March 9, 2011

These are a few of Maine chefs' . . . favorite things

We consulted with 20 Restaurant Week chefs and asked them to share tricks, tips, tools, recipes -- anything, really -- that they've grown to love in the past year.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

Saveur magazine has its Saveur 100: Chefs' Edition. Here, in honor of Maine Restaurant Week, we present the "Maine 20."

click image to enlarge

Staff art by Michael Fisher

We asked 20 southern and midcoast Maine chefs who are participating in Restaurant Week to write a little about their favorite new ingredient, food product, book, kitchen tool or trick, restaurant dish -- anything they have discovered during the past year and now can't live without.

Some chefs wrote about things they've discovered in their kitchens, while others wrote about things they've discovered about themselves. Here's what they had to say:

My favorite new trick came to me last fall when one of my industrious cooks stormed into my office and threw Michel Richard's book, "Happy in the Kitchen: The Craft of Cooking, the Art of Eating," on my desk and insisted it was the coolest thing he'd seen since Shaun White took over the half-pipe. So I read it, and I'm hot for it. The Potato Risotto concept is killer. I have made the dish using sweet potatoes, and it blew my mind. His idea is creative and innovative, yet simple and elegant, just the way I like it.

-- Christopher Bassett, executive chef, Azure Cafe, Freeport

The ancient grain of farro is the newest ingredient that we try to find a home for at Ribollita. Sometimes blended with pesto for a taste component in our antipasti, or flecked into a spinach salad for added nuttiness and texture. My favorite addition has been a Farro and Black Olive Tapenade Salad.

-- Kevin Quiet, chef/owner, Ribollita, Portland

This past summer, we raised four pigs at our farm in Windham. I have always known that I loved pigs and everything that they are, but until I went through the experience of raising them, feeding them beer and cheese and watching them grow fat and happy, I don't think I ever truly understood what noble beasts they are. They love people, they love to eat, and when they are raised properly, they are the perfect food.

Our chefs and cooks have crafted them into so many delicious things. We made fantastic pancetta, bacon, lardo and country ham. We confitted the heart, smoked the liver and jowls, and fried the skin for chicharones. We have several other cuts hanging for prosciutto and speck. The sweetness and almost floral flavor of the fat absolutely blows my mind. Without a doubt one of the highlights of my career. I think we'll raise 10 this year. Oh, and read the book "Pig Perfect" by Peter Kaminsky. He proves that pigs are good for you!

-- Harding Smith, chef/owner, The Front Room, The Corner Room and The Grill Room, all in Portland

Lately, I've become obsessed with American-made knives. For most of my culinary career there have been three basic categories of cutlery from which to choose: clunky, diehard and affordable German and French knives; elegant, precise, and costly Japanese knives; and good old, cheap, plastic-handled American knives. After so many hours and dollars spent, I've become an object of ridicule (in my own home!) for my loyalty to my $10 Dexter -- not the "Dark Passenger" Dexter, but the keep-grinding-that-blade-down-until-it-eventually-becomes-a-roast-beef-slicer Dexter. Those Euro knives are just impossible to keep sharp, and those Japanese knives are just too precious.

Imagine my delight when I discovered the emergence of a whole new category: Bad--- American Knives. Guys like Adam Simha of MKS design, Joel Bukiewicz of Cut Brooklyn, and Quintin Middleton of Middleton Made Knives are making beautiful, unique, expertly crafted cutlery here on the East Coast. My MKS chef knife feels less like a tool and more like an extension of my mind. And I definitely feel good about giving my hard-earned money to dedicated and talented craftsmen.

(Continued on page 2)

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