Scott DeSimon “loves Maine, limes, and late-’60s era Kinks records.” Maine is first on that list, you’ll notice, and DeSimon – who until earlier this month was deputy editor of Bon Appétit magazine (where we picked up that bio) – isn’t just some high-living, glamorously employed New Yorker who summers here. Actually, Maine is home. DeSimon grew up in Cumberland and graduated from Greely High.

He also has a degree from Middlebury College (“They have an incredible food program right now,” he says), and tudied medieval English at Trinity College in Dublin, “mostly by accident because I missed the registration for modern English.”

After college, DeSimon, 47 (“the second-oldest person at BA,” he says wryly), spent a few years writing for television, which turns out to be great training for editors: “The economy of language,” he explains. “There are no extraneous words, whether it’s a voice-over or dialogue. Everything needs to lead to something else. And TV is so good for that despite the fact that it’s a sad, soulless place.”

When we first spoke with DeSimon, he was a few months shy of his fifth anniversary at Bon Appétit, “a gig I love.” When we called back a few weeks later to fact-check, he’d just wrapped up the annual Best New Restaurants issue (two Portland spots, East Ender and Tandem Coffee and Bakery, made the preliminary list of 50 restaurants, but not the “Hot 10” that appear in the magazine). In other news, he’d decided to leave the magazine in order to freelance write and work on a food-related book project. He’ll remain in Brooklyn, where he lives with his wife and two young sons. How does it feel to leave the dream job of not only many food writers but probably the general, restaurant-and-food-obsessed public, too, we asked in week one of his freelance career. “Weird. Very strange.”

We spoke with DeSimon about rhubarb stalks, the noodles at Miyake and elitism in the food world. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: I understand you grew up in Maine?


A: Literally both sides of my family have never lived anywhere but Maine. They came directly from Ireland and Italy and went directly to Portland, Maine. My Irish side grew up on Munjoy Hill, as you tended to do in those days. The Italian side grew up off of Presumpscot Street, the area that got razed to make 295. There used to be an Italian neighborhood somewhere around there. They were all Maine all the time. In my direct family, I am the only one who does not live (in Maine).

Q: So did Maine food shape you?

A: Put it this way – I didn’t have a shrimp that wasn’t a Maine shrimp until I was probably 10. I didn’t even know there were other kinds of shrimp. I didn’t know there were boots other than Bean boots. I grew up in Cumberland. It was just completing its transition to a suburb. It had been farms with just a few houses. Now it was houses with just a few farms. We would go pick fiddleheads in the spring, and (the old-timers) would make this incredible pickle. Everybody had rhubarb and horseradish in their backyards. One of my favorite things in the summer as a kid was walking around with a stick of rhubarb and a coffee cup of sugar and I would dip it in and bite and dip it in and bite. And the preserving – there was a ton of preserving. It was a time there were enough old-school Maine people living in the town that I got a sense of what it was like. We’d go deer hunting and we’d go rabbit hunting. I was fortunate to see that. For a while, in the ’80s and ’90s, that disappeared. Leaving Maine, I definitely noticed that everything seemed a lot more homogenized elsewhere. It was harder to find food that felt like place.

I had a grandfather who came down from Nova Scotia, he was Scotch Irish, and his favorite meal in the world was a gigantic bowl of steamed beet greens with a big glob of butter and some apple cider vinegar and salt and pepper. I still love that. And you don’t find it. You find it in Maine when they thin the beet greens. We waited all summer to eat those things. Then for a week you’d eat them for three or four meals in a row, and you wouldn’t have them again until the next summer.

Maine is a special place food-wise. It’s fortunate to have natural resources, despite the problems with fishing: Have I eaten my last Maine shrimp? I really don’t know. If so, it was pretty uneventful, a bunch of fried shrimp in a basket somewhere. I hope not. But it’s a place with a regional cuisine, and you can’t make that up. The Chamber of Commerce can’t make that up. Growing up, the cookbook in my family kitchen was the Majorie Standish book “Cooking Down East.” I heard she sold something like 60,000 copies. In Maine. That’s incredible. It’s always been like that in Maine, and now it’s just that people have noticed.

Q: Here’s the inevitable question: Where do you eat when you are in Maine?


A: The Portland restaurant scene continues to baffle and amaze me. How is that possible? How are there enough people in Portland to eat and keep these places going? Generally, I used to go directly from the airport to J’s Oyster and get a fish sandwich, a bucket of steamers and a beer. Less so now that I have kids. I really love Hunt and Alpine Club. I love Central Provisions. Everyone loves Eventide. I love Eventide. But it’s (expletive) annoying. It’s always too packed. There’s a late flight, a jet that gets in at 11. What makes me happy is that you arrive and Miyake noodles is open. And it’s crowded. It’s a signal that Portland has come a long way from when I was a kid. There are so many great places. It is hard to keep up. I try to go to a new place every time I’m in town, but I still try to go to J’s.

Fore Street – what they did, the fact they were doing it 20 years ago – is incredible. And you can still get an amazing meal there. And I love the Tandem people. Every once in a while when you guys post a story, people will comment ‘This is fancy food. This is not for us.’ There are still people who see outsiders coming in as a bad thing. I think it’s more of a bad thing when someone comes in and takes that money out again. Tandem and others came because they loved the place, and they want to build a business and they are hiring people. (They) are trying to make Portland a better place.

I am always sensitive about the idea that food is an elitist thing. The whole foodie movement, much as I hate that word. The way I was brought up, it wasn’t a fetishized thing. You loved to eat a jar of fabulous garlic pickles in February from the cucumbers you grew the summer before. There is nothing elitist about that. You have to eat three times a day, why not be engaged in making it as… what am I trying to say? …as good as possible?

Q: Do national food stories about Maine get the culinary scene wrong?

A: Mostly they get things right. I haven’t seen anything that’s totally embarrassing. Sometimes they put in some restaurants I don’t think are amazing, but in general they get it. It’s come a long way since they would recommend a bunch of old-guard places that hadn’t been good in years.

Q: Will the American obsession with food last? Should it?


A: We (at Bon Appétit) ask ourselves that every month: How long is this thing going to last? It still keeps going. It’s now become just another vertical at the top of a website: Food. It’s here to stay.

Q: Bon Appétit drives trends or at least is at cutting edge of them. Is there a trend you wish would disappear?

A: Not disappear, really, but every so often when I go to a restaurant and it’s all small plates, I think to myself ‘Is this how we eat now?’ Every once in a while I just want a gigantic plate of one thing. Also, I also don’t like waiters telling everything about the dish. If I have questions, I know how to ask.

Q: Your own writing is quite quirky. I’ve read stories you’ve written about entire chickens in a can and one with the headline, “I Ate a 15-Year-Old Frozen TV Dinner and Lived.” In general, is food writing funny enough?

A: There is a lot of navel-gazing and super serious writing. But food is a fun thing you share with people you love, and it should be. Yes, there are food politics that aren’t particularly fun. But in terms of what our magazine does, we celebrate food. We touch on those (serious) things, but without beating readers over the head.

Q: Are you the cook in your family? What’s for dinner in the DeSimon house tonight?


A: I am the cook in my family. A pretend dinner? Because my family is not actually in town. I have fallen prey to the grain salad thing – red rice, black rice, brown rice plus a bunch of awesome things from the farmers market. Last week in the BA kitchen we had a salad with grains, charred garlic scapes, charred snap peas, radishes, a lot of fresh herbs, and it was so good. And you don’t have to cook anything except for the grain, so it’s really easy. At the same time, I could eat the hell out of a couple Harmons’ loaded hamburgers.

Peggy Grodinsky can be contacted at 791-6453 or at:

Twitter: pgrodinsky

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