Christopher Papagni

Christopher Papagni

Tiqa Takes a Trip to Taste the Origin of Its Cuisine

When was the last time the owner of your business or your supervisor, asked if you’d like to take a trip abroad to discover the food and culture of a region?

Many of my friends belly ache about business trips. They complain that they don’t get to venture outside of their hotel or they’re forced to eat conference food — legitimate reasons to piss and moan. I don’t think you’ll hear any complaints coming from the Tiqa staff who took a trip overseas in January. Together Deen Haleem and Carol Mitchell, founders of Tiqa, Executive Chef Bo Byrne and General Manager Patrick Morang, explored Bethlehem, Jericho, and Jerusalem. They had also intended to visit Amman, Jordan, where Haleem has family; however, they were turned away at the border; the necessary visas they were told they could acquire were not attainable. Perhaps a sign of the times?

Despite a hiccup or two, the trip was a tremendous success and Tiqa diners will continue to reap the rewards and I will tell you why.

food middleeastercuisine2

Deen explained why he and his wife Carol thought the trip was a good idea.  Haleem and his family are Palestinian. In 1972, his father thought it would be prudent to join family that had already emigrated to the United States; Haleem and his immediate family moved to Chicago. Carol has a  Lebanese background. “We wanted to taste the old and the new, street and elevated, traditional and inspired. In addition, we wanted to learn about the culture and get ideas on how to evolve our menu.” Taking their chef and general manager to experience the Middle East was generous and enlightening.

Chef Bo spoke about what he saw with great enthusiasm. “I still can’t believe that I got to stand in front of the Wailing Wall (Western Wall) in Israel, and to actually be in the place where the last supper was served.”
Bo was of course referring to The Room of the Last Supper on Mount Zion, just outside of the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. My guess is that Bo is happy to talk about something other than food occasionally; after all, he is immersed in the culinary world day and night. Although I enjoyed hearing about the sights and sounds of the Middle East, I was especially interested in Chef Bo’s thoughts on the food he tasted on the trip.

“It was 2017 there; the food today is an interpretation of the food of the past, but it’s updated as well. It was difficult to find dishes prepared the old way. I expected to see more of the old world and less of the new. I wonder if tourists wouldn’t rather see more of the old world — that’s what I think a traveller has in mind when they go there.”

Chef Bo told me that he thought the food was better in Tel Aviv. A Middle Eastern friend of Bo’s shared that, “Jerusalem is for praying, and Tel Aviv is for playing.” Meaning that Tel Aviv was more alive with robust flavors and a rich culture. Bo became extremely animated when sharing his Tel Aviv food experiences.

“I was hoping I’d come back a better chef; more authentic and better educated,” Chief Bo said.

food Bocarvingshawarma

Tiqa is marketed as a  tribute to Pan Mediterranean dining.  Purveyors supply the restaurant with hand-selected and sustainably-raised and sourced meats, seafood, cheeses and produce. Bo has already started making small changes to the menu, however, the big changes won’t come until spring. He shared that he and his fellow travellers had hummus many different ways. It made Bo feel good and confident about his own interpretation of hummus; having it be similar to those he tasted, but with its own unique flavors. Deen told me that the bread will stay the same. However, they’ll be serving it whole rather than slicing it — noting that breaking bread was part of every meal where they travelled.

food middleeastercuisine

Improving on dishes that are already celebrated and delicious will be quite a feat. Still, I’m looking forward to spring and not just because of the change of weather. Few owners expose their staff to the origin of the cuisine served in their restaurants. Authenticity comes from going right to the source and tasting it for yourself. Chef Bo’s enthusiasm for and his experience in the Middle East will not be wasted. He will long remember the tastes and culture of the places he visited. I salute Deen Haleem and Carol Mitchell for their commitment to authenticity, and I know those eating at Tiqa, now and when the new menu is revealed, will join me in celebrating one of Portland’s finest.

While Pho explodes in popularity, take time to learn its history

I have been dining out longer than I care to say and I admittedly had my first bowl of Pho (pronounced “fuh”), when I relocated to Portland from Brooklyn three years ago. I’m sure I’d heard of this famous noodle soup, but I’m not certain why I had not been introduced to it. I have regrets about this omission; however, the not knowing has peaked my interest even further.


French missionaries traveled and lived in Vietnam from the mid-1700s to the mid-1900s. French Colonization left its mark on Vietnam in many ways, but none more than the flavors in cooking. Pho soup is said to be a blend of Vietnamese rice noodles and French meat broths. One theory suggests that pho is the phonetic copy of the French word “feu” which means fire. Oral history tells us that French Colonists slaughtered cattle because of their love of meat and that the Vietnamese used the bones and scraps to make Pho.


Often, the popularity of cuisine is tied to political climate. I imagine little was known about Vietnam prior to the Vietnamese War, which ended with the fall of Saigon in April 1975. The Vietnam War, known in Vietnam as the Resistance War Against America, was hard fought with many of our anti-communist allies.  The first Vietnamese restaurant in the United States was named Viet Nam and it was located in Manhattan; it was the only Vietnamese restaurant for at least a decade. The first customers were said to be expatriated nationals. Early Vietnamese immigrants had to prove their commitment to democracy and their allegiance to the United States. My guess is that even lovers of food from other parts of the world, may not have been as curious about Vietnamese cuisine as they were about European and other Asian cuisines. Later, the wide acceptance of Chinese and Thai cuisine, paved the way for Vietnamese restaurant openings.


Mai Vuong and her husband Dong Nguyen opened Saigon Restaurant in December 2009. Dong is head chef at Saigon; he immigrated to Portland when he was a young man, and Mai moved here twelve years ago. Although it took them quite some time to find a location, they ultimately settled on Forest Avenue because it was close to a high school and a couple of universities — they thought being close to young people would be good for business. Selecting an easy to find location was essential for the success of the restaurant. Although Vietnamese cuisine is the focus of this highly regarded restaurant, Chinese and Thai items are also featured in Saigon's authentic menu choices.


Most of the ingredients are sourced from Haknuman Asian Market, conveniently close to the restaurant. Ingredients not found at Haknuman, are ordered from two different suppliers in New Hampshire. Mai shared that although Saigon’s menu is authentically Vietnamese, some dishes that you might find in Vietnam are not on the menu because ingredients for these dishes cannot be found here in the States. In Vietnam, you might see crispy pancakes, fried spring rolls and a variety of sweet cakes on the menu.


I asked Mai why she thinks Vietnamese food has become so popular. “I think Vietnamese has become so popular because of pho soup. It has so many ingredients and is time consuming to cook; it’s rich and tasty and good for your health . . . so people love it. People also love Vietnamese food because it’s fresh. We’re proud of our pho soup, and we believe it’s one of the best pho soups in the area.”


Some of the ingredients Vietnamese recipes call for are: lemongrass, mint, ginger, coriander, cinnamon, chili, lime and basil. Traditional recipes include very little dairy and oil; relying on fresh herbs and vegetables as well. The balance of these flavors and ingredients and their freshness, make for what many consider to be one of the healthiest cuisines in the world.


It seems to me that people in Portland are often curious about what might be coming next on the restaurant scene. My final question for Mai had to do with the menu and what we might see on it in the future.


Mai candidly shared, “I’m not sure we are going to add anything to the menu; it’s overwhelming for us right now. We may just add more desserts this coming summer.”


Whatever they do at Saigon is okay by me. I often have to remind myself that pho is not the only dish on the menu. I promised I would relay Mai and Doug’s gratitude to the people of Portland:  “Without the support of you guys, we wouldn’t be successful today.”


I expect our readers would agree with me when I say, “Thank you Mai and Dong for choosing Portland and for the love and beautiful ingredients you put in your food.”

Saigon Restaurant | 795 Forest Ave., Portland | 9:30 am to 9:00 pm | 207.874.6666

Vermont Loves Maine at O’Maine Studios

At first glance Localvore Today resembles Groupon; however, they're decidedly more different than they are similar and the same can be said for Localvore and LivingSocial. It's taken me a year to wrap my head around exactly what Localvore Today does. Monday night I attended a Localvore event, actually their first event, and it finally made sense to me. Localvore’s social mission is to “support local food systems and local economies.” Helping to keep local economies sustainable and using social media to fulfill this mission is a hard sell.

Dan White, the founder and CEO, spoke to the social, product and business mission of Localvore without using the word mission. His enthusiasm about Monday night’s event came through both at the door of the event while greeting guests and when we spoke on the telephone the following day. Maine was this start-up's second market, after a robust beginning in Vermont. This event was designed to show Maine that Localvore’s approach is different from the ones practiced by other social media companies.

“Vermont Loves Maine, was an opportunity to re-engage Localvore’s Vermont clients and introduce these businesses to Maine,” said White.

Both participating Vermont businesses, and those of us attending from Maine, appreciated the effort. Building good will for Localvore was the stated goal, along with leveraging their relationships with Vermont businesses. As an early-stage tech company, the leadership of Localvore was not certain that an event like this made sense. Most small businesses can benefit from the social media marketing technology offered today. Budgets are tight and funding a marketing campaign is seldom a top priority. The payoff, which is not always easy to quantify, can be substantial. But how do you engage a company like Localvore Today without appearing desperate? Unlike using Groupon as a way to sell more product, advertising on Localvore Today is a way to tell your story and educate potential customers about what it means to buy local. Education is a big part of Localvore’s objectives and a socially conscious audience makes meeting these objectives viable.

White offered up this explanation: “People are tired of the rants and one-off comments that can be found on Yelp. Taking advantage of a Localvore campaign is an opportunity to experience a product in a physical way without breaking the bank.” Once introduced to a client/business, the customer can determine the product's level of excellence and whether or not they will choose to purchase that product again in the future. O’Maine studios which had its start at 54 Danforth Street a couple of years ago, has been an excellent venue for showcasing Maine’s local products.

O’Maine’s high ceilings, open spaces, industrial feel, and state-of-the-art kitchen, is the perfect place to eat, drink and become familiar with the best New England has to offer. You can almost count on any event you attend at O’Maine to be fun and affordable. The lack of pretense and self-importance, along with a collaborative environment, make O’Maine a Portland gem.

The following vendors from Vermont participated in the “Vermont Loves Maine” event:  Alice and the Magician, VT99 Meats, Cabot Cheese, Jasper Hill, Shaksbury Cider, Caledonia Spirits, Pizzeria Verita and Trapp Brewing. Many other Vermont companies donated products for the event.

Although I found the entire evening to be equally informative and enjoyable, I especially appreciated the effort that went into providing freshly made pizza throughout the evening.  Pizzeria Verita made pizza in a mobile pizza oven behind O’Maine Studios. I tasted four or five different varieties of pizza made on crusty dough with fresh ingredients. Beverages provided by Localvore’s clients did not disappoint.

Bartenders mixing cocktails for Alice & the Magician provided beautifully creative cocktails using Barr Hill gin and Fever Tree tonic. Alice & the Magician are known for their elixirs and aromatics. The showmanship of the two mixologists added a sexy atmosphere and spice to an already dazzling event. I was especially wowed by the misting of aromatics atop a perfect cocktail. What’s next for Localvore?

Many were so excited by the success of the “Vermont Loves Maine” event, it's been suggested that a similar type of event take place in Vermont. I met several Maine food vendors at the event who were ready to sign on for such an evening. White and his team seemed fired-up and poised to start planning for 2017. I’m going to wait for an announcement about where and when as I look forward to future Localvore events right here in Portland. I’m not sure if Groupon and LivingSocial will survive our new economy, however, I am fairly certain Localvore is a company to learn more about and to watch closely.

What made the O’Reilly’s want to open O’Reilly’s Cure?

When I meet someone considering opening a restaurant, the first question I ask is: “Why would you do this to yourself?” I don’t know a restaurant owner who can truly cut that ball and chain. Murphy’s Law seems to apply more often than not, and not everyone has the stomach for it.

Patrick and Sue O’Reilly have taken on ownership of a new restaurant/bar in Scarborough. Ask the locals and they will tell you how grateful they are to have something other than a pizza or fast food restaurant in Scarborough. It’s a mystery why a town of this size, so close to Portland has not become home to more eateries.

O’Reilly’s Cure was clearly given a good deal of thought. It’s a beautiful space, high ceilings, an expansive bar, lots of light, an open outdoor space and several large television screens for the sports enthusiasts in our area. So what possessed Patrick and Sue to take this on?

When did you start thinking about opening a restaurant?

Patrick: We have always kind of thought about it and have spent a lifetime really noodling it about as we dined at restaurants and visited bars in all of our travels. We will be becoming empty nesters in a couple years and Sue wanted a new challenge after running our other business and raising our two daughters.

Sue: At least 10 years ago, I kept throwing ideas out on renovating our home to a restaurant. It wasn’t easy since our home was at least 150 years old and meeting code proved to be difficult.

Did you agree on a restaurant venture from the start?

Patrick: It was always going to be a restaurant and bar and only in Scarborough. In fact, we only considered a stretch of Route One in the center of town for a location. ... We really love our hometown and we wanted to make a special place for folks in town.

Sue: I think the entrepreneur in both of us eventually came to the conclusion that we wanted to dive into the restaurant business.

Did the concept change over time?

Patrick: Yes, somewhat, but we always wanted to have it be a restaurant first and foremost. We had a struggle with the name because, being named O’Reilly, there was a fear that people were going to assume or expect a traditional Irish pub, but we wanted to be "the" local restaurant in the center of town.

Sue: We initially thought of the pub idea and Patrick probably would’ve been happy with that, but I was struggling with it. I wanted more of restaurant and bar atmosphere that appealed to a broader audience.

What were some of the challenges you faced?

Patrick: In the site we ended up with we had a space constrained by a couple stairwells and an elevator area which left us with only a few options as to layout. We ended up with a kitchen that is farther from the main dining area than is optimal. Another issue was parking as the site only had about 85 spaces. We were able to negotiate the lease so that additional parking would be installed shortly after our opening to bring the total spaces up to about 110 which is also about the number of seats in the restaurant.

Sue: Patrick and I were in the hospitality business, but not in food service so there was a big learning curve. It was important to us to hire experienced staff, and we have friends in the business who have supported and shared valuable information.

Would you change any part of the process if you could?

Patrick: Because neither of us was going to be the chef, we set a draft menu and had to choose and order the kitchen equipment using that. When we got to the point where we hired the chef and modified the concept menu further, there was a misalignment with the equipment and some layout in the back of the house. I would have focused more on menu development earlier in the process if possible.

Sue: If only we knew what we know now. There are a lot of things we would have done differently but the major one is how we laid out the kitchen. Our next restaurant will be even better!

Has the community embraced the restaurant?

Patrick: Yes, the local enthusiasm has been tremendous. ... There was a huge buildup of anticipation for the opening, and I think there were some expectations that people had because of our name or menu that caused some disappointment, but we are continually evaluating our performance and offerings to provide the best customer experience that we can.

Sue: Yes, the community seems to be happy that we opened a place where they can meet with friends, family and co-workers. Many have commented that they would run into people they haven’t seen in a while and it's like a reunion.

Anything we should look out for in the future?

Patrick: We will be open for lunches starting this week and are honing our daily menu items so that we can stabilize the back of the house work load and start to add specials too. We will continue to support the local beer scene with 10-12 locally brewed beers on tap.

Sue: Our lower parking lot will be finished, which will open up more spaces.

Have a question for Patrick or Sue? Visit O’Reilly’s Cure; I’m sure you’ll get whatever you need.

O’Reilly’s Cure Restaurant & Bar is located at Bessey Square, 264 U.S. Route 1 across from Scarborough Town Hall.

  • Published in Features

A brilliant fall menu revealed: Tempo Dulu satisfies the fine-dining crowd

Tempo Dulu Chef MacDonnellThere is a great deal of talk about the number of restaurants in Portland these days. Many of these restaurants are top notch and they are doing well. If you think the number of white tablecloth, fine dining restaurants in our city, you can count them on one hand. I understand why restaurant owners are reluctant to go this route. Keeping a restaurant afloat is difficult in just about every way; going with a fine dining concept would multiply the challenge tenfold.
Tempo Dulu at the Danforth Inn is clearly a fine dining restaurant in a class of its own. The elegance of the dining room, and impeccable attention to detail, transport the diner to a time when dining was all about the total experience. You thought about what you might wear to dinner days before your reservation, because looking your best mattered. You planned it so you would have time for a cocktail at the beautiful bar — a cocktail that would be sipped and transferred to your table. You made sure you only invited friends you could spend more than an hour with, because you knew this meal was going to last at least three and that would be fine by you. This dinner was not about filling your belly; this meal was going to be an experience.
When seeking the total experience, we hope for each of our senses to be fully engaged. I want to walk into a high-end restaurant and see magnificent art that suits the space, beautiful lines throughout, colorful fabrics that pop, and subtle lighting that makes my date glow. I want to immediately know food is being cooked in a kitchen not far away. I don’t want to smell the charring of meat or the sautéing of garlic, but the aroma of exotic spices hitting a fresh piece of fish or the scent of butter browning in a frying pan; neither overpowering or offensive. I want to hear the hush of diners talking and laughing at their tables; tables with a respectable amount of distance between them. I want the music to be soft and pleasant so that there is no need to scream over it. I want to sit at a banquet and feel the soft fabric engulf me. When I shift during my dinner, I want to move without effort and not have my napkin slide off my leg onto the floor; polyester just won’t do. And lastly, when I taste that very first bite of food, I want the flavors to dance in my mouth and validate the effort it took for me to experience that moment. I realize this is a lot to ask of a restaurant and chef and that when I long for this type of dining in Portland, the list is short.
The team at the Danforth Inn and Tempo Dulu have done their very best to provide all that I hope for in a truly special dining experience. Chef Michael MacDonnell, who took over the kitchen at Tempo Dulu this past spring, is a chef who truly understands the power and punch of subtle flavors. Chef Michael began his career under acclaimed Thai Chef Bounkuang Souimaniphanh where he was trained in the preparation of classical Thai food. The preparation of Asian Pacific cuisine is a concept near and dear to his heart and one can see this by the way the menu comes together.
His dishes are so beautifully plated, you’ll want to take it in before you take a taste. Most will want to photograph the dish to further prolong the impact. His coconut soup with roasted mushrooms and coconut foam was the highlight of my dinner. Clearly I am not qualified to be a food critic; however, I will share that Chef Michael’s new fall menu has a lot of people talking. The tasting I did had me thinking about the meals I have placed on my top ten list — this meal has secured a spot. Now, getting back to the total experience, Trevin Hutchins, Tempo Dulu’s mixologist and restaurant manager, never disappoints. He’s the consummate professional; I watched him make many guests giggle with joy. The restaurant manager position he has secured, will serve the restaurant well.
Raymond Brunyanszki and Oscar Verest, owners of the Danforth Inn and Tempo Dulu, are well schooled in hospitality. Their attention to detail is legendary. They are warm, engaging and know a great deal about pleasing guests. If like me you long for the total dining experience, save your pennies and reserve a banquette at Tempo Dulu.

It might be time to invite your favorite chef for dinner

Being a chef is not easy; long hours, standing on your feet all day, hot kitchen, little or no time for significant others, coming up with new menu items; I could go on, but I’d hate to discourage anyone who might be thinking about the profession, we already have a huge shortage of chefs.

I am not now and have never been a chef; however, because of my position at The French Culinary Institute, the perception that I am a chef has been floating in the ether for quite some time. I have often had people tell me that they are too intimidated to have me over for dinner. I have some thoughts about this, but I thought it would be more interesting to hear from some real chefs.

I interviewed six successful chefs and thought you might enjoy their responses to my questions:

Interviewed: MJ Adams, former owner of The Corn Exchange in Rapid City, S.D., now television host on Public Television; Damian Sansonetti, Chef/Owner of Piccolo and Caiola’s in Portland, Maine; Kir Rodriguez, Chef Instructor at the International Culinary Center, New York City; David Turin, Chef/Owner of restaurants in Portland, South Portland and Kennebunkport, Maine; David Levi, Chef/Owner of Vinland and Rosso Bianco, Portland, Maine; and Nicholas Krunkkala, Chef of Liquid Riot, Portland, Maine.


How often are you invited to the homes of non-family members for a meal?


MJ Adams (MJA):  Sad to say, but few and far between.


Damian Sansonetti (DS):  A few times a year.


Kir Rodriguez (KR):  About once every two months.


David Turin (DT):  Not very often. Honestly, I can think of only three people who have invited me to dinner at their home in the last 10 years or so and one of them is a chef.


David Levi (DL):  Rarely at this point, since everyone knows I'm working all the time. Maybe a few times a year.  I usually have to decline or cancel unless I'm on vacation, which I take once a year.


Nicholas Krunkkala (NK):  Since I am a chef and work abnormal hours, I don't really get invited to people's houses for dinner anymore. I used to a lot, especially early on in my career, but now I think people just expect that I am so busy that I’m going to decline. So I’d say a couple times a year.

Have people told you they are too intimidated to cook for you? What do you say when people share that with you?


MJA:  That is pretty much the answer 95 percent of the time. I have one friend that is a private chef and whenever he is in town I get an invitation from him. I always tell people it is different as a chef to cook because you are doing it for a living. Having someone cook for me is only just part of the dining experience. I want social interaction, ambience and of course an alcoholic beverage. I am happy to have a hot dog as long as I can have a cocktail or a glass of wine. If people are intimidated, I hope it is because I have a good reputation as a chef.


DS: It happens quite often. Most times after we have begun eating the meal, and after you compliment the host for the meal, how good it is and so, and I would say it almost always good/really good too and cooked and seasoned very well. Sometimes I'm even surprised at a "civilian's" cooking prowess in a non-professional kitchen. I always feel kind of on the spot when they tell us they are intimidated by our cooking (me and my wife, Ilma Lopez).


KR:  All the time. I tell them that cooking for me is a lot easier than they think. I like simple things as long as they are homemade. A big green salad with cheeses, bread and wine could constitute a dinner for me. I always offer to help in the kitchen because I can help put a couple of items together and keep it simple, when people usually think that more is better. I understand that just the gesture of inviting me is so gracious and generous, so I want to get them over their preoccupation by just simplifying things.


DT:  That is very often the case.  A typical exchange would be like this:  the husband says, "You should come over for dinner . . . when I told my wife I invited you for dinner she asked if I was crazy, he’s a chef . . . I can’t cook for him . . .”  Then the conversation changes to talking about where do you like to go out for dinner.  I tell them I really am easy to please and not to worry, but I rarely end up getting the invitation. It feels awesome to be invited for dinner.  I joke with people that it’s so nice to have someone else cook and that if they were heating up spaghetti O’s, I would be just fine.


DL:  I do hear that, and I laugh it off and tell them how much I appreciate anyone cooking me anything. I'm a harsh judge in restaurants, but not at all in other contexts. I am, though, always more than willing to help and give guidance, both because people tend to appreciate it and because I want to eat foods that are properly cooked and seasoned.


NK:  People are always telling me that they are intimidated to cook for me, and it's understandable in a way. But I like to put them at ease by telling them that I like just about everything and eating a home cooked meal outside of a restaurant is like the perfect thing in the world. To go to someone’s house and eat a pot roast or a lasagna that they made and put care into is a very enjoyable experience.

Have people asked you to come over and cook in their kitchens? What is it like for you?


MJA:  I have done a few private parties in clients homes and it’s amazing the various degrees you find a kitchen outfitted. Some people have a professional kitchen in their homes and never use it while others who are in high level jobs don’t even have a sheet pan in the cupboard. It’s definitely a challenge since you don’t even know how well their oven works. That’s what makes a great chef, being able to adapt to anything and turn out a wonderful meal.

DS: Yes, it's usually fun, because sometimes it is a food purveyor and they have a lot of great or cool ingredients and want to see what you would do with them in their kitchens. Honestly, doing the Kennebunkport Festival where you cook in a stranger's house is very similar to this as well; cooking in an unfamiliar environment, but it's always fun!


KR: Yes, in that case I offer to bring the groceries. That way I can buy quality ingredients and use the opportunity to illustrate how to cook delicious food with very few ingredients. We visit friends on the Eastern Shore of Virginia for a week every year, and we always bring a dinner to cook there and treat our hosts.


DT:  So that has happened a couple of times and it’s been fun. I have a friend who cooked his way through law school; he’s very knowledgeable about food and just loves cooking. We did a dinner in his home a while back and we cooked together and it was like a play date for grown ups ... with wine! He’s got an amazing kitchen, too.


DL: I don't remember ever being asked to cook as a favor. I have been hired to do private dinners. I would not appreciate being expected to cook for free on my extremely limited off time, just as I don't much like being expected to do anything other than be a decent person. I'm almost always quick to volunteer, though. Every now and then I make the conscious decision not to, which takes more effort up front.


NK:  I get asked to cook meals for people at their homes for holiday parties, get-togethers, super bowls you name it. It’s a good feeling because going into someone’s home is a lot different than cooking for them at a restaurant — it’s more intimate and it means they really trust you and put you on a different level of respect. To be asked to come to someone’s home and cook a meal is a pretty big honor as a chef.

Have you been to someone's house where you walked in and they just expected you to cook? Can you describe what that was like?


MJA:  Yes, I remember one time I was invited to someone's home with my husband along with two other couples. When I arrived they were all standing around with a chef's apron on and the ingredients laid out, waiting for instructions. I was under the assumption that I was going to be dining in their home, not providing a cooking lesson. I think that people feel if you cook for a living you must love it and are on 24/7. I do love to cook, but it is nice treat to have someone else head up the kitchen once in awhile.

DS:  Very funny, yes, but it was business. Years ago when I worked For Daniel Boulud, he has a Catering company called Feast & Fete. During the winter holidays they are extremely busy and have a lot of parties that the "core" catering team cannot cook on site for. Well one year for Christmas Eve dinner I headed up a party on the Upper West Side in a huge loft apartment, but it was just myself and it was explained that the host had all the food and their family (Italian), was bringing some fish dishes; feast of seven fishes. It was a 25-person party, but all I had to do was plate up food.

Once, I arrived at a house and was waiting for the host and she came in with bags upon bags of groceries and then a prep list!  I had three hours to prep out five courses of food. I got it all done, when the guest count rose to almost 40 people  the host sent me a neighbor who was attending to "help" me plate the food. We did it all, kind of ribbing each other during plating of the food and all in good fun. It was a little hectic, but it all looked good and guests were super happy. Afterwards I found out his name was Desmond, as in Desmond Child the songwriter/producer. So it was a kinda cool Christmas Eve.


KR:  Luckily, that has never happened to me. Only when I was hired to cook or teach a class.


DT:  Never exactly that, but more often something like, “Can you fix this sauce, I was trying to make hollandaise” or “I don’t know how to cut up this turkey or carve this roast.”  


DL:  No, I've never experienced that. I would probably excuse myself in pretty short order.


NK:  Now here is where things get tricky. There are times I go places and I know I’m going to end up cooking. Now if it’s a summer day and they have a really good grill, I have no issue with it. I normally don’t have an issue anyway because I love cooking for people and seeing their reaction. But the problem with me is that I cannot cook a simple meal, especially if it’s for other people.

Is there anything else you’d care to share?

MJA: I would think you should feel flattered if a chef wants to come to your home. It means they enjoy your company, and isn’t food all about sitting down at a table together laughing and enjoying the moment? Make something that is simple and that you have prepared before. Go ahead, send that invitation to your favorite chef and don’t be surprised when you get a quick “yes” response.

DT: I have joked that me going to dinner is like that scene in the film “Coming To America”  when Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall get invited to the boss's house for a party. When they get there they figure out the invitation is to valet the guests cars. For chefs, it more like you get invited to someone's house for dinner and then you realize that what they really meant was that they are asking to hire you to cook dinner for 12 for their spouse's birthday (which I am totally into). It’s also pretty fun because the people who invite you to cook in their homes are generally pretty well healed and have some scrappy little three or four million dollar waterfront mansion.  It’s pretty fun to play house in their incredible kitchens.   


NK:  So here's my public service to people if you are cooking for a group of people and there happens to be a chef in the crowd: do not be intimidated by it, embrace it. We as chefs want people to cook for us every once in awhile and we will probably be the ones who enjoy it the most out of anyone in the crowd.

I’ve already started a list of chefs I’d like to invite for dinner; perhaps you might consider doing the same.

Making a Canadian connection: A fruitfull journey to meet with neighbors to our north proves fruitful and rewarding

I have had the good fortune to visit Canada many, many times. It’s a country with contradictions and contrasts that would be far too numerous to lay out for this piece. Most of these contrasts have to do with our cultural differences — differences to be celebrated. I love that you can cross the border in just a few hours and discover a whole new land; a land vastly different from our own. Road signs, gas stations, culinary delights, and the people.


Quebec is French. The geography resembles France, the natives speak French and the food is French. Fortunately, a wonderful friendship exists between our two countries. The border reminds you that you are leaving home and entering a place where the culture is richly unique. I realize as I write this, that not all individuals share my enthusiasm about differences. Some prefer the familiar, finding comfort in a world of sameness. I crossed the Canadian border north of Jackman, Maine this week with a group of seven other individuals; we were seeking something different and new.. The group was from Somerset County; the purpose of the trip was to create opportunities to celebrate both the beauty and bounty of Maine and the wonder of Quebec. The group traveled to Canada by way of the Old Canada Road.


The Old Canada Road Scenic Byway takes you to the Canadian border. The road begins in Solon, Maine, Somerset County, and extends nearly 78 miles to the border. Along the way we saw some small towns, restaurants, and beautiful stretches of nature. There are moose crossing warning signs almost the entire distance from Maine to Quebec. Although we were hoping to see one or more of these beautiful animals, we were also aware of the danger they represent. As we traveled north I wondered how many Mainers have never been north of Bar Harbor. Several of those in my carpool have traveled the Old Canada Road and they were giddy with excitement about the possibilities that lie ahead.


They included Amber Lambke, president of the Somerset Grist Mill, LLC; Mary Burr, owner of Blue Ribbon Farm; Jon Kimball, chair of Somerset Cultural Planning Committee and resident producer for SenovvA, Inc.; Pam and Jeff Powers, owners of Bigelow Brewery in Skowhegan; and David James, a retired marketing director and fundraiser for nonprofit groups. Each of these individuals has a personal stake in identifying touring opportunities between Quebec and Maine that celebrate the North American francophone heritage and its influence in Maine, especially as it is reflected in food, music, industry and the history of our two communities. I was there to document this important exchange.


Three days offered little time for discovery; however, we were pleased to begin the process. Significant players on the Canadian side were thrilled to meet with us and welcomed us with warmth and sincerity. Our agenda was forwarded several weeks before our arrival. It was clear to us that our Canadian friends were prepared and open to a discussion of what the future might hold. The first stop was on Monday, Sept. 12, at St. Méthode, a large production bread boulangerie in Adstock. They provided a detailed presentation and gave us an extensive tour of their facilities. Our second stop on Tuesday was to be a quick breakfast with Yves Simard, owner of Paillard, a café and boulangerie in Quebec City. Four hours later we had learned a great deal about their business and toured their baking facility outside of town. The owners were so pleased to have us visit, they even made us dinner reservations. This was pretty much the kind of hospitality we enjoyed for the entire trip. We visited several breweries in the Quebec province; La Barberie and Frampton Brasse were two of the standout stops — both excited about the idea of a joint brewfest or an event like it.  Our last bakery was La Boîte à Pain, an impressive artisanal boulangerie with four shops in Quebec. We were once again wowed by the high level of interest in collaborating. There were several other visits; however, it is my intention to highlight a few.


The takeaway is simple and clear:  Canadian businesses are anxious to work with U.S. businesses to create tourism opportunities. Showing off the best of both countries would not only benefit Mainers, out-of-state tourists, and Canadians, but it can also be the start of multicultural events that would keep dollars local on both sides of the border.

How it feels to have eaten in the Number One restaurant in the world

In retrospect, I wish I had known Osteria Francescana was to become the number one restaurant in the world; I would have savored every bite.

A few years ago I had one of those jobs where wining and dining clients and being wined and dined was the norm. It seemed as if eating at the so called “50 best” restaurants in the world was a standard by which you were judged, And eating at these restaurants wasn’t enough, you had to have spent time with the chef to have true bragging rights. Looking back on this time in my life does not conjure up fanciful memories, in fact, quite the contrary — it all seemed pretentious and over the top. Dining at that level is unlike any other experience.

You may not know this, but high end restaurants do research on their diners. In some cases, there is actually a person whose job it is to review the reservation list and check to see if there are individuals on that list who need special attention. It’s not just about wealth; it has more to do with influence, hence the proverb: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” A guest with influence can help make a restaurant successful; help get them that additional Michelin star. This is an oversimplification; however, I’m hoping it gives you a glimpse into this elite dining world. Not too long ago, I was considered an individual with influence.

Up until two years ago I was an executive at a well known cooking school in New York City. We had an affiliation with an excellent cooking school in Parma, and the head of the school had major culinary connections throughout Italy. This man’s name is Riccardo. He played a major role in the success of Barilla pasta and now runs a successful cooking school in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. We were collaborating on a project which meant visiting Riccardo several times a year. I can’t complain, going to Parma meant eating well and spending time in one of the most beautiful places in the world. I never questioned Riccardo’s dining choices. In addition to knowing a lot about food, he was intelligent; always well dressed, always up on American politics, and never at a loss for impossible-to-get reservations. When Riccardo informed me that we were going out for a meal, I knew it would be on one of those famous “best” lists.

We filed into Riccardo’s Mercedes and headed to Modena. Without a word about our plans for the afternoon, we sat down in the dining room of Osteria Francescana for a pre-service meeting with the chef. I can’t tell you how high up Osteria Francescana was ranked then, but I can tell you that it is currently ranked #1 in the world. Chef Bottura was very gracious and extremely serious. His English was perfect and he jumped right into a conversation about the status of student interns in his kitchen. He compared American students to students from other countries including Korea, Canada and Australia; I sadly recall my students were not portrayed favorably. I believe he used the words unfocused and entitled. Yet still, he was hopeful about the future. Unlike some of the other Italian chefs I worked with, Chef Bottura was willing to spend time with American interns from our school. I appreciated his professionalism, his insight and his patience. He sympathized with other chefs in Italy, but made it clear that it was a chef’s duty to mentor students. And then  Chef Buttora’s invited us to eat.

We sat down in an elegantly appointed dining room. I recall minimal distractions; it was all about the food. Service was impeccable — not invasive or fussy. It was a few years ago and I would not be telling the truth if I named the menu items I was served. I do remember feeling that I was being treated to something very special. The food was simple and the ingredients fresh. There were some deconstructed dishes; however, they were easily identifiable and they made sense. My palate has always been somewhat unsophisticated, but I know what I like.

For the record, I no longer work for a company with an expense account. I prefer to eat out when I feel like eating out and I don’t mind paying my own way. As for Osteria Francescana, I’m not sure which is a more vivid memory, Chef Buttora’s exceptional dishes or Riccardo going the wrong way down a one way street in downtown Modena. One thing is for certain, both experiences were thrilling.

Midsummer Guide: Where to eat when the tourists are here and why you cannot always make a reservation

I am not ashamed to fess-up to eating out a lot. When I think about the work that goes into making a good meal, I am grateful to all of the chefs in our area who are using fresh ingredients and cooking affordable food. Many of my favorite places are in areas tourists visit this time of year. When I think about where to dine, I find myself considering alternatives to places I know tourists love to visit; however, lately I’ve been wondering if that might be the wrong mindset.


Portland is fairly well known for having excellent restaurants. Several of them have earned high praise and well deserved nominations and awards. Then there are countless others that deserve more attention, but for whatever reason they remain obscure and rarely mentioned. As a diner, I believe it’s in my responsibility to support the excellent restaurants in my city. The more successful these restaurants are, the better off the rest of us will be. Think about it; when people come from outside of our area to eat, they are contributing to our local economy and providing employment opportunities to our residents.


Chelsea Cook, Portland contributing editor to Eat Drink Lucky, a daily that offers food drink and lifestyle news in three short tips, had this to say about those who work so hard to feed us in Portland: “Restaurant work is high-stress year round, period. My thoughts are clouded by the way my heart goes out to the people that have put this city on the map as a foodie mecca and craft beer paradise. During peak tourist season, food trucks are my favorites. They're local, they're tasty and their locations are unpredictable. I check online to see where they're parking next and head in that direction.”


Richard Rothlisberger, a retired school teacher living in Falmouth, had this to say about dining out this time of year: “We find that we avoid the restaurants that have big name recognition during the summer months, due to difficulty getting a reservation and the overall quality of the experience. Instead, we find ourselves exploring neighborhood 'gems,' smaller restaurants on the outer extremes of the peninsula that seem to maintain a local clientele. We value the influx of tourists, and what they bring to our economy ... but don't necessarily choose to dine with them!”


And then, of course, there is the issue of reservations; in the not-so-distant past, I was frustrated with restaurants who did not take reservations. Today, I believe I have a better understanding of the reasoning behind it. First and foremost, I think that many people today do not think twice about not showing up when they do have a reservation. It’s inconsiderate and creates a problem for the restaurant. How long can or should you hold a table? How much revenue is lost when a table sits empty? Is it fair to walk-ins waiting for a table? Is it appropriate to take a credit card number to hold a table? It’s no wonder many restaurants who do take reservations keep a number of tables open for walk-ins. By not taking reservations and operating at a first come, first serve basis, you are being more fair to everyone. If the food is that good, it’s worth waiting for. I like the restaurants who are willing to text you when your table is ready and hold it for ten minutes while you make your way back there. Restaurants cannot possibly please everyone, but why not try to please as many customers as you can. Accepting reservations for large parties makes sense as well; however, there should be and sometimes is, a deposit for holding the table.


If you truly love a restaurant, why not make your way there year round. If you assume tourists have taken over your favorite dining spot, you may be wrong in that assumption. When I managed a restaurant in New York, I was often miffed by the unpredictability of business — there were days when we expected to be slammed and yet we were quiet and then days when we thought no one would walk through the door and we’d have a line out the door. If there was a formula, more restaurants would be filled from opening to closing. Why deny yourself the pleasure of good food whatever time of year it happens to be. Food trucks, seaside bistros, corner cafés with outdoor seating; whatever you fancy, they are all right here for our dining pleasure.

The Well at Jordan’s Farm: You cannot experience this at home

When I talk to Portland friends about dining out, they sometimes tell me that they do not feel the need to spend money at restaurants, when they can just as well dine at home. My argument is that there are dining experiences which could never be replicated in your home. For example, this week a friend and I ate at the chef’s counter at The Well at Jordan’s Farm.

What I am about to share with you about that night is true, only the last names have been withheld to protect the unique and wonderful people in my story. It started when my friend MaryBeth and I got out of the car at the farm; we were both giddy and ravenous with anticipation.  Armed with a red and a white — you can bring your own; we skipped toward the vegetable garden and gazebos. Halfway there I hear, “Oh @&%#!” I turned to discover why MaryBeth was in despair and learned that she had forgotten her cash and wallet at home — The Well is a cash-only restaurant. I told her not to worry and that I had brought plenty of cash. When I counted the bills in my pocket, a feeling of panic came over me. I thought I would only have enough to cover two partial dinners. MaryBeth offered to drive back to her house in Falmouth and I told her that I thought that was crazy and that we’d make do with the cash we had on hand. She actually offered up a dollar at this point; a gesture, that had I’d been in a different mood, might have ended the evening.

When we arrived at the host stand, Emily sensed something was wrong and asked us if everything was okay. When we told her about the bind we were in, she quickly pulled out a menu and her calculator. She said, “Review the menu and tell me what you’ll be ordering.”

It was obvious that we were going to fall short of the cash we needed. Emily told us that if it were not for her broken toe (I think I have this right), she’d be waiting tables that night; I guess Emily’s bad luck was our good fortune. She shared that she had a stash of some cash and that she’d be happy to loan us what we needed. MaryBeth and I blushed and praised Emily as she ushered us to the Chef’s counter. The chef and owner of the Well, Jason Williams and his staff greeted us with no knowledge of what had just transpired.

The night was cool, an outdoor fire was roaring, and vegetables quietly grew all around us. Our waitperson came over and asked us if we needed a corkscrew. This is a change from last year when you ordered and paid at the counter when you arrived. We did not need a corkscrew; however, we did ask for wine glasses. She left us and returned with two beautifully boxed and “The Well” etched wine glasses. Again, we expressed our thanks and quickly decided we couldn’t afford $6 glasses on our meager budget. At exactly this moment of our sad realization, Emily appeared with a substantial loan. I’ve been eating out for many years and I have never had this happen. MaryBeth and I thanked her 43 times and kept the wine glasses.

While all this was happening, two new diners joined us at the Chef’s counter. I was one person removed from them and had not spoken to them. MaryBeth, on the other hand, was already exchanging cell phone numbers. I filled our glasses with wine and sensed some frustration from MaryBeth’s new friends. Apparently George was attempting to open a twist top wine bottle with a corkscrew. If this were the only gaffaw of the evening it would not have been very funny; however, this slapstick moment combined with the others, was a regular comedy of errors and at this point, my stomach was both aching from laughter and growling with hunger pangs.

Although the good natured humor and unexpected kindness added to the evening, it really was about the food. Chef Jason is a brilliant farm-to-fork chef. He takes simple fresh ingredients to new heights of pleasure. His butter poached lobster with English peas literally melted in my mouth. The chicken jus on my wood fire roasted chicken was silky and smoky and made every frustrating thought of an insane week, fade away. It was the powdered donut over fresh strawberries with a dollop of whipped cream, that stole me away to a place I return to whenever the taste in my mouth reminds me that summer in Maine is heaven on earth.

The check came and I was quickly returned to reality. Alas, I had enough cash to cover the check and we returned the generous, albeit, temporary loan to Emily. So many memories we would never have had, had we dined at home.

Subscribe to this RSS feed