My Kitchen Their Table: Mimi Weissenborn

Welcome to the June 2023 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 Mimi Weissenborn the creative director and executive chef of Sur Lie and Gather. Photos and videos will continue to expand on the story on instagram, so stay tuned.

In the 17th edition of My Kitchen Their Table, we celebrate a “shef” who climbed her way to the top. In an industry dominated by men — only 26.9% of chefs and head cooks in the U.S. are women — she is a force to reckon with. She participated in the James Beard Foundation’s International Women’s Day Dinner in 2020, launched a women’s dinner series in collaboration with Top Chef Adrienne Cheatham, and Vinateria received a Michelin Star recommendation during her stint at the celebrated women-led Spanish Italian restaurant in New York City. Today, she is at the helm of Sur Lie in Portland and Gather in Yarmouth. She is Mimi Weissenborn.

Like many chefs, Weissenborn was a teenager when she landed her first restaurant gig, tossing pizza at Bellisarios in her hometown of Frederick, Maryland. After graduating from L’Academie de Cuisine culinary school in 2009, she discovered her cooking style — elevated American fare with an emphasis on local ingredients. Looking to advance her career further, Weissenborn moved to the Big Apple, and it was Superfine in Brooklyn that gave her the creative freedom she craved. “Normally, you show up, and you’re told what to do,” she says, but at Superfine, Weissenborn wrote the daily menu. After three years, she made her next big move, becoming the creative director and eventually executive chef at Vinateria.

Weissenborn left the city shortly after the COVID-19 shut down and moved to New England with her partner, Rebecca Elias. In December 2021, she teamed up with Krista Cole the owner of Sur Lie. Cole launched Sur Lie in 2014 and acquired Gather in 2022, and she received a James Beard Awards semi-finalist nomination for Outstanding Restaurateur in 2023. Cole needed a chef to bring cohesion between the two brands and one that shared her commitment to supporting local farms and fisheries. It was just the kind of ethos Weissenborn craved.

The partnership is working wonders and Sur Lie earned its first-ever Beard Foundation semi-finalist nomination for Outstanding Hospitality this year. The ever-changing menu begs you to return at least once every couple of months to taste Weissenborn’s imaginative use of Maine’s best ingredients before they’re gone. You won’t want to miss out on one of her all-time favorite Spring dishes made with locally foraged wild ramps. At Gather, she’s reinvented classic comfort food with a seasonal twist, giving you a good reason to venture beyond Portland’s stellar food scene.

Continue reading to learn what dishes she loves most at Gather and Sur Lie, how we can better support women in the restaurant industry, and where she’s dining in Portland and beyond.


AR: What are your thoughts on the state of the industry and how it’s changed?
MW: The industry has certainly changed post-pandemic, but not in a bad way. Workers are demanding better pay, better work-life balance, and earned time off, as they should. I think the hardest part is the way that restaurants operate financially is still an old model, and we are living in this new world. There’s been a huge learning curve for most, and we still have a lot to figure out, but it’s an exciting time to be part of shaping the future of this industry.

AR: What kind of challenges do women face in the restaurant industry?
MW: Inequality is one of them. Women face the gender pay gap, workplace discrimination, and sexual harassment. More than that, there are real issues women face when their career is in restaurants, and they decide to raise a family — like a lack of maternity leave and daycare during restaurant hours and unpredictable wages. I could go on and on.

AR: How can we better support women in the restaurant industry?
MW: Speak up. Nothing will ever change if it remains the same. Be the change. Advocate for yourself and your neighbor in humanity, and it will get better.

AR: Who inspires you?
MW: Adrienne Cheatham. I met Adrienne while doing the women’s dinner series in New York. I was excited to work with her because she had just been on Top Chef. She became a close friend and a mentor, still to this day, even though I’m no longer in Harlem. Something I always took away from her is that you must surround yourself with people doing stuff you want to do, and maybe that feels uncomfortable, but otherwise, you won’t shoot high enough.

AR: What’s the hospitality industry like in Portland?
MW: The hospitality industry here is amazing. The network of people within, and not just restaurant-to-restaurant and knowing the community, but farmer-to-restaurant and just making those connections. That truly has been the experience of a lifetime for me — really just getting to know the farmers and having them come in and plan menus. I think that’s something as a chef that I’ve always wanted and wanted to take to the next level. Overall, as a community, everyone really looks out for each other and is truly positive.

AR: What is your favorite dish at Gather?
MW: Jeez, that’s a hard question. I would have to say one of our share plates — the chicken & waffles with lavender brined chicken, potato waffle, and honey. First, who doesn’t love chicken and waffles? Also, it represents our desire to take Gather’s neighborhood feel and elevate the dishes. It’s a great example of creating a fun rendition of something familiar.

AR: What is your favorite dish at Sur Lie?
MW: Last Spring, we crafted a ricotta gnocchi dish with wild ramp pesto, preserved Meyer lemon, and Lakin’s George Morgan cheese shaved on top. It was not only incredibly popular but — and I say this not lightly because, as a chef, we are always the most critical — that is one of my best dishes. The ramps were from a gentleman named John, who stopped by the restaurant with a bag he had just foraged that day. He kept coming back until ramp season was over.

AR: Do you expect the gnocchi and ramp pesto dish to return this Spring?
MW: You’ll have to stop in and find out!

AR: What are some of your favorite dishes at other restaurants in Portland?
MW: The spicy noodles with minced pork from Sichuan Kitchen is one of those crave-worthy dishes, and the fried wings at Honey Paw. They’re sweet, spicy, savory, and fried to perfection. The spicy beef salad at Central Provisions is a flavor bomb. Everything at Isa is fresh and local, but the bolognese is especially notable.

AR: What about outside of Portland? Where do you recommend dining?
MW: Chef Christian at The Garrison is doing awesome stuff. I had his lobster chowder with red curry and mussels with ham broth. Earth at Hidden Pond in Kennebunkport was great. Everything was perfect; the service was excellent, and the ambiance was stunning.

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, Tina Cromwell, Nathaniel Meiklejohn, and Evan Atwell.

The My Kitchen Their Table series is brought to life by food writer Angela Andre Roberts and photographer Zack Bowen, and the generous sponsorship by Evergreen Credit Union and The Boulos Company.

New CEO of Rosemont Market

Rosemont Market has announced the hire of a new CEO. Mark Law is taking on leadership of the the market and bakery from the longtime co-owner and CEO John Naylor.

“Mark shares my core values in operating a business that cares about people,” said Rosemont co-owner John Naylor, “As well as my passion for food and our mission to encourage people to eat the best quality food, and whenever possible from where they live. This past year, Mark has served as a consultant to our business, giving me full confidence that with Mark at the helm of Rosemont, we will strengthen our commitment to the community, our customers, and our food producing partners.”

Mark Law (linkedin) was the COO of New Seasons Market in Portland, Oregon for six years, and worked in a variety of leadership roles at Whole Foods in Boston and Boulder for twelve years prior to that.

Naylor will remain involved as the president of the company and chair of the board of directors while stepping back from overseeing day-to-day operations at Rosemont. Naylor will be redirecting his energies to working with local non-profits such as Farms for Food Equity and Fork Food Lab.

Rosemont has seven locations. The first market and bakery opened on Brighton Ave in the Rosemont neighborhood in 2005 by co-owners Scott Anderson and John Naylor.

New Cook Bootcamp

The Press Herald recently published a report on the New Cook Bootcamp program run by HospitalityMaine in collaboration with York County Community College.

The course is taught by Joe Pirkola, a chef and longtime college and high school culinary teacher, who seemed to have eyes in the back of his head, able to teach the students – almost simultaneously – how to neatly slip a stuffed crepe from a china plate to a steam table pan and how to clean up a plate that had shattered on the floor (a broom! Don’t use your hands!), while reminding them to provide utensils for each of their dishes and to sprinkle chicken wings with sesame seeds. In the restaurant world, presentation matters.

Read more about the program and register to attend.

Le Family, Local English Muffins

Today’s Maine Sunday Telegram includes an article about the Huong Le and her family, and

She would go on to have three more children in Portland (and now two granddaughters, as well); to help them get the education she never could; to work long hours in odd jobs to support her family; to open Huong’s, the city’s first sit-down Vietnamese restaurant, and run it for almost two decades; and to see two of her girls open Vietnamese eateries of their own. As her daughter Tuyet “Snow” Thi Le posted on Instagram earlier this spring, “She never stopped working to give her kids a better life the ‘American dream.’ ”

a survey of locally produced English muffins.

Tasting and re-tasting my way through some of the area’s best English muffins has been no hardship. As I’ve done so, I’ve spent time thinking about how differences in flavor, size and format imply a range of different uses. We’re living in a golden age of baking where there’s an English muffin for every occasion. Here are just a few of my favorites.

City of Servers

The Press Herald has published an article about the documentary City of Servers that’s due to premiere at the Nickelodeon on May 11th.

But what about the people bringing you all that delicious food? Those impossibly hard-working food service professionals are the subject of “The City of Servers,” a new documentary from Portland filmmaker and former server Elora Griswold, which will premiere next Thursday, May 11, as part of the Maine Mayhem Film Festival.

View the City of Servers trailer on instagram.

Fine Fried Chicken

Crispy Gai chef/owner Cyle Reynolds is featured in a Washington Post article about fine dining chefs making the leap to fried chicken.

It’s easy to forget, but chefs are consumers, too. Cyle Reynolds recalls frequently going out to eat Thai-style fried chicken after his shift at Canvas, a fine-dining restaurant in Bangkok that he helped open in 2016. In Maine a few years later, when his plan to sign a restaurant lease fell through — on March 30, 2020, no less — Reynolds turned to happier memories of fried chicken. He now runs a Thai-style fried chicken restaurant called Crispy Gai in downtown Portland, Maine, with two business partners.

Cong Tu Bot Unionized

The Press Herald has a report on the newly formed union at Cong Tu Bot.

Employees at Portland’s Cong Tu Bot restaurant voted to unionize this week, making it the state’s first independent unionized restaurant in more than 40 years.

Workers and union officials hope others will follow suit.

Cong Tu Bot’s 21 employees voted unanimously to join UNITE HERE, a union that represents 300,000 workers in the hotel, food service, gaming, manufacturing, textile, distribution, laundry, transportation and airport industries.

‘The Ice Nerd Cometh’

Forbes has published an interview with Jonathan Baker, a self described ‘ice nerd’ who produces specialty cocktail ice for Blyth & Burrows, Via Vecchia and the soon-to-launch Papi.

Jonathan Baker: I’m an ice nerd, going way back. As a kid in West Texas, I would look forward to the few icy days we got every year. I’ve always felt at home around ice — which is partly why I ended up in Maine, a state with a long and storied history of ice production. I also wrote my master’s thesis at the University of Chicago about ice as metaphor in nineteenth-century American literature. Since completing grad school, I’ve continued to read and study everything ice-related that I can get my hands on.

My Kitchen Their Table: Evan Atwell

Welcome to the January 2023 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 Evan Atwell from Strata. Photos and videos will continue to expand on the story on instagram, so stay tuned.

What do a silky slice of raw tuna, a paper-thin sliver of scallion, and a precisely segmented orange all have in common? They were each cut using the right knife with a razor-sharp edge. Proper technique and high-quality ingredients are important in cooking, but so are the tools we use — and no other tool is more essential than a knife.

In this edition of My Kitchen Their Table, we talk to Evan Atwell, the man behind Portland’s sharpening service and cutlery shop, Strata. His careful curation and skillful servicing of the world’s best knives have made Strata a destination shop for professionals and home cooks alike.

Atwell and his wife moved to Portland in 2017. His prior experience as the assistant store manager at Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco made him a perfect fit for Rosemont Market & Bakery. In the butchery department, he honed his skills, experimented with knife styles, and beta-tested his concept for Strata. All it took was a small sign on the butcher counter that read, “drop-off knife sharpening” for him to build a following.

With enough demand to convince him to take the next step, Atwell opened a storefront in February 2019 at the Black Boxes on Washington Avenue. He started with roughly sixty knives and a few other accessories. Soon, the 225-square-foot shipping container displayed cutlery from floor to ceiling. When a larger retail space in the Nissen Bakery Building became available, Atwell seized the opportunity to grow and expand his collection. Strata reopened in June 2021 and now sources over 1000 knives and an assortment of kitchen goods, from cookbooks to cookware.

To truly appreciate the beauty of these knives, one must understand the work involved in making and sourcing them. It took Atwell years to penetrate the exclusive knife industry, especially in Japan. “It goes against our Western capitalistic mindset, but many traditional makers are not interested in finding more business. They are only interested in making X number of knives per day as best they can,” he explains. As for the making, each knife has a story that Atwell is more than happy to share.

Strata offers inventory online for nationwide and international shipping, and you can mail your knives for sharpening. In March, Atwell will offer knife skills and whetstone sharpening classes. With over 500 people on the waitlist, he has surely found a niche in the market.

Continue reading to learn why Atwell prefers carbon steel knives, what a Wa handle is, and the places he considers Portland’s “towny favorites.”


AR: What led you to specialize in curating and servicing knives?
EA: A shop much like Strata was around the corner from where I worked in San Francisco called Bernal Cutlery. I thought it was the coolest thing ever, so I started studying and practicing sharpening. I had no idea knives and related utensils could be so rich in history and tradition. The science behind it is also very intriguing. These are not everyday knives. They come from people that have dedicated their lives to this functional art.

AR: How do you vet which knives make it into your shop?
EA: Determining who gets a spot involves a lot of studying, learning the styles and production techniques of the seemingly innumerable players in the industry, and getting your hands on the knives to know how they perform. Although we want a diverse catalog, we do not work with just any brand. We only want the best and the most promising upstarts working under established masters. It takes time to learn who is good and less good, and try to balance your inventory, so you don’t have too much of the same thing.

AR: What is your favorite type of knife?
EA: I prefer thin, hand-forged Japanese carbon steel knives with convex grinds and Wa handles. Japanese knives are largely defined as having more performance than Western knives; they are usually made with superior steels of high hardness and ground thin, allowing them to be lighter and sharper with longer edge retention. However, the thinner and harder the blade, the more brittle it becomes. When using Japanese knives, you want to avoid coming in contact with hard products like bones, crustaceans, frozen foods, fruit pits, etc. But if you keep them in their lane, they are a ride, unlike any other knife option.

AR: What is a convex grind and Wa handle?
EA: The grind is the shape and thickness of the blade. A convex grind is slightly outwardly curved, which helps push food away from the blade so it doesn’t stick to the blade as much. Convex grinds generally have a bit more edge retention and toughness since there is slightly more material behind the edge, so they are not as delicate. I prefer traditional Wa handles because they are removable. This allows you to get a new or custom handle that best fits your hand. It also allows for greater serviceability because you can work on the knife from any direction.

AR: Do you have a favorite maker?
EA: My favorite smith is probably Yoshikazu Tanaka-san from Sakai, Osaka. Tanaka-san is around 75 years old and has been forging blades by hand and eye for over half a century. The most important part about a good knife is something you cannot see, and that is the quality of the metallurgical structure of the blade. You can only experience it in use or servicing. Tanaka-san has machine-tight tolerances on his blades; he’s simply that good.

AR: Why is the structure of a knife so important?
EA: The structure is established during a multi-step process called the heat treat, whereby the smith cooks the steel by heating it and cooling it down. By manipulating the structure of the steel, the smith can give the blade various properties. Since the blade is composed entirely of this grain structure, it determines just about every physical property of the blade for its entire lifespan. So, when you’re paying big bucks for a knife like those by Tanaka-san, not only are you getting better fit and finish, materials, and appreciation value, you’re having a 3-star Michelin chef cook the steel in your blade.

AR: What is the shopping experience like at Strata?
EA: We sell to the greenest home cook up to Michelin-star chefs. We only sell single knives, not sets, because we suggest you invest as much as possible into each one. We cater our sales to your skillset. When you come in, it’s like fitting you for a suit or a dress. We ask you questions and then hand you knives to hold or “try on.” Once you buy your first good knife, it can easily become a hobby.

AR: Can you tell us about one of your favorite customer experiences?
EA: I had a woman in her eighties that bought a knife for her grandson, who then raved about it. So, she got one for herself. A few days later, she came back and said after living for 80 some-odd years, this knife changed her life. It changed her perspective on food and cooking. She then brought in her mother’s knife, which must have been over one hundred years old, and we restored it for her.

AR: What are some of your go-to dishes in Portland?
EA: Gosh, difficult question. Depends on my mood and the time of day. Maiz makes delicious and big-portioned Columbian street food. They have epic arepas with some of the best corn wraps and pockets in Maine.

AR: What are some of your other go-to dishes?
EA: Burgers at Black Cow. Nothing beats a greasy classic burger and fries at midnight after a long day at work. And the All Day Sandwich at LB Kitchen. It’s a BLT on steroids made with fresh, healthy ingredients.

AR: What particularly memorable meal have you had in Portland?
EA: One of the best dishes I’ve had in town was not at a restaurant. It was pizza from Quanto Basta. Whenever Betsy English does a pop-up, I try to make it. She’s got this adorable little car that she outfitted with two pizza ovens. I think it was a mailman’s car that her family brought over from England. I have never had pizza so deliciously chewy, perfectly seasoned, and with such harmonious toppings. I look forward to seeing her grow into something I hopefully don’t have to chase around town.

AR: What about outside of Portland?
EA: The corned beef hash at Palace Diner. Nothing else in this world would make me drive twenty-five plus minutes and wait for a seat while trying to baby a world-ending hangover than the magic that is their oleaginous deliciousness.

AR: Let’s end with something sweet. What do you recommend?
EA: The cream puffs at Onggi. Amy Ng is one of the best bakers I’ve ever come across, but she’s way too humble about it. She uses fresh ingredients with creative flavors, like local strawberries with black vinegar. Also, anything from Dear Dairy. Padien is an ice cream wizard, both with unique flavors and incredible texture. It’s unlike any other ice cream I’ve ever had. It’s almost chewy. The first one I tried was yuzu. The flavor is very prominent but not over the top. It’s perfectly done.

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, Tina Cromwell, and Nathaniel Meiklejohn.

The My Kitchen Their Table series is brought to life by food writer Angela Andre Roberts and photographer Zack Bowen, and the generous sponsorship by Evergreen Credit Union and The Boulos Company.