Aw, shucks. The chefs from Portland’s Eventide Oyster Bar, as well as two other nominees from Maine, were passed over Monday night at the James Beard Awards in Chicago.

Three Maine chefs were nominated in the Best Chef: Northeast category this year: Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley of Eventide, and Brian Hill, the chef/owner of Francine in Camden, who was enjoying his first time in the finals after being a semifinalist six years in a row. The winner was Zak Pelaccio of Fish & Game in Hudson, New York.

Rob Tod, founder of Allagash Brewing. Courtesy photo

Rob Tod, founder of Allagash Brewing. Courtesy photo

Rob Tod, the founder of Allagash Brewing Co., was nominated for Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional. The award went to Ron Cooper of Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico.

This was the second year in a row that Maine came home from the awards with no medals.

The James Beard Awards often are called the Oscars of the food world; chefs consider it the most prestigious honor they can get. Rob Evans, owner of Duckfat in Portland and the 2009 winner of the Best Chef: Northeast award for his work at Hugo’s restaurant, said that there are lots of perks to winning, in addition to the Beard medal. Winners draw “another class” of diners – people who really love food – into their restaurants on top of their regular customer base.

“You’ll get lots of letters from chefs around the country,” he said. “You get to vote (in the James Beard Awards) every year, which is exciting.”


Evans said he was “totally happy,” but not surprised, when he heard that Taylor and Wiley were nominated again this year in the Best Chef: Northeast category, which includes Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. Other Maine chefs who have won the award in that category are Sam Hayward of Fore Street and Scales in 2004, Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier, of the former Arrows in 2010, and Melissa Kelly of Primo in 2013.

Evans sold Hugo’s to Taylor, Wiley and their business partner, Arlin Smith, in 2012. The trio opened Eventide Oyster Co. later that year, right at the time Maine oysters were becoming chic to eat. The restaurant took traditional New England foods and gave them some respect. Eventide’s award-winning brown butter lobster roll, for example, is made with lobster meat shucked at the restaurant – many lobster shacks in Maine don’t do that, Evans notes – tossed in brown butter and tucked into a steamed bun made in house.

“They’re taking the very obvious and doing it right, and people notice it,” Evans said.

Midcoast chef Brian Hill, armed with a loaded hot dog on Portland's waterfront, was nominated for a James Beard Award.

Midcoast chef Brian Hill, armed with a loaded hot dog on Portland’s waterfront, was nominated for a James Beard Award.

Evans added that Hill was also deserving of the James Beard medal because “he has been at the stove since day one.”

“That’s what I look for when I vote: Who’s there actually in the building putting their heart and soul into it?” he said. “And it’s obvious in the food.”

Evans said Eventide and The Honey Paw next door (also owned by Taylor, Wiley and Smith) reflect where American dining is headed – the “fast and casual” place where chefs can showcase their talent in more accessible settings. Diners don’t have to dress up or pay too much to get the quality of food that used to be associated only with fine dining restaurants, he said.

“Now you can belly up to a bar in your jeans and get pretty good food,” Evans said. “It’s a very interesting time, not just in Portland, but in this country, with food. We’re coming into our own. I think Eventide represents that American style of eating right now.”

Meredith Goad serves as a regional panelist for the Beard Awards, which means she is among 25 to 30 journalists and food writers who submit names for awards consideration from this region during the open call for entries, then votes on semifinalists and finalists.


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