Portland restaurants Chaval and Little Giant have teamed up with four social service organizations to create a program that will connect restaurants trying to keep their staffs employed with Mainers who need food.

Cooking for Community is a pilot program that launched Monday with an initial $55,000 in donations. That money will be passed along to local restaurants, which will use it to prepare packaged meals from local ingredients. The meals reach the people who need them through the four social service agency partners – Catholic Charities of Maine, Wayside, Amistad and Preble Street.

If all goes as planned, the program – which hopes to distribute 450 meals this week – will help keep restaurant workers employed, put money in the pockets of local farmers and fishermen, and feed the unemployed, seniors, immigrants and other vulnerable populations.

Ellie Linen Low, a community advocate who lives in the Portland area, came up with the idea and developed it with the help of Leslie Oster, a Portland chef and caterer who is now director of the Blaine House in Augusta. To learn more or to donate, visit the website at cookingforcommunity.org, or check out their 25-minute video on YouTube featuring interviews with Low and Ian Malin, owner of Little Giant.

First plague, now fire?

Justin and Danielle Walker have learned more about the fire that damaged their 2-year-old Cape Neddick restaurant, Walkers Maine, at the beginning of April.

It was caused by faulty wiring in the building that pre-dated their ownership, Justin Walker said. The fire started in the attic and then moved down the wall and into the dining room, but it’s the water damage from fighting the fire that really harmed the structure, he said.

“It’s not a total loss, but it’s incredibly extensive,” Walker said, adding that the York Fire Department did “a spectacular job” putting out the blaze.

The couple was “in shock” at first, as they dealt with state and local inspectors and their insurance company.

“This weekend we have a special cleaning company coming in to assess the damage,” Walker said. “They tore up all the floors in the dining room. They’ll have to take all the insulation that’s accessible out of the building, and then they’ll have to punch holes in walls to check humidity levels. They’ll basically take apart as much of the building as they need to make sure there’s no mold and to get it dehumidified. Then the structural people will come in and we’ll have contractors, and we’ll decide what has to be done from there.”

The Walkers had closed their restaurant because of the pandemic, furloughing or laying off 24 employees, and had switched to takeout and delivery. Walker said they plan to start that up again when they can, perhaps in another month. Until then, fans can support them by purchasing gift certificates at their website, walkersmaine.com. But the chef insists, “Really, we’re OK. We’re basically coming to terms with the fact that this is going to be a process.”

“The silver lining,” he said, “is there’s some really scary things going on in the world, and we’re healthy.”

Chocolate tarts with honeycomb candy? Gross.

Dark chocolate ganache tarts with honeycomb candy from Gross Confection Bar in Portland. Photo courtesy of Brant Dadaleares

If you’re growing tired of baking but still crave sweets, no worries – one of Portland’s best pastry chefs is ready and willing to do the work for you.

Brant Dadaleares, owner of Gross Confection Bar at 172 Middle St., closed the dessert-only restaurant March 16. He’s now offering takeout on Fridays through pre-ordering on his website, grossconfectionbar.com. Place your order by 4 p.m. Wednesdays for pickup between 1 and 4 p.m. Fridays by the fence at the bakery’s Exchange Street entrance.

On the menu this week: Dark chocolate ganache tarts with honeycomb candy, brown butter chocolate chip cookies, sausage cheddar biscuits, sesame bagels, brown butter coconut macaroons, chocolate cupcakes with vanilla buttercream, lemon chamomile pound cake, and everything scones. For those of you who are still baking, Dadaleares is also selling a sourdough starter kit with a recipe.

As Dadaleares himself wrote in a post on his restaurant’s Facebook page, “Now more than ever, I think we can all understand and agree that life is short, so eat the damn dessert. Gross.”

Ramona’s opens, briefly

Chad Conley, owner of Rose Foods and co-owner of The Palace Diner in Biddeford, and his new business partner, Josh Sobel (who worked for Conley at Rose Foods) recently announced they are opening their new Portland hoagie shop, Ramona’s, on Friday for pre-order takeout only. But you’ll have to wait – this week’s offerings are already sold out.

The restaurant was about to open when the pandemic hit. “For now, we’re just trying this pre-order takeout thing for Friday to see how it goes,” Conley said, “and, if it’s successful, we’ll work to make it a more regular thing.”

Meanwhile, Ramona’s has been donating sandwiches to hospital emergency room workers in Portland.

Watch Ramona’s website, ramonas.me, or Instagram, @ramonas_maine, to find out when it will next sell sandwiches online. Ramona’s is located at 98 Washington Ave.

One day, we’ll be able to go to Tandem again. Meanwhile, you can bake their biscuits at home. Proceeds from sales of the recipe are going toward furloughed staff. John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Golden biscuits

Tandem Bakery’s plan to sell its popular biscuit recipe for $5 in order to raise money for its furloughed staff seems to be paying off big time: The “Beneficial Biscuit” recipe, which comes with a link to a video of head baker Briana Holt preparing the biscuits, raised nearly $10,000 in the first weekend. Holt and the other co-owners of the bakery hope ultimately to raise $25,000 so they can give about $1,000 to every employee. To get the recipe, go to tandemcoffee.com. You can see how other people’s biscuits are turning out on Instagram with the hashtag #ShowUsYourBiscuits.

Support new entrepreneurs

It’s a tough time for small businesses, including the budding food entrepreneurs who rent kitchen space at Fork Food Lab in Portland and had been selling their products through the Lab’s events, markets and pop-ups.

Resurgam hot sauce is among the products on sale in the Fork Food Lab’s new online shop. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

To support them, the commercial kitchen has launched an online market. It includes such varied products as hemp hard candies, dog treats, soup, salsa, empanadas, snack bars, hot sauce, crackers, mac-and-cheese and meatloaf. The lab is also offering gift cards to be used toward future markets, workshops and events. To order, go to fork-food-lab.square.site then pick up your order at the lab, 72 Parris St., from 1 to 5 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Family meal Fridays

The Blue Spoon in Portland is partnering with St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Cape Elizabeth to do take-out family meals every Friday.

Peruse the weekly menu on Blue Spoon’s Instagram, then order and pay by phone or email before 5 p.m. Wednesday. Pickup is available between 3 and 5 p.m. on Friday at either the restaurant (89 Congress St., Portland) or at the church’s Oakhurst Road parking lot in Cape Elizabeth.

Families who are experiencing financial hardship can call Liz Lavey at (207) 321-8052 and the restaurant and the church will make sure they receive meals. To donate a meal to a family in need, make a contribution when placing your own order, and 100 percent of it will go to feeding others.

Cooking School

Annie Mahle, known for her Maine windjammer cooking, has been a landlubber since the COVID-19 pandemic began and is now cooking from her home in Rockland on her new YouTube channel. The first four episodes of “Cooking with Annie” focus on crusty peasant bread, using what’s at hand, traditional Boston brown bread, and soup from leftovers.

Mahle is the author of four cookbooks and was for many years a food columnist at the Portland Press Herald.

Rubbing the right way

Now for some good, not-pandemic-related news: Dennis Sherman, founder of the Maine-based DennyMike’s Sauces & Seasonings, has taken home two awards at the 2020 National BBQ and Grilling Association’s Annual Awards of Excellence.

Sherman’s Cow Bell Hell seasoning blend – best with sausages, burgers, meatloaf and wild game – took first place in the Spicy Rub category. Fintastic took third place in the Seafood Rub category. Find these and other DennyMike’s products at dennymikes.com.

Land grab

The Maine Land Share Project is looking to match up Mainers who want to grow their own food this season with people who have land to spare and share. To join in, go to landincommon.org/landshare fill out a form with your request or offer to help.

Conference canceled

The Maine Grain Alliance has canceled its 2020 Kneading Conference and Bread Fair, which annually brings bakers from all over the country to Skowhegan in late July.

Executive director Tristan Noyes made the decision based on the uncertainty surrounding travel in July as well as the opinions of people and presenters who had planned to attend.

“Bakery and grain-based business owners that have been forced to close are facing an uncertain few months ahead with limited discretionary funds to consider being with us in Maine this summer,” Noyes said in announcing the cancellation. “Additionally, the emotional and social recovery, post pandemic, may result in a longer period of time before people are comfortable gathering again.”

Noyes added that the Maine Grain Alliance is donating two pallets of grain to Flour Bakery in Boston and Olmsted Restaurant in Brooklyn. Both bakeries are cooking and baking for emergency workers on the front lines of the pandemic. The grain was donated to the alliance by Maine Grains, a grist mill in Skowhegan.


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