The Lobstering Centenarian

The Boston Globe has published an article about 101 year old Maine lobsterwoman Virginia Oliver.

In the world of Maine lobstering, it’s a scene that is repeated countless times up and down the state’s rugged coast. But here’s the difference: No other boat has a 101-year-old lobsterwoman aboard, and a fully working one at that.

“I grew up with this,” said Virginia Oliver, a Rockland woman who began lobstering when she was 8, just before the Great Depression. “It’s not hard work for me. It might be for somebody else, but not me.”

Little Woodfords & BenReuben’s

BenReuben’s Knishery was recently featured in an article published by Beyondish,

Graeme shucked oysters at Big Tree Hospitality’s Eventide Oyster Bar in Portland and eventually became the chef de cuisine there and later the purchasing and distribution manager. Caitlin worked in the front of house and became the company’s HR director in 2016. Though they were surrounded by shellfish, the couple always dreamed of opening a Jewish deli.

Little Woodfords was featured in an article in Salon,

Little Woodfords opens everyday at 7 a.m. and closes at 3 or 4 in the afternoon. They don’t serve alcohol, but, as Zarro puts it, customers can have all the caffeine and housemade ice cream sandwiches they want. “When people think of gay spaces or queer spaces, they immediately think of a nightclub or bar — maybe a little hole in the wall,” he said. “They don’t necessarily think a bright coffee shop, but we’re happy to change that.”

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.


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.

158 & Hilltop

The new edition of Mainer includes articles about the longtime owners of 158 Cafe and Bread & Butter Catering, Josh Potocki and Katie Schier-Potocki.

It’s fitting that 158 became a local favorite by feeding people sourdough bagels. That’s the type of bread you get when dough is leavened with the wild yeast floating in the air around us, not the lab-cultured, mass-manufactured baker’s yeast sold in stores. Sourdough also has local flavor, which is why San Francisco’s is famous; the yeast there has a distinctly strong sourness. Wild yeast is free yeast, funky yeast, freaky yeast. The sourdough starter still used to make 158’s bagels is almost old enough to legally drink. “It started as Luis and now has morphed into Luisa,” Josh said of this primordial dough. “She is all natural South Portland hybrid.”

Like Luisa, 158 must be kept alive. “If nothing else, keeping [158] open for the community as a safe haven, as a free-thinking space to come in this world, I think is very important,” Josh said, “because those spaces are becoming less and less, where it’s not controlled by some bullshit.”

and the new owners of the Hilltop Superette, Radhika Shah Patel and Sam Patel.

Because Sam’s vision is of what Hilltop can become once he and the team fully enhance and expand the store’s selection of groceries and prepared food, remodel the interior, redo the exterior, and add outdoor seating, among many other, smaller projects. His goal is to have everything done in time for a grand reopening party next spring. He’s already set the date, of course: May 21, 2022.

Hope Hushion, 44

Former Fore Street sous chef Hope Hushion passed away this week at the age of 44.

Sam Hayward, chef-partner at Fore Street, released a statement Tuesday saying Hushion’s death shocked everyone who knew and worked with her. He said she was a force of nature and a powerful cooking professional.

“She was an essential member of our kitchen’s leadership, a sous chef capable of accomplishing anything we threw at her, running any station, and training any novice cook,” Hayward wrote in an email. “Her death has left many of her former colleagues and close friends crushed. My condolences go out to all of them. Hope will be deeply missed.”

Interview with Eric Kalala

The West End News has published an interview with Eric Kalala, owner of Chez Castel on Forest Ave.

I bring in food, clothes, shoes, and cosmetics that Maine residents from Angola, Rwanda, Burundi, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Congo Brazzaville, Congo Kinshasa are looking for. Some specialties include misili – a Congolese vegetable (fougère [fern] in French), dried fish and eel, fresh fish, goat with skin, bitiyo, a variety of fresh vegetables, and bulk grains.

Abiodun Jerry Olubi

The Press Herald has published an article about Abiodun Jerry Olubi, a Portland chef who slipped into the Saco River and drowned last weekend.

Dany Omba Mugeni met Abiodun Jerry Olubi in the same way many of his friends did: by eating food he had cooked.

She was dining at 207 Bar and Restaurant in Portland. Olubi was “Chef Jerry.” Friends said he liked to come out of the kitchen to talk to customers about their experience, explain the recipes and meet new people. Olubi, 38, had a passion for cooking and was working to open his own restaurant.

A Go Fund Me campaign has been set up to raise funds for his funeral expenses.

Chaval Halibut Project

The Food and Dining section in today’s Maine Sunday Telegram includes an interview with chef de cuisine Kirby Sholl about the Chaval Halibut Project.

Since mid-May and through the end of local halibut season in late June or early July, Chaval’s Halibut Project menu features dishes like ceviche with cherries, fennel and lovage; crispy, golden fin “wings” with lemon aioli, green onions and herb emulsion; grilled ribs with house spice rub; cheeks with cream, spinach and sorrel; halibut head cheese; Cou de Fletan, a braised neck broth with spring vegetables; and blood sausage made in the style of Spanish morcilla.

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.


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.