November 7, 2012

Soup to Nuts: When chefs give thanks

We polled several of southern Maine's best-known cooks to learn how they observe Thanksgiving, with some entertaining, heart-warming, even surprising results.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

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Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier

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Sam Hayward

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SAM HAYWARD, Fore Street, Portland

Thankfully, Fore Street closes for three family-oriented holidays each year: Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas. I actually enjoy cooking for family and friends in our home. All of my children and grandchild live in Maine, so unless Ian has to work (he's the chef de cuisine at Petite Jacqueline), there's a good chance we'll all be together, and perhaps some other Bowdoinham neighbors as well.

We're all very collaborative, so some of the cooking responsibilities will be shared. A couple of our friends are among the best cooks I know. One taught school in Turkey about a decade past and now makes amazing vegetable dishes strongly influenced by that experience. Another gardens, bakes and preserves for her husband's midcoast market boat in the summer and brings fabulous dishes when she dines with us. But most years, I enjoy taking charge of the center of the plate. I roast the turkey, partly because I have access to great sources, and because I have a wood-burning roasting oven in my home kitchen that makes for a great bird.

Guilty pleasure: Pecan pie. I spent my middle childhood in the Deep South and my mother, raised in South Carolina and the mountains of east Tennessee, cooked with a Southern accent her entire life. And I went back to New Orleans early in my cooking career to continue my training. Our pecan pie is actually made with nuts given us every year by a neighbor whose family harvests from their trees in Georgia, and they're outstanding.

The filling isn't made with corn syrup, which I've almost completely stopped using in anything, but is sweetened with something called cane syrup, simply boiled-down juice pressed from sugar cane. It used to be a staple Louisiana ingredient, but to my knowledge only one mill is producing it at present, a family firm called Steen's. It's not to be confused with molasses: It's brown as dark-amber maple syrup, a little thicker, with a distinct cane-y taste, and it bakes to a texture that's very different from a pie made with corn syrup. We toast the pecan meats in the oven until fragrant, layer them in a shallow tart mold lined with flaky pastry, and pour over them a filling of cane syrup, butter, eggs and a splash of barrel-strength bourbon. It's baked just until the filling becomes custardy. Bourbon-vanilla gelato would complete the decadence. Hold the marshmallows. 

LEE FARRINGTON, Figa, Portland

So many amazing memories come to mind thinking about the holidays. Thanksgiving was always at my grandparents' home, and I always helped from the time I can recall it.

So, yes, I do cook the feast for our family, and I enjoy every aspect of it, especially reflecting on what its meaning is. And having a daughter, I enjoy watching her learn and celebrate in the moment and meaning.

There isn't any real expectation for me to cook. I choose to, or I will be in the kitchen anyway. It's not easy for me to sit back and see others doing all the work.

Guilty pleasure: Raised in Kentucky, my grandmother did the sweet potato casserole with the little marshmallows. I have to have it on the table. It makes me smile. My guilty pleasure is pecan pie. I only eat it during the holidays. 

MARK GAIER AND CLARK FRASIER, Arrows and MC Perkins Cove, Ogunquit

At Arrows we have a very long Thanksgiving tradition. First off, Mark and I both love traditional Thanksgiving fare, and that is what we have always served at Arrows. It's always been a very popular day at Arrows, and I have to say it's one of our favorite days there. Our guests tend to be relaxed and happy. They don't have the pressure of, say, Christmas and they're dining at Arrows, so there's nothing to worry about.

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Additional Photos

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David Turin

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Harding Smith

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Lisa Kostopoulos

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Chris Bassett


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