November 21, 2012

Soup to Nuts: For Maine restaurants, Thanksgiving calls for mass production

On this Thanksgiving Eve, be thankful you're not Eric Flynn, the head chef at the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport, who will be cooking for a record 900 people today.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

So you think you have it tough today, scrambling to bake pies and cube bread for stuffing to feed the hungry hordes that will land on your doorstep tomorrow?

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Chef Eric Flynn poses with some of the 800 pounds of potatoes he ordered for Thanksgiving dinner at Freeport’s Harraseeket Inn.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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Chef Steve Corry finally decided to open Five Fifty-Five on Thanksgiving this year after a steady increase in inquiries about a holiday dinner in recent years.

Press Herald file/Jack Milton

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On this Thanksgiving Eve, be thankful you're not Eric Flynn, the head chef at the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport, who will be cooking for a record 900 people today.

That's equivalent to the entire population of Ogunquit.

To feed that many people, Flynn made sure that, by last Friday, he had 800 pounds of potatoes (from three farms) in his walk-in cooler, along with 1,200 pounds of root vegetables such as parsnips, turnips, rutabagas and carrots.

Yesterday, 44 turkeys, weighing about 30 pounds each, arrived from Wolfe's Neck Farm. Their legs, thighs and wings were quickly dispatched to make 25 gallons of stock that will be transformed into 15 gallons of gravy.

If you're one of those strange beasts who have tired of turkey, that's OK. Flynn also has 575 pounds of prime rib and 750 pounds of lobster for the buffet table. There's pork prepared two ways, seared scallops over a tomato and Hen of the Woods ragout with lemon thyme and citrus zest, and roasted salmon over crushed Peruvian lima beans with brown butter-sauteed Brussels sprouts leaves and shallots.

The Harraseeket calls its Thanksgiving dinner a "Grand Buffet," and a glance at the menu shows it lives up to its name. In addition to the meats and seafoods, there's nine different appetizers, a large selection of soups, salads and sides, and 11 different desserts.

The buffet is a 23-year-old tradition that has made a big-time comeback after losing a few diners in the aftermath of the 2008 financial meltdown. When it opened in 1989, there were 100-plus guests. It has grown every year, except for the recent dip because of the recession, and by last year the number of guests had climbed to more than 700.

During the past few weeks, Americans have been inundated, on television and in food magazines, with gorgeous, drool-worthy images of Thanksgiving food and the familiar debates about whether or not to brine the turkey, how to season the bird, and should you roast it again or finally try frying it this year? Bread, rice or cornbread stuffing? Pumpkin, apple or mincemeat pie? If an alien landed on Earth at Thanksgiving, he'd think we were plotting war, not planning a dinner menu.

People make jokes about "food porn" the rest of the year, but Thanksgiving is a culinary peep show without the guilt. It doesn't matter if you're a wishbone-thin model or a meaty linebacker, we all embrace this annual opportunity to wallow in our fantasies of making better gravy than our mother-in-law.

So why do so many people decide to go to a restaurant for the big day?

"When I worked for the Ritz Carlton, it was the same kind of thing," Flynn said. "Thanksgiving was a Grand Buffet. You sort of realize that a lot of people eat out on Thanksgiving. Not everybody is, I think, culinarily inclined for a family of 12. Also, there's those people that don't want to go through the hassle of cooking and cleaning up."



Dr. Christiane Northrup of Yarmouth, the nationally known women's health expert, spent years making an annual traditional Thanksgiving dinner for her family. But for about eight years now, she has been taking her daughters to the Harraseeket buffet.

She said she likes the fact that, instead of spending an entire week thinking about the menu, shopping and cooking, she and her daughters can just get dressed up and go spend quality time with each other.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Chef Steve Corry will be cooking Thursday at his Five Fifty-Five in Portland.

Press Herald file/Jack Milton


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