Terlingua BBQ Cooking Demo

Co-owner Pliny Reynolds and chef Wilson Rothschild from Terlingua are the focus of a video interview published on Eater.

“Maine has world class ingredients, whether we’re talking about lobsters, or shellfish like scallops and mussels. Exploring that with barbecue was something we felt like we had to do”, Reynolds explains as he pulls a tray of mussels covered in seaweed from the smoker. He drizzles them with chile oil and tops them on a classic barbecue side: deviled eggs. Other combo dishes like this can be found throughout the menu, from smoked lobster tostadas to classic pit-smoked brisket, to smoked mackerel dip with homemade tortilla chips, and more.

John Woods, 1963 – 2021

John Woods passed away at the age of 57 after a battle with cancer. Woods played a pivotal roll in the fight against childhood hunger in Maine. Through the organization he co-founded, Full Plates Full Potential, and work stretching back nearly two decades he has an enormous positive impact on the lives of countless Mainers. He will be sorely missed.

John was dogged in his quest to identify his calling; to identify what God had intended as his greater purpose.  He sought opportunities to leverage his gifts, skills and faith in service of others; to make a lasting impact, to find a better way… to lift people up.  Full Plates Full Potential is the culmination of many things that made John who he was, and one that will have lasting impact on the lives of thousands of children who are being fed, and will have a chance of living a healthier, more fulfilled lives.  However, Full Plates is just, but one example… John really put the “human” in human being.  He was so interested in each person and their story.  He was an innovator and a problem solver; bringing people together and questioning the status-quo.  He was always looking for the “opportunity” within the problem.  Then he would flip the problem on its head and offer fresh solutions and a positive outlook.

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!


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.

How Restaurants Have Adapted

Yesterday’s episode of Maine Calling talked to members of the restaurant community about how restaurants have adapted during the pandemic.

Winter is traditionally the toughest season for Maine restaurants — but this year, because of the pandemic, it’s even more challenging. Local restaurant owners say revenue this winter so far has been about half of what it usually is. Several Maine restaurants have closed during the pandemic, others have changed the way they operate, setting up to-go windows, outdoor seating options and food trucks. A few new restaurants have even opened. Maine Restaurant Week is different this year, too, hoping to underscore how creative solutions might keep the restaurant industry afloat.

For the Culture

An essay by Carmen Harris, co-owner of Magnus on Water in Biddeford, has been published in the inaugural issue of For the Culture.

The essay is titled I Have No Idea How I Got Here. In it Harris reflects on identity, opportunity and her path to founding a cocktail and restaurant in Biddeford Maine. Here’s a brief excerpt,

Out of the primordial dust of this pandemic, my prayer is that more Black women will be given the chance, access points, space, and self-permission to say yes to the unknown. The spiritual knowing within will guide us. Trust it. Know it. Cultivate it. It is she who longs to be discovered and create within you. She whispers to you, until you know you can do this, and you can do it better than anyone else. Even if, like me, you have never worked one day in a restaurant before the moment you opened your very own. She wraps you in the confidence to say ‘yes’ to the unknown with the knowing you cannot fail. She is with you, always.

For the Culture is a “biannual printed food magazine that celebrates Black women and femmes in food and wine. The stories in For the Culture are about Black women throughout the diaspora, written by Black women and photographed and illustrated by Black women. It is the first magazine of its kind.”

Kids Are Cooking

Today’s Maine Sunday Telegram includes an article on how kids are doing more home cooking during the pandemic.

Kids and teens have taken advantage of pandemic downtime to turn up the heat on their passions for cooking, say parents, as well as local and national cooking instructors. Some have used time at home to expand their interest in baking, grilling or cooking in general, while others are learning their way around the kitchen for the first time. The process for kids can be educational, and more parents these days are looking for constructive things for children to do at home, since most only physically go to school a couple days a week. Learning to cook can be a form of entertainment – something to do besides video games or watching TV – and take a bit of pressure off parents who during the pandemic have had to make three meals a day for the whole family.

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.


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.

Oyster Aquaculture in Phippsburg

Today’s Maine Sunday Telegram includes an article about John Herrigel, his family, and the oyster aquaculture business he operates in Phippsburg. Herrigel is the founder of the Maine Oyster Company restaurant in West Bayside.

John Herrigel’s is one of them. Herrigel, 41, founder and co-owner of Maine Oyster Co. in Portland and owner of Cape Small Oysters in Phippsburg, is working to restore some of the community lost to gentrification by investing in aquaculture and the public’s growing appetite for Maine-grown oysters. His parents, who live in Bath and moved to Maine from New Jersey, own the old general store building and the wharf it sits on. Herrigel, who lives in the village, uses it as his oyster basecamp. He keeps his boats there for his oyster farm in Small Point Harbor, and sells oysters to-go, hosts shuck-and-slurp parties on the wharf in the summer, and leads hands-on boat tours of his oyster-growing operation and oyster farms in the New Meadows River.