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

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Staff art by Michael Fisher

-- Steve Corry, chef/owner, Five Fifty-Five, Portland

I was fortunate enough to have two very different things -- one a product, the other a concept -- affect my professional life this year. The product is prosciutto lovingly cured and cared for by Kathy Trodden at Second Chance Farm. I was so impressed by the texture and flavor, I committed two legs from pigs she had grown to be prepared and ready for this summer. The prosciutto undergoes a year-long curing and maturing process, so we should see these little gems around June or July.

Hand in hand with the prosciutto came a realization into myself. With all the current trends in the food industry to try and manipulate and re-fabricate food into something it is not, I took a moment to remember what got me here in the first place: SIMPLICITY. Trusting the ingredients you work with (regardless of price), honoring the hard-working people who brought the food to your table, and trying not to screw up what nature has already made perfect is the everlasting mantra we should live by.

-- Jeff Landry, chef/owner, The Farmers Table, Portland

The most interesting thing we have done is buy a Cryovac machine for multiple purposes. The first was the cooking processes that we could incorporate into the menu. The one item that we came up with was a turkey chop that we lightly brine for an hour and then slow cook for 30 minutes in a water bath. It makes the turkey tender like filet mignon. We also have been experimenting with vegetables in sous-vide.

-- Lee Skawinski, chef/co-owner, Cinque Terre and Vignola, Portland

Saturday's (farmers) market in Deering Oaks is more of a family outing for us. Wednesday (at Monument Square) is my working market. It's the start of our regular service week so it's nice to get there early, walk through and say hello to our friends at Freedom Farm, Green Spark, Thirty Acre and Fishbowl and make plans for all the great stuff grown so close to home. I know that I could get stuff delivered to the restaurant, but I really like loading up my shopping bags at the market.

-- Guy Hernandez, chef/owner, Bar Lola, Portland

My favorite kitchen tool is definitely my knife. It's the most versatile and the most necessary item in the kitchen. It's pounded Japanese steel. This particular knife is new. I'm always upgrading. I have up to 36 different things I use on any given day, but this is the one item I use the most. Once you have a really good knife, you can really see and feel the difference. It cuts really well, and it feels good when you use it. It makes everyday chores nice. I like it so much I even have it on my Facebook profile.

-- Jeff Hodgdon, executive chef, The Salt Exchange, Portland

Most recently, I have found "Boulevard: The Cookbook." This book is full of simple, delicious accompaniments, as well as some really nice ideas on how to elevate simple meats and fish: stuffed duck breasts, fried rabbit legs in a Parmesan crust and confit of sweetbreads. I haven't yet tried them all, but the book is so well-written and explained that you can just tell their methods will work well. Also, I've finally embraced the idea of cooking some things "sous-vide." It's really amazing how much this technique really changes the game. Pheasant breasts that I used to struggle to keep moist are no problem at all.

-- Larry Matthews Jr., chef/owner, Back Bay Grill, Portland

My favorite ingredient is pork, and the reason for this is come on, IT'S PORK, it is extremely versatile and anyone that knows me knows that BBQ is my passion! My favorite kitchen utensils are my plating spoons from Gray Kunz because they are 2½ tablespoons and they are the perfect tool for working with sauces, measuring and plating. My all-time favorite cookbook would have to be "The Craft of Cooking" by Tom Colicchio. This is just a "cook's" cookbook with a few key elements simplicity yet exquisite.

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