My Kitchen Their Table: Nathaniel Meiklejohn

Welcome to the June 2022 edition of My Kitchen, Their Table, an interview series with the chefs and culinary professionals who work hard to satisfy our small city’s big appetite. This month we’re featuring an interview with Nathaniel Meiklejohn from The Jewel Box. Photos and videos will continue to expand on the story on instagram, so stay tuned.


If the hardcore band Stormfront had made it big, no one would have ever tasted the exquisite cocktail creations of Nathaniel Meiklejohn — and that would have been a serious shame. Meiklejohn, who goes by Nan’l, was a member of the straight edge band throughout high school and continued to abstain from alcohol until he was twenty-one years old. He studied jazz guitar at the University of Maine in Augusta, but his career trajectory changed as he became more experienced in the restaurant industry.

During college, Nan’l bartended at The Liberal Cup in Hallowell and developed an appreciation for craft beer. In Portland, he bartended at Downtown Lounge on Congress Street, was the first male “cocktail waitress” at Fore Street, and spent five years at Local 188 learning how to make essential cocktails under the “legendary bar wizard,” John Myers. Although he mastered classic cocktails and the fundamentals of mixology, he felt his creativity was stifled in a restaurant setting.

An artist at heart, Nan’l found other avenues to develop his craft. In 2012, he teamed up with Joel Beauchamp and Katie and Josh Schier-Potocki from 158 Pickett Street Café (now closed) to launch a pop-up brunch series known as Pocket Brunch. The ticketed brunches were held at various locations, from restaurants and bars to sailboats and greenhouses, and featured multiple courses centered around a common theme.

Pocket Brunch encouraged Nan’l to take risks and think outside of the box. For the “Baller Brunch” at Broadturn Farm, he concocted a clear bloody mary made with horseradish-infused tomato water and poured it over a neatly chiseled ice sphere. He pushed cocktail boundaries at a dozen brunches, including one at his very own bar, The Jewel Box.

The Jewel Box debuted in September 2014 with widespread support from the community, and in 2022 earned a James Beard Award semifinalist nomination for Outstanding Bar Program. His intriguing and ever-changing selection of cocktails drew clientele to a portion of Congress Street that had little going on at the time. Inspired by his former neo-victorian apartment on State Street, The Jewel Box glitters with chandeliers, brass fixtures, velvet curtains, and a floor-to-ceiling mural commissioned by local painter Elizabeth Kleene.

Despite its Victorian aesthetic, the vibe is far from stiff and pretentious. A glistening disco ball, eclectic music, and an all-inclusive atmosphere make The Jewel Box a lively and welcoming space. Continue reading to discover what Nan’l wants you to experience when you visit The Jewel Box, why he loves gin, where he goes in Portland for a great meal, and how he spends a day eating his way through Kittery.

THE INTERVIEW

AR: How does the experience at Jewel Box differ from your typical cocktail bar?
NM: It’s an intentional experience. I want people to focus on each other, not a TV or their phone. Bars usually cater to masculinity, and I wanted to do everything as feminine as I could. I wanted to make a bar for women and trans or underserved people. I definitely channeled both of my grandmother’s energies. I have some of their things on display — like that little deer on the top shelf.

AR: What is one of your favorite cocktails at The Jewel Box?
NM: The Shallow Grave is one of our go-to drinks. It’s definitely for adventurous types. It has Laphroaig Select single malt scotch whisky, Rothman & Winter creme de Violette, Regans’ orange bitters, housemade ginger honey syrup, and fresh-squeezed lime juice. It’s this wild mix of smokey, floral, fruity, and grayish-purple in color, like an ominous dark storm cloud.

AR: Do you have a favorite spirit?
NM: I gravitate towards gin. It has so many little secrets you can coax out with different ingredients. Every gin distillery has its proprietary blend. One of my favorites is Uncle Val’s. It’s super botanical and kind of sweet. You can just put it on the rocks and drink it. Back River Gin is made in Maine. That one is really nice; it’s super floral. Ransom is my favorite aged gin.

AR: What are your go-to restaurants in Portland?
NM: Cong Tu Bot is one of my favorites. I’ll try whatever is on special. The chicken pho is next level. They care about marginalized communities and other important issues. Vien and his partner Jessica also helped with some of the pocket brunches. I eat at Honey Paw a lot. They have several gluten-free options. I go there when I want a flavor party. I love Cong Tu Bot and Honey Paw because they’re not afraid of bold flavors.

AR: Where do you recommend going for a special occasion?
NM: I love the floor-to-ceiling aesthetics of Fore Street and the whole atmosphere there. It’s just really beautiful, and everything is so well-sourced. It’s fun to watch the chefs cook and listen to all the communication between the expo and kitchen.

AR: Where do you recommend for takeout?
NM: My staff and I order from Mi Sen a couple of days a week. It’s so good, and the staff is so sweet. I get the drunken noodle usually with tofu. The veggies in it are so fresh and crunchy. I also really like the satay chicken skewers, and the ginger noodles are amazing.

AR: Are there any restaurants you’re looking forward to trying for the first time?
NM: Generally, I don’t eat gluten, but occasionally I cheat. When I do cheat, I’m going to Leeward.

AR: What are your favorite restaurants outside of Portland?
NM: I recommend spending a day in Kittery — not the main strip, but right on the water. It’s like a little village within a one-block radius where you can get some of the best food in Maine. When I go to Kittery, I’m going to Lil’s Bakery first for a coffee and cruller. Then, I’ll go to lunch at Anju Noodle Bar. I usually go shopping at the strip mall and glassware hunting at the thrift stores. Then, I’ll have dinner at Black Birch. They always have a couple of salads on special, and I get whichever they recommend. I love their poutine and the deviled eggs. They always do something fun with them. Then, I’ll end the day with a drink at Wallingford Dram.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Previous editions of My Kitchen Their Table have featured Courtney Loreg, Chad Conley  Atsuko Fujimoto, Matt Ginn, Jordan Rubin, Cara Stadler, Thomas Takashi Cooke, Ilma Lopez, Bowman Brown, Brian Catapang, Kelly Nelson, Lee Farrington & Bryna Gootkind, Jake and Raquel Stevens, and Tina Cromwell.

The My Kitchen Their Table series is brought to life through the talent and hard work of food writer Angela Andre Roberts, and the generous sponsorship by Evergreen Credit Union and The Boulos Company.

My Kitchen Their Table: Tina Cromwell

Welcome to the March 2022 edition of My Kitchen, Their Table, an interview series with the chefs and culinary professionals who work hard to satisfy our small city’s big appetite. This month we’re featuring an interview with Tina Cromwell from Bam Bam Bakery. Photos and videos will continue to expand on the story throughout the rest of the month on instagram, so stay tuned.


Flour. Butter. Eggs. These are staples in baking as much as wood, stone, and metal are in construction. But, one Portland baker has proved these ingredients aren’t essential. With “chemistry, a little bit of magic, and a lot of trial and error,” Tina Cromwell’s gluten-free, vegan chocolate cake is just as delicious as one laden with flour, butter, and eggs.

Tina and her husband, Lance, own and operate Bam Bam Bakery, the city’s first exclusively gluten-free bakery. Founded in 2011, The Cromwells purchased the business in 2017. And, while they kept most recipes unchanged, they adjusted some to accommodate more dietary restrictions. Others, like the bagels, are new creations.

As someone who has struggled with gluten sensitivity since childhood, Tina can attest to how difficult it can be to find a tasty substitute. “When gluten-free alternatives first came out, most of it wasn’t very good, and some people are still skeptical. But our stuff is really good. You can’t even tell the difference,” she asserts.

Before taking over Bam Bam, Tina studied hotel and restaurant administration at the University of New Hampshire and worked in San Francisco and Napa Valley under prominent chefs like Wolfgang Puck. She returned to Maine just as the state’s food scene was gaining traction. She served at Primo for three seasons and has held nearly every position at Fore Street on and off for fourteen years.

Last summer, Bam Bam relocated to the former Cakes Extraordinaire space on Brighton Avenue. The bakery is open Friday and Saturday from 9 am to 3 pm. In addition to cookies, cakes, and other confections, Bam Bam also has savory items like chicken pot pie and lasagna. Continue reading to learn how many alternative flours and starches Tina uses, her favorite Bam Bam treat, and where she goes for a gluten-free meal in Portland and beyond.

THE INTERVIEW

AA: Did you create all the recipes at Bam Bam?
TC: Not all of them. I bought the recipes but tweaked quite a few, like the chocolate cake is now vegan. The egg replacer makes it fudgier, so no one complains. We also came up with a ridiculous bagel recipe. Our bagels are so good, and they’re gluten, dairy, soy, and nut-free.

AA: What ingredients do you use to replace gluten?
TC: We have fifteen different flours and starches that we use in different combinations depending on what we try to achieve. We use a variety of flours like garbanzo, sorghum, millet, and rice. For binders, we use xanthan gum and psyllium. It’s the most bizarre baking I’ve ever done in my life. It’s chemistry, a little bit of magic, and a lot of trial and error.

AA: Do you accommodate any other dietary restrictions?
TC: Yes, we are a go-to for people with food allergies because so many people with celiac disease are also lactose intolerant or have an egg allergy. It’s difficult to find baked goods that don’t have cream, butter, or eggs. We try to make as many items as possible with vegan butter or plant-based milk.

AA: What is your favorite item at Bam Bam?
TC: My favorite is the caramel delight bar with a brownie base, dried cherries, pecans, peanuts, chocolate chunks, caramel, and sea salt. It’s sweet, salty, crunchy, nutty, and chocolatey.

AA: What are your customer favorites?
TC: We make a chicken pot pie that is ridiculously delicious. The secret to making the pie crust is eggs, which isn’t traditional. We have avid fans for that one. Our cinnamon roll is also a customer favorite. The process is so different than what you’d expect. The dough is goopy and has to be put between plastic wrap to roll it out.

AA: What are your favorite restaurants in Portland?
TC: Going out to eat for me starts with asking, “Can I eat anything here, and do I trust them?.” Even if the menu says gluten-free, there’s the risk of cross-contamination. If they have a dedicated fryer, I’m there.

AA: Do you know of any restaurants with dedicated fryers?
TC: Sinful Kitchen is one. The owner, Dave Mallari, has celiac disease. It’s my go-to breakfast spot on the weekend. I get the gluten-free waffle benedict. Another one is Saltwater Grille in South Portland. They have outdoor dining and a view of the Portland waterfront. It’s beautiful. I had fried scallops for the first time in probably fifteen years, and I think we’ve been back three times since. $3 Deweys on Commercial Street also has a gluten-free fryer and vegan options like a jackfruit barbecue sandwich.

AA: Have you discovered any new gluten-free spots?
TC: I recently tried Sticky Sweet. Two sisters own it. They make plant-based ice cream and have all of these crazy flavors, like maple coffee and key lime pie. It was the first time I had a waffle cone in a long time.

AA: Where have you had a particularly memorable meal?
TC: I have to go with Primo. It is hands down my favorite restaurant. A good portion of the menu is already gluten-free or has a gluten-free substitute. The salads are so good because she has her own garden. The last time I went, I had the whole-roasted Branzino, fried zucchini blossoms, and cornmeal cake with fruit and housemade ice cream.

AA: What other restaurants outside of Portland do you recommend?
TC: There’s a restaurant in Ogunquit called BeachFire with lots of gluten-free options. I had their peanut butter and jelly burger. It was really good. MK Kitchen in Gorham has more upscale gluten-free options. We recently ordered takeout. I had the risotto and fried brussels sprouts.

AA: One last thing. What is the BamBamBulance, and when can we expect its debut?
TC: The BamBamBulance is basically a generator on wheels. It’s not a traditional food truck because we don’t need propane or cooking abilities. It’s more like a mobile retail space. We also plan on using it for events, like mobile cupcake parties. We’re in the process of applying for the permit and hoping to launch this summer.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Previous editions of My Kitchen Their Table have featured Courtney Loreg, Chad Conley  Atsuko Fujimoto, Matt Ginn, Jordan Rubin, Cara Stadler, Thomas Takashi Cooke, Ilma Lopez, Bowman Brown, Brian Catapang, Kelly Nelson, Lee Farrington & Bryna Gootkind, and Jake and Raquel Stevens.

The My Kitchen Their Table series is brought to life through the talent and hard work of food writer Angela Andre, and the generous sponsorship by Evergreen Credit Union and The Boulos Company.

My Kitchen Their Table: Jake and Raquel Stevens

Welcome to the December edition of My Kitchen, Their Table, an interview series with the chefs and culinary professionals who work hard to satisfy our small city’s big appetite. This month we’re featuring an interview with Jake and Raquel Stevens from Leeward. Photos and videos will continue to expand on the story throughout the rest of the month on instagram, so stay tuned.


In their early teen years, Jake and Raquel Stevens began working in restaurants on opposite sides of the country. Jake washed dishes, bussed tables, and ran food at The Spaghetti Factory in Portland, Oregon. Meanwhile, Raquel poured soda at her godparent’s clam shack in New London, Connecticut. “I was very good at telling the subtle difference between Diet Coke, Coke, and root beer by sight alone,” she jokes.

Raquel fell hard for the adrenaline of the restaurant industry while bouncing from one buzzing clam shack to another, always working front-of-the-house. Jake took a liking to back-of-the-house when he filled in for a no-show line cook. He enjoyed cooking so much that he dropped out of college and transferred to the former Scottsdale Culinary Institute, now closed.

After a stint in the Caribbean and roaming California with a band, Raquel moved to Portland, Oregon, where she and Jake’s fates aligned. The two met while working at Chef Jenn Louis’ nationally recognized restaurant, Lincoln, now closed. “That was the first restaurant I worked at where I realized restaurants could be beautiful, serious, and create lovely food,” Raquel explains.

The duo then moved to Los Angeles and worked at The Tasting Kitchen, where Raquel learned about obscure wine varietals and Jake discovered a passion for handmade pasta. Eventually, they returned to Portland, Oregon, where Jake served as chef de cuisine at Beast, now Ripe Cooperative, and Raquel refined her knowledge of classic French wines at Laurelhurst Market.

In July 2017, Jake and Raquel left one Portland for another. Maine reminded them of their favorite parts of the Pacific Northwest. The Forest City offered a slower pace of life and a better opportunity to open a restaurant. Their transition to restaurant owners was slow and strategic. For three years, Raquel expanded her wine education at Drifters Wife, and Jake gained experience with East coast seafood as the sous chef at Eventide. “We felt it was important to engrain ourselves into the food culture here and get to know people in the industry. We didn’t want to just come in and railroad our own concept,” Jake explains.

Leeward debuted in September 2018 when the Stevens held their first pop-up dinner at The Honey Paw.  After three more successful pop-ups, they leased space on a stretch of Free Street that is notoriously windy. (Ironically, leeward means “sheltered from the wind” in its nautical context). On March 12, 2020, Jake and Raquel opened the doors to 85 Free Street but announced the closure of their dining room in response to COVID-19 later that week.

Leeward weathered the pandemic like so many others by offering creative takeout options and outdoor dining on a freshly built patio during the warmer months. Finally, in summer 2021, Jake and Raquel welcomed guests once again to dine indoors. Leeward’s outstanding handmade pasta and intriguing wine list have received well-deserved praise from locals and tourists alike and others in the industry, such as Cara Stadler, Brain Catapang, and Kelly Nelson.

Continue reading to find out which pasta dish Jake “can’t take off the menu,” which wine region Raquel is loving most right now, their favorite takeout spots in Portland, and who they believe makes the “best pizza in Maine.”

THE INTERVIEW

AA: Why do you think Portland, Maine is such a fantastic restaurant city?
JS: Its proximity to bigger cities easily allows for the exchange of ideas and talented industry professionals from larger markets. That coupled with access to amazing local produce and proteins creates a food city that punches above its weight class.

AA: Who has played a vital role in your journey to restaurant ownership?
JS: Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley from Eventide helped us out a lot. I got hired there even though they knew we had the intention of opening our own restaurant. They allowed us to do our pop-ups at The Honey Paw on Tuesdays when they were closed. They were also an invaluable resource and would answer any of our questions regarding business ownership, permitting, paperwork, and taxes. Andrew is still on speed dial for when I need unpaid restaurant consultation.

Our sous chef, Colin Kennedy, and pastry chef, Kate Hamm, have been with us since the beginning. We also had an opening sous chef, Jake Robins, who was here for a few months before returning home. He was hugely helpful in getting this place open — everything from recipe testing to driving to New Hampshire with me to pick up used kitchen equipment. And, of course, everyone that came to our pop-ups and contributed to our Kickstarter.

AA: Raquel, who has had the biggest impact on your wine career?
RS: Kristen Koors, the wine director at Laurelhurst Market, was really instrumental in teaching me about lower intervention wines and a lot of the classics from France. She took me under her wing and helped set me on the path I am on now. Also, Peter and Orenda Hale from Maine & Loire were huge in helping me learn about the natural wine world.

AA: What are your favorite dishes at Leeward?
JS: Our menu changes all the time. In the summertime, I was really excited about the fresh corn polenta. We use Pineland Farms corn and box grate it. We saute all the juices and chunks in butter and add corn cob stock. The starches start to gel, and it sets up like polenta. Then we put a slab of Taleggio cheese on top and melt it in the oven.

The mafaldine is a customer favorite. It’s the one pasta that doesn’t come off the menu. We extrude the mafaldine in-house. For the bolognese, we use grass-fed beef that is ground in house, cured pork, celery, carrot, onion, garlic, Chile de Árbol, bay leaf, housemade tomato paste, pork stock, white wine, and milk that is steeped with Parmigiano Reggiano rinds. Then we toss it all together with some sort of bitter green, like dandelion or escarole, and finish it with a little butter and Parmigiano Reggiano.

AA: What are your favorite wines at Leeward?
RS: Lately, I’ve been captivated by Italy in general, but Piemonte especially. It was a region I wrote off for a long time, but the more I delve into it, the more I learn about producers that are making beautiful, honest, and sometimes unexpected expressions of native grapes in the region.

G.D. Vajra Claré J.C. Langhe Nebbiolo 2020 – This wine is made in a way that harkens back to a time before Barolo was a known region. It’s a lighter expression, partially carbonic, and very chillable, but it still has the floral quality and pencil shavings of Nebbiolo. It’s not what you think of when you think of Nebbiolo, but not so esoteric that you can’t enjoy it.

Scarpa Pelaverga Verduno 2020 – This is also from the Barolo region. It’s the producer’s first vintage of Pelaverga. Peleverga is a native grape, and very little is planted. It’s often planted in between rows and, I believe, used to pacify winemakers as they’re waiting for the Barolo to mature. It’s a light-bodied red with a ton of aromatics similar to amaro. It sort of smells like the forest on a hot day.

Giulia Negri La Tartufaia Barolo 2016 – This wine is made by a brazen young woman who took over her father’s estate. She’s known as “Barolo Girl.” It has the most finesse I’ve ever tasted in a Barolo. She does a long and slow maceration and fermentation, so she’s getting the power from the grape, but in a controlled manner. She’s tempered the boldness.

AA: What are some of your favorite dishes in Portland?
JS: Crispy Gai fried chicken is awesome. I like his crispy waterfall salad too.
RS: They’ve toed this line where it’s really fun and approachable, but it doesn’t feel kitschy.
JS: We also like the drinks at Cocktail Mary and the lamb tartare at Judy Gibson.

AA: What are some of your favorites outside of Portland?
JS: We really love the pizza at Oxbow Beer Garden in Oxford. I think it’s the best pizza in Maine. The ‘Nduja pizza is awesome.
RS: We eat that a lot in winter. We cross country ski then hang out in the beer garden. We waited an hour for that pizza one day, and it was worth it. The fried artichokes are really good too.
JS: Also, the cheese balls at Lorne Wine in Biddeford. They’re like the cheese balls you buy at Staples in the big round tub.
RS: Cheese balls pair remarkably well with nearly any kind of wine. Lorne also serves North Haven Oysters by Adam Campbell. We got to visit his oyster beds a couple of years ago. It looks like they’re just growing in their natural habitat. He doesn’t use cages. The oysters are bottom-cultured.

AA: What do you think is one of the most underrated restaurants in Portland?
JS: I like Bahn Appetit a lot. I wouldn’t say they are underrated but maybe overlooked.
RS: Everyone should go there and try a Bahn mi sandwich. It’s the perfect baguette, and the bread to filling ratio is just right.

AA: What do you recommend for takeout?
JS: The shrimp lettuce wraps at Mr. Tuna.
RS: And Ben Rueben’s Knishery is tasty. His knishes are creative, and the rugelach is excellent. We usually sit on the sidewalk, cover ourselves in crumbs, and then go back inside for more.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

A few notes on the restaurants mentioned in this article: Drifters Wife went out of business in July 2020, Eventide, Crispy Gai, Mr. Tuna, Cocktail Mary, Maine & Loire, Judy Gibson, Lorne Wine and The Honey Paw are open for indoor drinking and/or dining,  Oxbow Beer Garden has outdoor seating, Bahn Appetite and Ben Reuben’s Knishery are open for takeout.

Previous editions of My Kitchen Their Table have featured Courtney Loreg, Chad Conley  Atsuko Fujimoto, Matt Ginn, Jordan Rubin, Cara Stadler, Thomas Takashi Cooke, Ilma Lopez, Bowman Brown, Brian Catapang, Kelly Nelson, and Lee Farrington & Bryna Gootkind.

The My Kitchen Their Table series is brought to life through the talent and hard work of food writer Angela Andre, and the generous sponsorship by Evergreen Credit Union and The Boulos Company.

Photo Credit: Nicole Wolf Photography

My Kitchen Your Table: Lee Farrington and Bryna Gootkind

Welcome to the November edition of My Kitchen, Their Table, an interview series with the chefs and culinary professionals who work hard to satisfy our small city’s big appetite. This month we’re featuring an interview with Lee Farrington and Bryna Gootkind from LB Kitchen. Photos and videos will continue to expand on the story throughout the rest of the month on instagram, so stay tuned.


Lunch and breakfast. Life and business. Lee and Bryna. The ‘LB’ in LB Kitchen has many meanings. Lee Farrington and Bryna Gootkind, partners in both life and business, opened the daytime eatery in 2017. The two met five years prior, just before Lee closed her former restaurant Figa. She listed the space for rent, but there was a part of her that wasn’t ready to let it go. On the way to the third meeting with a potential tenant, she looked at Bryna and said, “If they’re not going to take the space, I want you to shake my hand, and then let’s open something.” Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.

The partnership was a recipe for success. Bryna had the business experience while Lee had the kitchen experience. Lee went to culinary school at The International Culinary Center (ICC), formerly The French Culinary Institute, and then spent a decade cooking in prestigious kitchens throughout New York City. She perfected her craft at Balthazar, Tabla, and al di la Trattoria. Bryna also lived in New York City, though the two didn’t know each other then. She was a band manager for ten years before a career change to the natural foods industry. Bryna’s knowledge of single-origin superfoods largely influenced LB Kitchen’s “healthy-ish” menu — think blue-hued chai lattes made with spirulina and gluten-free pancakes laced with turmeric, cardamom, and ginger topped with grass-fed butter and real maple syrup.

On February 21, 2020, LB Kitchen turned three — right before the city went on lockdown. Lee and Bryna didn’t waste time though. They quickly transitioned to takeout and even launched a special menu called LB x Home. The new menu was a deconstructed version of their best dishes and offered everything from pints of bone broth and miso slaw to smoothie kits and raw cookie dough.

However, LB’s second location remained empty for months. In May 2020, Lee and Bryna announced the permanent closure of the West End location only ten months after its debut. What appeared to be a huge setback at first turned out to be a blessing in disguise. “We were back in our original location with our core group of people and I don’t think I’ve ever felt more secure. The pandemic was eye-opening in terms of the direction we wanted to go,” Lee explains.

With a clear vision of their business model and brand, LB Kitchen introduced a fresh new logo in November. The new logo is more graphic, less bowl-centric, as they transition away from a traditional restaurant model and into a lifestyle brand. “It feels like we’re going somewhere, even if we continue operating this way for years to come. It feels like our brand has progressed,” Bryna explains. LB Kitchen is currently open for takeout, limited patio dining, and delivery via CarHop, 2DineIn, and DoorDash. You can order online from the regular menu as well as “market” items like house made ferments, sauces, spreads, and other prepared items.

Continue reading to learn more about how Lee and Bryna’s food philosophies clashed at first, the secret ingredient in Lee’s famous wild boar dish, which Scarborough restaurant they’re ordering takeout from nearly every week, and where they go in Portland to celebrate special occasions.

THE INTERVIEW

AA: Lee, what was it like being the daughter of a Pan American airline pilot?
LF: I grew up in Kentucky, but was well-traveled starting at a young age. I was exposed to things that most people still aren’t even exposed to. I got to travel and taste other cuisines. The trip that changed my life was to France and Spain when I was fifteen years old. Having Mediterranean seafood on the coast of Spain was completely mind-blowing and being in Paris trying escargot for the first time was a game-changer. I knew then that I wanted to do something with food.

AA: How did your food philosophies differ prior to your partnership?
LF: It took a couple of years for us to get on the same page. (Before our relationship), I had a lot of meat and potatoes in my life. Then I dropped red meat and got rid of gluten. We started eating a ton of seafood, which is now my favorite food. It was different and enjoyable, but I also lost a lot of weight and just felt better.

AA: How did you come up with the concept for LB Kitchen?
BG: I don’t think either of us ever had this pipe dream of opening a health food restaurant. We didn’t want to put ourselves in a box or category that was limiting. The concept was born out of Lee and I as a couple and at a time and place in our lives. It’s something we are still so grateful for and oftentimes even still surprised by how much people are into it.

AA: How is LB Kitchen transitioning away from the traditional restaurant model?
BG: We decided to take the banquettes out of the dining area because they take up a lot of space. The difference between having twenty-one seats versus limitless pick-up is significant. The next phase includes constructional changes like redoing the facade, moving the door, adding sliding windows, and refining our operations inside.

AA: What are your favorite dishes at LB Kitchen?
LF: I used to do a wild boar dish at Figa that I carried over to LB Kitchen. It’s wild boar shoulder braised in a tomato-based sauce made with over twenty spices and served with coconut rice. My hidden weapon is jaggery. It’s concentrated sugar cane. It has a citrusy sweetness that is completely different from, say, brown sugar.
BG: Hands down for me it would be the avocado toast with our smoked African spice blend and truffle oil on Standard Baking Co. five-grain sourdough bread. It’s been on the menu since we opened. We’d eat it at home and be like, “We need to put this on the menu.” No one was serving avocado toast back then. You can also have it on our homemade gluten-free bread.

AA: Do you ever indulge in sweets?
LF: I have a big sweet tooth. One of my all-time favorite desserts is the chocolate tofu pie at Green Elephant. It’s absolutely freaking incredible!

AA: What are your go-to restaurants?
LF: Evo is in my top three. The chickpea fries and hummus are phenomenal. We’ve gone to a bunch of wine dinners there too. Kelly Nelson did an incredible job (selecting the wines). Also, Pai Men Miyake. When we first got together, we must have eaten there at least two times a week because we had to have the daikon carrot salad, Brussels sprouts, and tofu buns.

AA: Where do you go for takeout?
LF: Sushi is our weekly treat. We live in Scarborough now and there’s an amazing place on Route 1 called Kirin.
BG: Takeout is hard! A lot of food is meant to be experienced at a restaurant, but sushi is always good. Kirin’s tuna tataki is incredible. It’s seared, smoky, and spicy. It feels decadent for Scarborough. Also, the ratio of fish to rice is perfect. You don’t want too much of either.
LF: If we’re in Portland, we’re going to Mr. Tuna. Jordan Rubin is so talented. I’ve honestly contemplated asking him if I can see how he butchers fish just to hone my own skills.

AA: Where have you had an exceptional dining experience?
BG: We love David’s Opus Ten. They do an incredible job with small bites and pairings. That’s how I love to dine; a long meal, lots of bites, and lots of wine. We went there the day we got engaged.
LF: And Back Bay Grill! We did our baby’s gender reveal there. Larry Matthews is the salt of the earth. He is a very warm and genuine person. I always get the foie gras. Bryna loves the salmon dish and their Caesar salad.
BG: Also, Drifter’s Wife was another one of our favorite special occasions spots.

AA: Why do you think Portland is such a great restaurant city?
BG: The amazing thing about Portland, and Maine in general, is that there is someone nailing every category of food or cuisine. For example, Krista Desjarlais makes an incredible bagel — and a number of other things.
LF: There are a lot of talented people here. And the camaraderie of chefs in this town surpasses anything I’ve ever known in my life and I’ve worked in kitchens all over the place.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

A few notes on the restaurants mentioned in this article: the Back Bay Grill is open for on site dining, Green Elephant, Evo Kitchen + Bar, Mr. Tuna, Kirin, and Pai Men Miyake are open for on site and takeout. David’s Opus Ten is closed indefinitely and Drifters Wife is no longer in business.

Previous editions of My Kitchen Their Table have featured Courtney Loreg, Chad Conley  Atsuko Fujimoto, Matt Ginn, Jordan Rubin, Cara Stadler, Thomas Takashi Cooke, Ilma Lopez, Bowman Brown, Brian Catapang, and Kelly Nelson.

The My Kitchen Their Table series is brought to life through the talent and hard work of food writer Angela Andre, and the generous sponsorship by Evergreen Credit Union and The Boulos Company.

My Kitchen Your Table: Kelly Nelson

Welcome to the September edition of My Kitchen, Their Table, an interview series with the chefs and culinary professionals who work hard to satisfy our small city’s big appetite. This month we’re featuring an interview with Kelly Nelson from Fore Street. Photos and videos will continue to expand on the story throughout the rest of the month on instagram, so stay tuned.


She is unmistakable, eccentric, and nothing short of fabulous. Her hair shifts from one vibrant shade to the next (it’s currently flamingo pink) and cephalopod tattoos wrap her arms and legs. On Instagram she’s @geeksquid, and if you follow her you are well aware of her fondness for hairless rats. After contributing to the Portland food scene in various ways for over a decade, she now revels in the role of wine coordinator at Fore Street. She is, of course, the one and only Kelly Nelson.

Kelly’s wine expertise has been years in the making. In fact, there was a time when she disliked red wine altogether. Long before she began curating thoughtful and intentional wine lists, Kelly attended College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor. At the ripe age of nineteen, she became the kitchen manager at Reel Pizza, but her personality screamed front-of-the-house. Since then, she’s held nearly every front-facing restaurant role outside of the kitchen, from host to general manager.

In 2008, Kelly left Bar Harbor for Portland where she was persistent in her pursuit of working at Local 188. “Local 188 was a hotbed of creativity. It was one of those places that everyone wanted to be,” Kelly explains. She dropped her resume off multiple times, but it wasn’t until she bumped into chef-owner Jay Villani at Whole Foods that she finally got her foot in the door. She told him how much she wanted to work there and he responded with, “Yeah yeah kid, just show up at 4:30 pm.”

Kelly was a loyal employee of Local 188 and its sister restaurant, Sonny’s (now closed) for six years. She rose through the ranks, eventually running events and building wine lists. She continued to expand her wine knowledge at the beloved Italian restaurant, Piccolo (now closed), for more than five years. Then, in January 2019, Kelly became general manager and wine coordinator at Evo Kitchen + Bar where she also planned wildly popular monthly wine dinners. While most of her expertise is self-taught, she has a Level 2 Award in Wines from Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and is also a member of Maine Sommeliers Society, a blind tasting group run by Erica Archer of Wine Wise.

Since April 2021, Kelly has been breathing new life into Fore Street’s wine list. Vintage wines and Napa Cabernet Sauvignon are still plentiful but now you can also try something a little off the beaten path. Read on to learn her favorite wines on Fore Street’s expansive list, her go-to Portland restaurants, and where she ate her most memorable meal nearly ten years ago.

THE INTERVIEW

AA: How was Local 188 influential to your career in wine?
KN: When I started at Local 188, I knew nothing about wine. I didn’t even like red wine then. I drank Pinot Grigio because I knew how to pronounce it. I learned about wines from Gary Boycott, who is now the operations manager. He had an incredible way of translating what was washing over his tongue when he tasted wine. Without him, I wouldn’t be as passionate about wine as I am now or have had that kind of introduction that made this path possible.

AA: How do you pair wine with food?
KN: There are two ways of pairing wine with food; one is with a wine that cuts through the richness of the dish. It has that palette cleansing experience. The other is with a wine that becomes one with the dish. Each bite of the food and sip of the wine becomes a full-circle experience. You’re not quite sure where one begins and the other ends.

AA: What is your favorite winery or wine region?
KN: Chateau Musar in Lebanon is my favorite winery. It’s one of the most unique wineries in the world. It’s all French varietals grown in the Bekaa Valley. Every sip is layered with spice, acidity, fruit, and tannins. It fascinates me that it comes from such a war-torn country and a place of strife and pain, but also so much beauty. It’s all the things that I love in life trapped inside a bottle. Evo really gave me the opportunity to highlight that winery.

AA: How does your wine list at Fore Street differ from the one you created at Evo Kitchen + Bar?
KN: At Evo, I wanted to create an esoteric wine list that connected wine with food in the way that it is meant to be. Their food is more delicate and vegetarian-based. Because of that, you don’t need tannic, aggressive wines. You need wines that are more quaffable in nature. At Fore Street, I wanted to blow a little dust off of the wine list. I’ve been designing the wine list to make it all-inclusive. I have everything from the classics to a Gaglioppo from Calabria, which pairs well with grilled meats. Of course, that’s what Fore Street is known for. You need wines that balance all that smoke and char.

AA: What are some of your favorite white wines by the bottle at Fore Street?
KN: The Château Simone Palette Blanc (2014) is a beautiful expression of a varietal that you don’t hear about often. It has the right amount of oxidative notes and this really interesting full-body palette without being too cloying. It goes beautifully with our turnspit roasted chicken, which is next level. I also love the Dona Maria Amantis Reserva Viognier (2016) from Portugal. Viognier can be a very temperamental variety. With the right amount of care, it can either be very bright and light or rich and voluptuous. This one has nice spice and caramelized notes. It tastes like it’s from Portugal.

AA: What is one of your favorite red wines by the bottle at Fore Street?
KN: One bottle that I added to our list is the 2013 Movia from Slovenia. I actually priced it a little lower because I want to make it more accessible to the general public. It’s sultry with dark fruit, like blueberry and bramble. It has a lot of depth, but also a burst of acidity that opens up your palette. That’s what sets this one apart from pinot noir.

AA: Where do you go to eat in Portland?
KN: One of my favorite restaurants in town, and has been since they opened in 2011, is Schulte and Herr. Brian and Steffi are some of the most kind, generous, humble, hospitality-driven people that I know. Their restaurant has that hole-in-the-wall, mom-and-pop kind of feeling. It’s one of the only places in town that is BYOB. The potato pancakes are to die for and hopefully they will bring back the Sunday Brunch. For the Sunday roast, they do this beautiful big pan of roast beef or pork with gravy and potato dumplings. I’ve never been anywhere that’s as consistent as they are.

AA: Where else do you dine often in Portland?
KN: Izakaya Minato. I’m a huge fan of Thomas Cooke’s food and Elaine Alden does an incredible job with the wine and sake list. I love their warm cozy atmosphere and fine detailed food that’s also so comforting. Again, I’ve never had a bad meal there. My favorite dish is the age ochazuke. I usually get at least two servings.

AA: Where have you had an incredibly memorable meal?
KN: At Hugo’s on January 4th, 2012. It was my birthday. I still have the menu from that night on my refrigerator. Nicholas, my partner, planned this incredible meal with the then chef-owner, Rob Evans. He is wildly talented. He made twenty courses and it ran the gamut. The Fantasy of Lamb was one of my favorite dishes. It looked like a Salvador Dalí landscape of food. The whole meal was memorable beyond imagination.

AA: Are there any newer restaurants that you’re loving right now?
KN: Leeward is so good. Raquel Stevens is amazing. She put together a wine list that I’m obsessed with. It’s so unique that I get overwhelmed by how awesome it is. I just asked her to pick a wine for me. The chef, Jake Stevens, made a Nero pasta with squid that was awesome and a stuffed squash blossom with maple cream, mushrooms, and fried lemon. It was so interesting and really well done.

AA: We know you’re a big fan of Ruski’s. What is it that you love about the West End institution?
KN: I love Ruski’s for many reasons. The main one is comfort. Ruski’s is that old comfy robe that you’ve had for years that shows its age in the best ways — frayed and stained it keeps the importance of nostalgia at the forefront of your mind. I’ve literally walked from my house in my pj’s and robe to enjoy a beverage with some of my favorites both behind and at the bar.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

A few notes on the restaurants mentioned in this article: Local 188, Evo, Izakaya Minato, Leeward, and Ruski’s are open with indoor and outdoor seating. Schulte & Herr is open for takeout. Hugo’s has been closed during the pandemic. Fore Street is open for indoor seating—reservations are strongly recommended but if you don’t get one join the line that forms starting at around 4:30 to grab a seat at the bar or one of the seats held back for walk-ins each night.

Previous editions of My Kitchen Their Table have featured Courtney Loreg, Chad Conley  Atsuko Fujimoto, Matt Ginn, Jordan Rubin, Cara Stadler, Thomas Takashi Cooke, Ilma Lopez, Bowman Brown, and Brian Catapang.

The My Kitchen Their Table series is brought to life through the talent and hard work of food writer Angela Andre, and the generous sponsorship by Evergreen Credit Union and The Boulos Company.

My Kitchen Their Table: Brian Catapang

Welcome to the July edition of My Kitchen, Their Table, an interview series with the chefs and culinary professionals who work hard to satisfy our small city’s big appetite. This month we’re featuring an interview with Brian Catapang from Magnus on Water in Biddeford. Photos and videos will continue to expand on the story throughout the rest of the month on instagram, so stay tuned.


Two women walk into a bar in Biddeford, Maine, and find themselves in a life-changing conversation with the bartender… No, this isn’t the first line of a joke. It’s a true story about how Brian Catapang, Carmen Harris, Julia Russell, and Brittany Saliwanchik went from strangers to friends to business partners in less than 24 hours.

Catapang was bartending at Elda when Harris and Russell stopped in for a drink. Impressed by his off-the-cuff cocktails, they asked if he had ever thought of opening his own bar. The DC-based women were interested in the rise of Biddeford’s food scene and looking for a way to get involved. Indeed, Catapang had given it some thought along with Saliwanchik, Elda’s general manager at the time. The next day, the four met for coffee and bonded over their shared vision of a cocktail bar rooted in community and hospitality. It was then and there that the team behind Magnus on Water was built.

Catapang first developed an interest in spirits when he was a brand ambassador for Wiggly Bridge Distillery in York. Fascinated by the distilling process and inspired by a liquor’s limitless possibilities, he started searching for bartending gigs to develop his own menu.

In the winter of 2017, he came across an ad on Craigslist for the opening bartending position at Elda. The description was vague and the restaurant was barely built out, but he knew the opportunity to work with Chef Bowman Brown wasn’t one to pass up. At Elda, he quickly developed his unique cocktail style, striking a balance between bold ingredients and nuanced spirits.

One year after that inspired conversation over coffee at Elements, Catapang and his team celebrated Magnus’ grand opening on January 18, 2020. The new cocktail bar and restaurant was drawing crowds to Biddeford, but the pandemic brought it to a sudden halt. After a temporary closure, Magnus reopened that summer for outdoor dining on the adjacent granite patio. Feeling limited by the challenges of the pandemic, the team made the difficult decision to close for the winter and spring of 2021.

As of June 8th, Magnus on Water has again welcomed patrons back to their spacious outdoor patio adorned with pink lawn flamingos. Unlike last year, there is full table service and non disposables. Indoor dining is available on a limited basis.

The food program is led by Ben Jackson, a 2020 James Beard Award nominee for Best Chef Northeast. The small menu is seasonally inspired, drawing from Maine’s diverse landscape and abundance. It is the perfect complement to Catapang’s intriguing and ever-changing cocktails.

Keep reading to learn more about how Catapang developed his craft, why the Crowd Surfer is one of his favorite cocktails on the menu, and where you can find him dining in Portland on his nights off.

THE INTERVIEW

AA: How did working with Bowman Brown influence your craft?
BC: I learned to really challenge myself and throw out the rule book. He’s continuously perfecting his dishes. It’s like the Kaizen approach where incremental improvements really add up over time. He would bring me different ingredients from the kitchen, like fermented butternut squash, and ask me if I could make it into a drink. Some of the best drinks that I’ve ever made have been crazy experiments, but not without a lot of trial and error.

AA: How would you describe your cocktail style?
BC: I’d say polished and a bit whimsical. I don’t like to use garnishes that don’t serve a purpose, even though it might make a drink look prettier. Sometimes my garnish is a spray, tincture, foam, or oil. It forces the drinker to be a bit more present and think about what they’re tasting. Ultimately, I try to make drinks that are complex yet approachable and familiar yet intriguing. When a guest is trying to figure out what they’re tasting, I consider that a win.

AA: What is one of your favorite cocktails that you’ve made?
BC: The Crowd Surfer was inspired by my love of surfing and the ocean. The drink has a margarita esque base made with fresh quality ingredients. I make it with your choice of Camarena tequila blanco or Banhez mezcal, lemon & lime juices, dry curaçao, and a touch of simple syrup. Instead of a traditional salt rim, I make a poblano and pineapple sea salt foam to top it off. The drink itself resembles a wave!

AA: How do you make the foam?
BC: I gather a five-gallon bucket of seawater from Fortunes Rocks, cook it down until it looks like wet sand, and dehydrate it until it’s just sea salt. Then, I add Ancho Reyes Verde and pineapple juice and charge it in a nitrous oxide canister. The first sip is airy and salty. It’s like when you’re swimming in the ocean and get smashed in the face with a white water wave.

AA: What are some of your favorite restaurants?
BC: I have to start in Biddeford. Palace Diner is a staple. I go there almost too often. Whether I’m there for breakfast or lunch, I always get the cheeseburger and a can of Coke. I also love Elda. I know I’m biased, but I truly believe Bowman Brown is one of the most talented chefs in Maine.

AA: What about in Portland?
BC: Sichuan Kitchen for sure. I love the Zhong dumplings, Yu-Xiang eggplant, spicy noodles with minced pork, and gong bao chicken! Everything is super flavorful and when you order takeout, the food is just as good as the day before because all the food sits in the aromatic oils and spices. I also really like Little Giant. Chef Neil uses creative and obscure ingredients. Sometimes I have no idea what I’m ordering, but that’s what I love. You can just trust him to drive.

AA: What does a typical meal out look like for you?
BC: I usually go to Izakaya Minato for a whiskey highball and a couple of small plates, like sashimi and the JFC (Japanese fried chicken). Then, I go across the street and get way too full at Cong Tu Bot. It reminds me of my childhood. My dad is Filipino and lived in Thailand for a while. He always took us to hole-in-the-wall places. Mom’s Fried Rice is great and I always get the pandan pancake no matter how full I am.

AA: Where have you been recently that really impressed you?
BC: I went to Ramona’s the other day. I had their breakfast hoagie and it was so good. Make sure you add the Calabrian chili spread. I was also very impressed with what they are doing over at Judy Gibson. The lamb tartare and gnocchi were delicious. And, Leeward. Jake and Raquel are so talented and Kate, the pastry chef, is unbelievable. I’m not a big dessert person, but everything she makes is wonderful. For savory dishes, I love the chicken liver mousse and mafaldine. The texture of the pasta is perfect and the meat sauce is so well balanced.

AA: Where do you go for a great cocktail?
BC: Hunt and Alpine is the institution. You’re going to get a really balanced drink there ten out of ten times. The Select Old-Fashioned is amazing. I’m jealous they have that barrel of Four Roses Bourbon. But honestly, when I go out I’m having a Budweiser or a Martini with a lemon twist. Woodford F&B is the bartender’s bar. Their drinks are great and you’ll always see other industry people there.

AA: Would you call yourself a “mixologist?”
BC: I prefer ‘bartender.’ Just because someone can make a fancy cocktail doesn’t make them a good bartender. It’s different. A mixologist might be able to make you the perfect negroni, but a great bartender knows how to handle their bar. They know their customers and what they drink. Mixologist is just a fancy word. A great bartender wears many hats, and they are always on stage. There’s nothing wrong with being called a bartender.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

A few notes on the restaurants mentioned in this article: Palace Diner is back to serving indoors and is cash-only, Elda has reopened in their new location with a multi-course tasting menu (reservations required), Sichuan Kitchen and Ramona’s are open for takeout, Judy Gibson, Little Giant, Izakaya Minato, Hunt & Alpine, Woodford F&B and Leeward have indoor and outdoor seating, Cong Tu Bot is not currently open.

Previous editions of My Kitchen Their Table have featured Courtney Loreg, Chad Conley  Atsuko Fujimoto, Matt Ginn, Jordan Rubin, and Cara Stadler, Thomas Takashi Cooke, Ilma Lopez. and Bowman Brown.

The My Kitchen Their Table series is brought to life through the talent and hard work of food writer Angela Andre, and the generous sponsorship by Evergreen Credit Union and The Boulos Company.

My Kitchen Their Table: Bowman Brown

Welcome to the June edition of My Kitchen, Their Table, an interview series with the chefs and culinary professionals who work hard to satisfy our small city’s big appetite. This month we’re featuring an interview with Bowman Brown from Elda and Jackrabbit Cafe in Biddeford. Photos and videos will continue to expand on the story throughout the rest of the month on instagram, so stay tuned.


Bowman Brown credits his strong work ethic and abundant creativity to his upbringing. When he was just twelve years old, he pitched in as a cowhand on his family’s ranch in Arizona. He also tended to his mother’s garden, an experience that helped shape his resourcefulness and innovative use of local and seasonal ingredients.

His great-grandmother, Elda, was especially influential. A woman of many talents, she was a school teacher, a beekeeper and proprietor of a large honey business, a hat maker and door-to-door salesperson, and also lended a hand on the family ranch.

Brown attended Atlantic Culinary Academy in New Hampshire and went on to work at the esteemed Gary Danko in San Francisco and 231 Ellsworth (now closed) in San Mateo. He eventually settled in Salt Lake City where he opened his former restaurant, Forage, in 2009. He was named Best New Chef by Food & Wine in 2011 and was nominated for Best Chef in the Southwest by James Beard Foundation six times. Despite its prestige, Brown closed Forage after nearly seven years. He was ready for a new adventure.

He and his wife, Anna, were searching for a farmhouse in New England when he first visited Biddeford in 2017. Initially, they had no plans of opening a restaurant here, but he recalls walking by and admiring the space, formerly Custom Deluxe. When he returned to Biddeford, it was serendipitously available and Elda, affectionately named after his great-grandmother, was established.

In its first year, Elda was named one of the Best New Restaurants in America by Eater and the New York Times called it “both reverent and innovative.” In March 2020, Elda temporarily closed as they prepared to move into a larger space located at Pepperell Mill Campus. While you patiently await Elda’s grand reopening (expected Summer 2021), check out Brown’s latest concept — Jackrabbit Cafe.

Brown’s new restaurant is named after the desert-dwelling jackrabbit widely found throughout the western United States and his grandfather, Jack Brown. Rooted in heritage and a nod to Brown’s Danish ancestry, Jackrabbit Cafe serves Scandinavian-inspired breads, pastries and cakes as well as seasonal vegetable dishes, sandwiches, and heartier small plates. “It’s basically what we eat at home on a regular basis, but a little fancier,” Brown describes.

Read the full interview below to discover what is unique about his signature omelet at Jackrabbit Cafe, his go-to dishes in Portland, and how the pandemic has had an unforeseen positive impact on his life.

THE INTERVIEW

AA: Reflecting over a year later — has the COVID-19 pandemic had any positive impacts on you?
BB: I cooked at home a lot more than I had in years; I spent more time with my family than I had in years; I sat on the beach more than I had in years. It does put things in perspective, and hopefully, that perspective helps create more of a balance when returning to the kitchen.

AA: Besides yourself, who is in the kitchen at Jackrabbit Cafe?
BB: The pandemic caused most of our staff to take on work elsewhere, so when opening Jackrabbit, we had to start over with building a team. We have two full-time bakers, Kristina Alving and Juliette Risica, that execute my list of bakes, and we were able to hire back our former Chef de Cuisine, Ben McQuay, who will be managing the daily execution of the food menu in the near future.

AA: What makes the omelet on the cafe menu Japanese style?
BB: Traditionally, the Japanese omelet is a rolled omelet seasoned with dashi, which we do with our omelet, but it isn’t strictly traditional. I serve it with housemade spelt brioche bread, onion jam, and fresh herbs.

AA: Will Elda still offer a four-course fixed price menu?
BB: There will still be a fixed price menu, but it will not follow the traditional tasting menu structure. We will offer the full menu at the bar with a very limited selection of a la carte offerings.

AA: Can you say more about the menu at Elda?
BB: We would like to showcase whatever ingredients are at their best at a given time and keep them on the menu for as long as they are viable and in-season. I’m hugely critical of my own cooking, which is why past menus have always changed so often, but also because products here are really inconsistent in availability, especially seafood. It’s a really difficult kind of restaurant to run. It’s endlessly challenging to get the best stuff at the best time and it can be difficult for the staff to have a constantly changing menu. We don’t make it easy on ourselves.

AA: What is one of your favorite dishes in Portland?
BB: The dishes I love from other restaurants are not anything like what I make. Most of the meals I eat out are fast, simple, and guilty pleasures. One of the first things to come to mind is Duckfat’s doughnuts. It’s probably the best fried dough I’ve ever had. The texture is very soft, but bouncy. It has a little bit of toothsome to it.

AA: What is a fast meal that you love in Portland?
BB: The pastrami sandwich at Rose Foods is one of the most exceptional things I’ve had. It’s a classic, straightforward pastrami sandwich. It’s just rye bread, pastrami, and deli mustard.

AA: What do you love about it?
BB: I have a weakness for rye bread, or just earthy dense breads in general, but also the juiciness of the meat and how it fills up the space in your mouth. The texture and temperature of the pastrami is just right. It’s one of those things that’s really hard to nail in a restaurant because if it’s sitting there all day, presumably warm, it has a tendency to dry out, but if it’s not warm enough, it’s not juicy.

AA: Seeing as you are fairly new to the area, are there any restaurants in Portland that you’re looking forward to going to for the first time?
BB: Scales is on my list. I had Fred Eliot’s pâté en croûte at the gala wine dinner event during Portland Wine Week. It was really special. It’s the kind of thing that chefs try to avoid and probably fell out of fashion for a reason because it’s difficult to execute perfectly. The dough can be sort of stodgy, heavy, and soggy, but Chef Eliot’s is perfectly flakey. His dedication to that craft is really inspiring.

AA: Knowing how much you love change and newness, does New England feel like your forever home?
BB: I have put down some significant roots here, so it looks like I’m sticking around for a while. On the other hand, I have a wayfaring heart and a desire to experience many new places, so I guess we shall see.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

A few notes on the restaurants mentioned in this article: Jackrabbit Cafe opened on May 7th and Elda is expected to reopen this summer. Duckfat has outdoor seating on Middle Street and takeout, Rose Foods is offering takeout, and Scales has outdoor and indoor seating.

Previous editions of My Kitchen Their Table have featured Courtney Loreg, Chad Conley  Atsuko Fujimoto, Matt Ginn, Jordan Rubin, and Cara Stadler, Thomas Takashi Cooke, and Ilma Lopez.

The My Kitchen Their Table series is brought to life through the talent and hard work of food writer Angela Andre, and the generous sponsorship by Evergreen Credit Union and The Boulos Company.

My Kitchen Their Table: Ilma Lopez

Welcome to the March edition of My Kitchen, Their Table, an interview series with the chefs and culinary professionals who work hard to satisfy our small city’s big appetite. This month we’re featuring an interview with Ilma Lopez, co-owner and pastry chef of Chaval. Photos and videos will continue to expand on the story throughout the rest of the month on instagram, so stay tuned.


Ilma Lopez had been attending medical school for two years when she decided she wanted to go to culinary school instead. Her mother made her a deal. She could drop out, but only if she kept her grades up for another year while also working at a restaurant. Sure enough, Lopez excelled both in the classroom and the kitchen, winning her mother’s approval to trade stethoscopes and lab coats for whisks and aprons.

In 2004, Lopez graduated from the pastry program at Stratford University in Virginia. Her next stop was New York City where she met her future husband and business partner, Damian Sansonetti, while working as the pastry cook at DB Bistro. At first, they didn’t get along. “I thought he was a total jerk. He was so bossy. Plus, he played rock music while we prepped,” she recalls. Needless to say, it wasn’t love at first sight, but one trip to Long Island Beach with mutual friends would forever change their relationship. “We started talking and I realized he wasn’t so bad. Fourteen years later, here we are,” she jokes.

Lopez honed her pastry skills at some of the most acclaimed restaurants in New York City and beyond. She perfected French technique at Le Bernadin, embraced new disciplines while staging at El Bulli in Spain, and experimented with exotic ingredients gathered from the ports of Greece, India, and China while working at sea on a luxury cruise ship.

After her world travels, Lopez and Sansonetti were ready to leave the Big Apple in pursuit of a place with restaurant potential, direct access to farmers, and somewhere their future children would always want to come home to. That place, they decided, was Portland, Maine.

Their first restaurant, Piccolo, was an instant hit. The intimate Italian restaurant earned Lopez a StarChefs Rising Star award in 2014 and two James Beard Award nominations for Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2017 and 2018. Sadly, after seven celebrated years, Piccolo joined the pandemic casualty list this past July.

Lopez and Sansonetti’s second restaurant, Chaval, continues to thrive and evolve under these challenging times. The West End brasserie was named Best New Restaurant in 2017 by Portland Press Herald and has been featured in several other publications including Bon Appetit and Down East.

Check out the full interview with Chef Ilma Lopez to learn where she goes in Portland for takeout and great cocktails, how she became a leader behind the grassroots organization, Cooking for Community, and what it was like cooking beside one of the world’s greatest chefs, Ferran Adriá!

THE INTERVIEW

AA: How have your parents been crucial to your success as a chef and restaurant owner?
IL: I owe it to my mom. She’s always pushed me to be the best at whatever I choose to do. When I moved away from home, twenty years ago, my mom would call me every day, even when I was in Europe and Asia. She moved to Maine three years ago. She made the curtains at Chaval and my grandmother made the pillows. My dad is also fantastic. They’ve both supported me everywhere I go and in everything that I do.

AA: What was it like staging at El Bulli for the renowned chef, Ferran Adriá?
IL: It was awesome. I’ve never seen a kitchen run that way before. When I was in New York I would show up for my shift at 4 or 5 in the morning even though I was scheduled for 7 am — because being your best meant showing up early and working harder than anyone else. So, on my first day at El Bulli, I showed up two hours early and Chef Ferran asked me what I was doing. He didn’t allow anyone to start early. At first, it blew my mind because there I was working for free trying to give him even more of my time. Then, I understood; everyone started at the same time so that everyone had the same opportunities. We were all equal.

AA: How did you become one of the founding restaurants behind Cooking for Community?
IL: Lesley Oster, the general manager of Aurora Provisions, and Ellie Linen Low were looking for chef partners. They contacted me because they knew I was a big advocate for Full Plates Full Potential and Ian Malin, owner of Little Giant. Chaval was doing 500 meals per week at the beginning of the pandemic. As more restaurants have joined the cause, we are doing closer to 100 meals per week.

AA: What is your favorite dessert that you’ve ever made?
IL: Hands down, it’s my raspberry sorbet with caviar. It was on Chaval’s menu in the summer of 2019. I love caviar! You can use it in anything. I made the sorbet with seawater and fromage blanc with goat cheese from Sunset Acres. His cheese is delicious, but what really sold me was that he brings the baby goats with him on deliveries.

AA: What are some of your favorite restaurants in Portland?
IL: We tend to go to places where we adore the people, like Chris and Paige at Tipo and Central Provisions. If I want crudo, I go to Central Provisions and every Fall, I have to go to Tipo for the local pear and ricotta crostini. It’s sourdough bread with ricotta, sliced pear, olive oil, sea salt, and dried chile. It’s so simple but so good.

AA: Where else do you go for a consistently delicious meal?
IL: Sur Lie has great service and solid food and Krista and Tony are such good people. The pimento cheese and fried chicken is really tasty. I also really like Schulte and Herr. I love how non-pretentious and hospitable Steffi and Brian are. It’s one of those places you go because you feel welcome. Their zwiebelkuchen is the best onion tart I’ve ever had. Just perfect.

AA: Where do you go for a great cocktail?
IL: I love Cocktail Mary. In the fall, Isaac MacDougal makes a frozen cocktail inspired by a pumpkin spice latte. It’s made with Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy. You don’t usually see that liquor on menus because it’s not high-end, but I like it and that drink is fantastic!

AA: What are some of your go-to takeout spots?
IL: We love the eggplant parmesan at Isa Bistro and the crab cakes at Woodford F&B. Oh, and the banana pudding at Figgy’s! I have a weakness for custard.

AA: Is there anywhere around here with food that reminds you of home?
IL: The pan de bono at Maiz is just like I had it growing up in Venezuela. My family is Columbian, so that’s the kind of food we ate. Pan de bono is cheese bread, but gluten-free because it’s made with yucca flour. They sell it freshly-baked or frozen. I like to get it frozen, so I can bake it at home antid have it with hot chocolate — just like my grandmother used to make.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

A few notes on the restaurants mentioned in this article: Central Provisions has temporarily transformed into Central Sandwich and Provisions, Tipo’s patio is open for outdoor seating, Takeout is available from Isa, Sur Lie and Schulte and Herr. Cocktail Mary expects to restart their cocktails to go program in April, Woodford F&B has takeout and (weather permitting) outdoor seating. Figgy’s re-opened for takeout on March 9th.

Previous editions of My Kitchen Their Table have featured Courtney Loreg, Chad Conley  Atsuko Fujimoto, Matt Ginn, Jordan Rubin, and Cara Stadler, and Thomas Takashi Cooke.

The My Kitchen Their Table series is brought to life through the talent and hard work of food writer Angela Andre, and the generous sponsorship by Evergreen Credit Union and The Boulos Company.

My Kitchen Their Table: Thomas Takashi Cooke

Welcome to the January edition of My Kitchen, Their Table, an interview series with the chefs and culinary professionals who work hard to satisfy our small city’s big appetite. This month we’re featuring an interview with Thomas Takashi Cooke, co-owner of Izakaya Minato. Photos and videos will continue to expand on the story throughout the rest of the month on instagram, so stay tuned [watch Cooke make Kani Dofu soup].


Thomas Takashi Cooke didn’t always plan on being a chef. He left his home in Tokyo to attend University of California in Berkeley and pursue a career in engineering. “I wasn’t that into it,” he says, chuckling. During his senior year, he signed up for kitchen duty to fulfill work hours that the student housing cooperative required only to discover he quite enjoyed cooking. After graduating, he landed his first restaurant job at Manpuku in Berkeley and never looked back.

Cooke spent fourteen dedicated years at Tsunami, a stylish Japanese restaurant in San Francisco. There, he learned from his fellow chefs, got the inspiration for his famous uni on a spoon dish, and met his future wife, Elaine Alden. With a dream of opening their own restaurant, the two headed to Tokyo where Cooke trained at an izakaya and Alden immersed herself in the culture. After three months, they returned to San Francisco, but felt it wasn’t a feasible place to open a restaurant. It only took a week’s long vacation to Portland to call the city their new home.

On January 31, 2017 Izakaya Minato opened their doors to a crowd eager to share plates of Japanese comfort food and stay for the sake, as the name “izakaya” suggests. The small dining room seats eighteen people while the front room has just one communal table and eight bar seats. Believe it or not, the space would be considered large for a typical izakaya. Unfortunately, low ceilings and cramped tables just aren’t conducive to the times, so for now Izakaya Minato is open with limited outdoor dining, takeout, and the occasional omakase to-go.

Read the full interview with Chef Cooke to discover what izakayas are like in Japan, the most valuable lesson he learned while working there, where he goes in Maine for authentic Latin American cuisine, which Portland restaurants he frequents most, and the dish he shared with his wife that made for a long-lasting memory.

THE INTERVIEW

AA: What is the most valuable thing you learned while training at an izakaya in Tokyo?
TC: I realized I was good enough to open my own izakaya. I grew up in Japan and cooking there is the gold standard. I didn’t want to open an izakaya and say, “Well, it’s good for America.” Cooking in Tokyo gave me confidence.

AA: What are izakayas like in Japan?
TC: Every train station has an izakaya. It’s more like a commuters bar than a restaurant. It’s embedded in the work culture there. Most aren’t even open on the weekends. Almost every izakaya has a seating charge of three to five dollars. It keeps people from bar hopping. You stay and you drink.

AA: Who has been crucial to your success as a chef and restaurant owner?
TC: Elaine for sure. She does a lot. She handles the bookkeeping and social media, manages the staff, and works the floor. She also comes up with good ideas, like the omakase to-go. I also learned a lot from the chefs and owner of Tsunami.

AA: In what ways can you still provide an intimate dining experience during the pandemic?
TC: The shared plates experience definitely helps. You have to break bread together, so to speak. At first, we were only doing takeout, but then we added a few tables for outdoor dining. It’s cold, but the Mainers tough it out. Eventually there will be a place for intimate settings again, but right now is just not the time.

AA: Where do you get inspiration for your menu?
TC: There are many books with different ideas from the numerous izakayas in Japan. I try to recreate recipes with whatever is in-season here. I’ll get an ingredient and have a dish in mind and then work with my staff to make it happen. The menu isn’t all me. My cooks make suggestions and help make everything better. It should never be just about you.

AA: What is one of your favorite dishes on your menu?
TC: In the summer, we get mackerel that I salt and cure in vinegar, then sear, and serve with wasabi and soy sauce. My other favorite is bonito, but we don’t get it very often. I serve it with homemade ponzu, red onion, and ginger. I like anything that is local and seasonal. Right now, we have Maine scallops. I think they’re best raw, so it’s on the sashimi plate, but we also have scallops in the kakiage.

AA: Where do you recommend going for takeout?
TC: I like Quiero Cafe. It’s casual, but very good. In terms of authenticity and classic Latin American flavors, it’s the closest Portland has to the taquerias I loved in San Francisco. I also really like the burgers at Black Cow. [take a virtual visit to Quiero Cafe]

AA: What is one of your go-to restaurants in Portland?
TC: Baharat. It’s hard to pick a favorite dish because everything is so good! The hummus, baba ganoush, falafel, even the rice is great; it goes so well with all of Chef Clay’s food. I even like the haloumi and I’m not much of a cheese guy.

AA: Where do you go to celebrate a special occasion?
TC: Isa Bistro. I love the pork chop and the tres leches cake. I also strongly recommend the chiles rellenos from their Mexican Monday menu. It’s his grandmother’s recipe.

AA: Where have you had a particularly memorable meal in Portland?
TC: Elaine and I had the coq au vin at Chaval. Chef Damian serves it in a small Le Creuset. The experience of sharing a delicious pot of stew in a beautifully lit space was very intimate and memorable. [watch Damian  Sansonetti make coq au vin]

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

A few notes on the restaurants mentioned in this article: Quiero Cafe and Black Cow are open for limited indoor dining, takeout and delivery via 2DineIn, Baharat is open for takeout from their  menu and food from their grab-n-go shop, Isa Bistro is open for takeout or delivery via CarHop, and Chaval is open for takeout, delivery via CarHop, and outdoor dining in the greenhouses and heated patio.

Previous editions of My Kitchen Their Table have featured Courtney Loreg, Chad Conley  Atsuko Fujimoto, Matt Ginn, Jordan Rubin, and Cara Stadler.

The My Kitchen Their Table series is brought to life through the talent and hard work of food writer Angela Andre, and the generous sponsorship by Evergreen Credit Union and The Boulos Company.

My Kitchen Their Table: Cara Stadler

Welcome to the December edition of My Kitchen, Their Table, an interview series with the chefs and culinary professionals who work hard to satisfy our small city’s big appetite. This month we’re featuring an interview with Cara Stadler. Photos and videos will continue to expand on the story throughout the rest of the month on Instagram, so stay tuned.



Cara Stadler
was only sixteen when she graduated from high school, eighteen when she enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and
twenty-four when she opened her first restaurant. In 2014, she was named a Best New Chef by Food & Wine and nominated for Rising Star Chef of the Year by the James Beard Foundation. Since then, she’s tacked on three more JBF nominations.

In 2011, after cultivating her skills both near and far at prestigious restaurants like Guy Savoy in Paris and Gordon Ramsay Au Trianon Palace in Versaille, Cara settled in Maine. Along with her business partner and mother, Cecile, she opened her first full-service concept, Tao Yuan Restaurant, in Brunswick in May 2012. Cecile runs the business while Cara runs the kitchen. The small plates menu has a heavy Chinese influence and is built around locally-sourced ingredients.

Cara and Cecile have two more dining concepts under their company, Eighty Ate Hospitality (eight is considered a lucky number in China). Their second restaurant, Bao Bao Dumpling House, opened in 2015 in Portland’s West End. Since March, Bao Bao has been weathering the pandemic as a to-go restaurant. Luckily, Chinese food is the second most popular takeout food in the U.S., after pizza. 

Cara’s latest concept, Zao Ze, launched in response to COVID-19 and the temporary closure of Tao. She wanted to offer ‘fun, easy, not fussy food because that’s what we need right now. We might as well enjoy the little things while we can during this crazy time,’ she explained. Zao is currently running out of Tao’s kitchen and will eventually move into the first floor of the Canopy Farms building. Zao will operate as part cafe part grocery store where customers will buy housemade Asian staples like buns, dumplings, kimchi, hot sauce, sambal, and soy sauce. 

Canopy Farms was developed in 2013 by Cecile, Cara, and her life-long friend, Kate Holcomb. The aquaponics greenhouse is currently operating at fifty-percent and supplies its restaurants and a CSA with a bounty of produce. “As an L3C entity, we are a for-profit company, but mission-driven. Our mission is to promote the industry and development of sustainable year-round agriculture,” Kate Holcomb explains. Canopy Farms offers public tours, community education, and immersive internships through the University of Southern Maine. Public tours are available on the second Saturday of every month. 

In this month’s edition of My Kitchen Their Table, you’ll discover which ‘weird’ dish at Zao Ze is Cara’s favorite, what she loves most about being a chef in Maine, and where she goes in Portland and beyond for a great meal.

THE INTERVIEW

AA: What is one of your most popular dishes?
CS: The most popular dish in my company is, without a doubt, the 88 Slaw. We serve it at all three locations. It’s a riff on a dish I’ve had many times in China modified for the American palate. It’s not as sharp. I use less vinegar and more fat. It has carrots, cabbage, snow peas, fried shallot, rice vinaigrette, peanuts, cilantro, and scallion. It’s never what I thought would be the bread and butter of my company, but people love it.

AA: What is your favorite dish on your menu?
CS: I like the weird things; the items people read on my menu and have no idea what it is, like the sheng jian bao at Zao Ze. It’s a cross between a dumpling and a bun. The dough is yeasted but thinner than a bun and thicker than a dumpling. Usually, it’s made with pork belly, but we make it with Peking-spiced duck. It’s so greasy, it’s almost like a soup dumpling, but with animal fat. It’s really unhealthy and really delicious. 

AA: How has your team contributed to the success of your restaurants and keeping the doors open through a pandemic?
CS: The team is so essential. They’ve gone through so much. The first week was insane. Transforming a restaurant that does in-house dining to takeout in the span of a week is nuts. It was very stressful and took a lot out of everyone. I’ve been very fortunate to have great people on my team.

AA: Why do you think we have such a vibrant food scene?
CS: Maine has the best farms. The produce here is insane. It’s so beautiful and it’s done in all of the right ways. So many are family-owned and operated; Mainers support that as an identity. And then there’s the seafood! The oysters, clams, lobster, mussels… Bangs Island produces the plushest mussels and there’s never a single piece of grit in them. We have cheese, Maine Grains, so many breweries, I could go on and on. 

AA: Speaking of farms, what made you want to start your greenhouse project, Canopy Farms?
CS: We’re not here to compete with the local farms. We’re doing a different kind of sustainable farming. Our goal is to create a financially viable system that can be used anywhere year-round. I also wanted to grow weirder stuff and things I can’t source here, like ngò om (aka rice paddy herb). It’s a Vietnamese herb that tastes like citrus and cumin. 

AA: Do you eat Chinese food out?
CS: I go to Sichuan Kitchen. Their food is legit. It’s nice to have some flavors that are aggressively Chinese and not watered down for the American palate. The mapo is really good. It’s greasy in the way that Chinese food in China is greasy, where fat is flavor and a vehicle to stretch ingredients. For example, in America we trim fat, but in China trim is a whole other dish. They waste nothing.

AA: What restaurant or dish have you tried recently that impressed you?
CS: The pizza at Radici. I’ve had them all. I ordered the whole menu for a staff member’s going away party. The marinara is delicious and the ragu is killer. Get the anchovy sauce and chili oil, too. 

AA: Where do you recommend going for a great dessert?
CS:
Leeward. Kate Fisherham is one of the most talented pastry chefs in the state. I went a little while ago and had the olive oil cake and all of the ice cream flavors, which were chocolate, peach raspberry, and corn at the time. Her desserts always introduce new flavors but still feel familiar at the same time. They’re surprising and comforting.

AA: What are your go-to restaurants in Portland?
CS:
Izakaya Minato is my favorite. I love what Thomas and Elaine Cooke do. I think they’re some of the most genuinely wonderful human beings in the world. I like the aged ochazuke. It’s a fried rice ball in fish broth. They offer it with plum or ikura (salmon roe), but I like to get both and add uni. Also, how could you not get the sashimi plate? It’s a steal!

AA: Where else do you recommend going for a great meal?
CS: I love Portland, but in my opinion, some of the best food in Maine is outside of Portland. You have Primo in Rockland where chef-owner Melissa Kelly brings an ethos and mentality about food to a place that is so remote. It takes a ton of talent to do and do well. There’s Suzuki, too. Her food is so simple and so good. It’s perfectly executed. Long Grain in Camden is also lovely and Oyster River Winegrowers is on the way. The owner, Brian Smith, is a teeny winemaker. It’s just him and his family. The pét-nat is so perfectly made. There are so many people doing small beautiful projects that aren’t in the interest of expansion, but stability for themselves and their community. That’s what makes Maine, Maine.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

A few notes on the restaurants mentioned in this article…Sichuan Kitchen, Radici, Suzuki, Long Grain and Leeward are all open for takeout. In addition takeout, Izakaya Minato also has outdoor seating; Primo has both indoor (through this weekend) and outdoor seating. Oyster River is selling wine for pick-up at their location in Warren.

Previous editions of My Kitchen Their Table have featured Courtney Loreg, Chad Conley  Atsuko Fujimoto, Matt Ginn, and Jordan Rubin.

The My Kitchen Their Table series is brought to life through the talent and hard work of food writer Angela Andre, and the generous sponsorship by Evergreen Credit Union and The Boulos Company.