My Kitchen, Their Table: Atsuko Fujimoto

My Kitchen, Their Table is back. For the August edition we’re featuring an interview with Atsuko Fujimoto. Photos and videos will continue to expand on the story throughout the rest of the month on Instagram, so stay tuned.

We know it’s been a hard few months and that some tough times are still ahead for the restaurants of Portland. But we still believe in the premise of this series and in the hard work, adaptability and resilience of the chefs, managers and restaurant workers in this town. Many places have modified their models, shifted to take out, or built outdoor dining spaces. Food trucks have launched, others have been revived. Portland is seeing its way through, and PFM is happy to once again profile the creativity and mutual admiration of the skilled professionals in this small city with a big appetite.


You know them when you see them. One day displayed at Bard Coffee, the next at Rose Foods. From matcha-dusted danishes and sake-spiked chocolate cake to adzuki-filled sweet breads and yuzu flavored pudding, these unmistakable confections can only be the work of one baker. Through her distinct creations, Atsuko Fujimoto brings an intriguing amalgam of eastern and western flavors to Portland, Maine. 

Nearly twenty years ago, Atsuko left Japan and her career in journalism for a new life in Portland. When she arrived here, she sought a restaurant job as a way to connect with the community. Through a handwritten letter to Chef Sam Hayward, she landed a position in the pastry program at Fore Street despite having no previous experience. She continued to develop her skills at Standard Baking Co. and Miyake before opening Ten Ten Pié with Markos Miller in 2014. After nearly five years, the widely loved bakery and cafe closed in March 2019.

Ten Ten Pié’s abrupt closure was a shock to many, Atsuko included. She immediately searched  for a way to salvage what she had spent years building. With widespread support from the community, she was back in business in less than a month. 

Since April 2019, Atsuko has leased kitchen space at Two Fat Cats bakery in South Portland and sells  her baked goods under the name, Norimoto Bakery. Her sweet and savory treats, spongy shokupan loaves, and golden brioche buns are on offer at many local businesses such as Higher Grounds, Sun Oriental Market, and Woodford Food & Beverage. She also offers curbside pick-up Friday through Sunday on the backside of Two Fat Cats bakery in South Portland. Follow her on Instagram to see what goods just came out of the oven and for the lowdown on how to place your order. 

In this edition of My Kitchen Their Table, I wasn’t surprised to learn that Atsuko’s favorite dishes and restaurants represent a wide variety of cuisines, just like her pastries. Though she is partial to Asian fare, her most memorable meal was at an esteemed American restaurant and her go-to drink after a long day of work is a popular Mexican cocktail. Read on to learn more about where Atsuko goes for a great meal, which pastry she loves making, and what keeps her going even during the most difficult of times..

THE INTERVIEW

AA: What brought you to Portland?
AF: Before I was a baker, I was a magazine editor in Tokyo specializing in the entertainment field. I interviewed many celebrities and directors, but eventually I got bored with it and tired of always looking at a computer screen. During that time I met my husband, who went to Maine College of Art. We decided to move to Portland and get married here, just days before 9/11 happened. We canceled our wedding plans and got married at city hall.

AA: What do you love about baking?
AF: There is always something to learn and room for growth. I’ve had lots of failures, especially with bread. There is never a day where I feel I’ve executed something perfectly.

AA: Have you made something you felt was nearly perfect?
AF: I made an inverted puff pastry that I was really happy with for Galette des Rois, or King’s Cake. It’s a dessert served on January 6th to celebrate Epiphany. With inverted puff, the dough is wrapped in butter then laminated, so the butter is on the outside and the dough is on the inside. The result was so rewarding. It has an even richer flavor and crispier exterior compared to regular puff pastry.

AA: What kinds of pastries do you enjoy making the most?
AF: I like fruit pastries, especially danishes. I live in Standish on three acres with lots of fruit trees. I have peach, plum, sour cherry, apple, two types of pear, and my favorite, quince. I also have rhubarb and berries. I love a pile of fruit on my danish – like a mountain’s worth. You can only do that if you have a lot of fruit to work with. [watch Atsuko make fruit tarts]

AA: What has been your biggest challenge as a business owner?
AF: I was surprised by the closure of Ten Ten Pié. I started Norimoto Bakery out of necessity. I felt like I needed to open another business to retrieve what was lost. I had wholesale orders to fulfill and accounts to carry on. It’s not easy running a business. You’re always tired and there are always reasons to quit, but you have to remind yourself why you started. For me, it’s about connectivity in the community and people appreciating what I do.

AA: Will you continue to offer curbside takeout post COVID-19?
AF:
I am currently trying to find the right balance between wholesale and takeout business. I hope to be doing both. It has been really nice to see familiar faces from Ten Ten Pié through a glass door. It is strange, but true; as soon as I started to isolate myself in the bakery, old regulars started to show up and that brought back the sense of connection that I had at Ten Ten Pié.

AA: What particularly memorable meal have you had at a restaurant here in Portland?
AF: My first dinner at Fore Street was very special. I went with my husband for my birthday. I had just started working there and they made me feel like I was part of the family. The food was great, of course, but it was that welcoming feeling that made it so memorable.

AA: What are your go-to restaurants?
AF: Boda and Isa. They are both really consistent and have great staff and service. At Boda, I always start with the quail eggs. I love the umami flavor. I also love the Thai sticky rice ball.

AA: What is one of your favorite dishes at Isa?
AF:
The lamb sandwich. It’s made with focaccia from Standard Baking Co. The meat is braised and very tender. The whole thing is really flavorful. I’m not a sandwich person, but that sandwich is an exception.

AA: What do you recommend for takeout or delivery?
AF: I’ve had the lamb sandwich at Isa for takeout. It was delicious as always! I also had the Emergency Margarita from Woodford Food & Beverage. It’s what I normally order when I eat there. It’s not too sweet; it’s a perfectly balanced drink to unwind with after work. I think I’ll get one today after I deliver their burger buns.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

A few notes on the restaurants mentioned in this article…Boda is currently open for curbside takeout and delivery. At Boda, most of the menu is available, including the thai sticky rice ball. However, the quail eggs are cooked and served in a special cast iron pan and are therefore not available for takeout. Isa’s outdoor dining and takeout menu changes daily and sometimes includes the lamb sandwich. Fore Street is currently offering indoor and outdoor dining. Woodford Food & Beverage is offering a menu for curbside pickup and outdoor dining. The “aptly named” Emergency Margarita is available either to go or on the Boat Club patio. 

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.

Andrew Zarro

Andrew Zarro (website, instagram) the co-owner of Little Woodfords, has thrown his hat into the ring as a candidate for the District 4 City Council seat. Zarro makes the case that his perspective as a small business owner is central to what he can contribute to leadership in Portland on the City Council.

Owning and operating a small business is challenging on a good day. It’s also one of the most wonderfully rewarding contributions to make to your community. I opened my first shop three years ago in woodfords corner because I wanted to invest in our neighborhood and be the change I wished to see. COVID-19 changed the landscape in our city, and small businesses are facing a mass extinction without the continued support from federal, state and municipal governments. We need a voice on our council that understands the needs of Portland’s small businesses both on and off peninsula, the nuances of our neighborhoods and the empathy of someone who knows these struggles first hand.

Sam Hayward

Down East has published an article about Sam Hayward as part of their 200 Reasons to Love Maine feature in the July issue of the magazine.

Even as a thought experiment, the idea is scary: imagine a world without Maine chef Sam Hayward, who cofounded Portland’s renowned Fore Street restaurant in 1996. The East Coast may never have had its answer to Alice Waters. The now-lauded Portland restaurant scene may never have found its footing. And the downstream repercussions? A generation of Maine farmers decimated, lacking the markets of restaurant kitchens run by creative young chefs who, without Hayward’s influence, may never have been drawn to Maine.

Interview with Leigh Kellis

Mumbai to Maine has posted a podcast interview with Leigh Kellis, owner of The Holy Donut.

Back in 2011, Leigh started The Holy Donut, with nothing but a few simple ingredients in her pantry and a whole bunch of love and permission to indulge in her cravings. She was also going through a pretty tough time in her personal life. But soon donuts became more than a distraction. They became an obsession. She made batch after batch on her kitchen stove tinkering with recipes and finally landed on ‘The Holy Donut’!

Briana Warner, Food Hero

Eat Well magazine has recently hailed Atlantic Sea Farms CEO Briana Warner as one of their 2020 Food Heroes.

This year, the company expects its 24 farmers to harvest 550,000 pounds of kelp, up from 220,000 last year and just 30,000 in 2018. And in this case, bigger is better: the more kelp Warner sells, the more the ocean (and air) benefits and the more successful Maine lobstermen are. But Atlantic Sea Farms’ big coming-out party happened this past spring, when national salad chain Sweetgreen hired James Beard award-winning chef David Chang to create a sweet potato and kelp bowl for its menu.

If Warner’s name sounds familiar but you just can’t place it, it might be because she ran a bakery, Maine Pie Line, when she first moved to Maine.

Interview with Cherie Scott from Mumbai to Maine

For their latest podcast, Femidish interviewed Cherie Scott, the founder of Mumbai to Maine.

Listen for the distant windchimes in this episode with Cherie Scott of Mumbai to Maine, a culinary blog and podcast, and known for her cooking classes featuring Indian cuisine. From pulling sachets of garam masala out of her college suitcase, to hosting the Maine Bicentennial Food Podcast, Cherie shares her lived experiences with Sandy and Hope on how food connects people across cultures.

Cooking for Community

The Christian Science Monitor has published an article highlighting the good work of Cooking for Community.

Today, Cooking for Community (C4C) provides just over 2,000 meals a week. In its first two months, the grassroots initiative raised about $220,000 from individuals, foundations, and corporations. It is buying crops from farmers, seafood from fishers, and keeping many of Greater Portland’s kitchen crews employed while cooking for hungry people.

For more information or to make a donation visit: www.cookingforcommunity.org

Restaurants aiding in the work of C4C are: Chaval, Gather, Istanbul Cafe, Leeward, Little Giant, Maggie Mae’s, Mama Mo’s, Mainely Burgers, Mr. Tuna, Nura, Union, Zu Bakery.

Interview with Nikaline Iacono

For their latest podcast, the founders of Femidish interviewed Nikaline Iacono, the owner of Vessel & Vine in Brunswick.

In this episode Hope and Sandy chat with Nikaline, owner of Vessel and Vine – part bar, part vintage store and so much more, about how quarantine and the ongoing Coronavirus crisis has impacted her business. She shares how she and her all female team have adjusted to keep “the vine” thriving. They discuss the surge of interest in tangible food security and the role restaurants and bars play in building communities.

 

Revolutionary Vegetarian

This past weekend’s Maine Sunday Telegram included an article about a Maine vegetarian whose commitment to a meat-free diet predated the founding of Maine as a state.

In the March 1899 edition of Food Home and Garden magazine, a short piece titled “The Pioneer Vegetarian” profiled Captain Peter Twitchell of Bethel. Born in 1761 in Sherborn, Massachusetts, the captain performed military honors at President Washington’s funeral, first farmed in Bethel in 1784, joined Bethel’s Congregational Church in 1816 and died in the town in 1855, after he was struck by a horse and carriage while out walking at age 94.