of the poorest counties in the country.
Photos by Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer
Sam Hayward is the creative force behind Maine Fresh seafood pies, which are marketed through a collaborative project involving the for-profit Cobscook Bay Company and the non-profit Cobscook Community Learning Center in Trescott. Varieties include Maine crab, lobster, shrimp and scallop.
His restaurant, Fore Street, has gotten lots of national attention.
Some chefs might try to capitalize on that kind of notoriety, but Hayward has always just focused on his food. He hasn't been interested in using his reputation to manufacture new food products. He hasn't even written a cookbook.
So why is his photo on the back of the box of a new line of seafood pies in the freezer case at Hannaford?
For almost three years, Hayward has been the creative force behind the pies, which just hit the market in mid-November. Sold under the label Maine Fresh, the pies feature sustainably-caught Maine seafood and are now in 140 Hannaford stores in the Northeast.
"It took months of trials – mostly down here at Fore Street in my spare time, and also in my home – to come up with a format that worked for different seafoods, and we settled on four species that are harvested locally," Hayward said. "So there are Maine shrimp, Maine scallops, Maine lobster and rock crab."
Why the sudden interest in culinary capitalism? The Maine Fresh project is an unusual partnership between a for-profit business – the Cobscook Bay Company – and the non-profit Cobscook Community Learning Center in Trescott, which is working to improve the lives of residents of Washington County in eastern Maine.
"Washington County, being the third poorest county in the country, faces struggles that we don't see down here," said Jeff Johnson, CEO of the Cobscook Bay Company and former owner of Pemberton's Gourmet Foods in Gray. "The high school drop-out rate, teenage pregnancies – there are a lot of social issues people face up there, some of which the Cobscook Community Learning Center addresses very well. They're kind of a safety net for kids and adults."
The learning center, which will receive 25 percent of the net proceeds from the seafood pies, helps teen parents get their diplomas; furnishes access to the arts through painting classes, pottery studios and music programs; provides educational programs for students who have not flourished in the local school system; and is working to bring doctors and nurses in training to the area.
The learning center runs mostly on grants and donations, but building a business to make it self-sustaining over the long term has been part of the plan since it was created in 1999. "We wanted to be part of a movement to create new jobs in this region," said Alan Furth, executive director.
Hayward, who volunteered his time for the project, says he couldn't resist the idea of combining good food with the social mission behind the Maine Fresh brand, especially after visiting the community center for himself. During his first day there, he watched as 50 people participated in a sing-a-long in honor of a local musician who had just passed away, "and I fell in love with the project."
"It matched my values," he said. "My food values matched with the community values."
TESTING, TESTING, TESTING
Seafood chowders were the first thought, but then a consultant suggested there's a wide-open niche in the market for seafood-based pies.
Hayward got to work developing recipes for the pies, and over the past couple of years has tested hundreds of versions with the help of friends, restaurant staff and family. "It was a huge learning curve for me, incredibly steep," he said.
There are no preservatives, antibiotics, or artificial or genetically-modifed ingredients in any of the pies. They contain a veloute sauce, vegetables, seafood and seasoning, and are topped with a whole wheat crust. Each 9.9-ounce pie includes 2 ounces of seafood. (In the scallop pie I tried, that translated into nine scallops.)
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click image to enlarge
Sold under the label Maine Fresh, the pies feature sustainably-caught Maine seafood and are now in 140 Hannaford stores in the Northeast.
click image to enlarge
The pies contain a veloute sauce, vegetables, seafood and seasoning, and are topped with a whole wheat crust. Each 9.9-ounce pie includes 2 ounces of seafood.