Chefs Mark Gaier & Clark Frasier, of MC Perkins Cove in Ogunquit, discuss food trends, dish about local favorites, dish and chefs to watch and share their most memorable dining experiences in part 2 of my chat with the James Beard Award winners.
What trends do you see in food and dining in Maine and beyond?
Clark: We were pioneers in 1992, in what became the “farm-to-table” movement. This movement has become a bigger thing, a really great thing. A lot of young chefs are embracing it—some honestly, some paying lip service—but as a result, there are more local farmers, more dairies making cheese, more wineries and breweries. One of our former waiters started Casco Bay Butter. All those ancillary things are important. People went to France in the 1960s, and they talked about the markets, butter, cheese, wine—all the things that go with a great culinary experience. That’s what’s happening in Maine.
Mark: Maine chefs are using New England ingredients to make international cuisine. We travel a lot and we see Indian and other culinary influences. There are more eclectic and international restaurants. Now you can get good Thai food, wonderful Japanese cuisine, and more ethnic food in general in Maine. Some people are doing a great job.
Clark: And there’s more access to ingredients. There’s a real Indian market in Portsmouth. If we want mango powder or obscure ingredients, now we just go down there and find all sorts of weird things.
Mark: Diversity, we see the influences everywhere. Some execute them well, some don’t. Mexican food is all the rage now. It’s fascinating watching it change.
Clark: It’s interesting to see if prosperity continues, which is important for the restaurant scene. We’ve ridden out two serious recessions. One of the first things to go is dining out.
Mark: We saw that in this restaurant, and even more so at Arrows. We were well established; no doubt we were lucky.
Clark: It’s a hard biz; the profit margins are low. But look to the future during a recession; it will come again.
Are there any restaurant(s) or chefs along the southern Maine Coast or beyond that you think deserve(s) more notice?
Mark: Chef Lee Frank worked for us for a long time—great guy, great Chef—opened a restaurant, Otis, in Exeter, N.H. He just did a dinner at the Beard House, which is an initiation into the big time. I think he’s going to do really well. Also notable are Eben Hennessy, Stages at 1 Washington in Dover; Matt Lewis in Moxie, Franklin Oyster House; Gary Kim at Anju, in Kittery.
Clark: Kittery is becoming quite the scene.
Mark: And we’re really happy Eventide won the Beard Award. They’re doing a good job.
Where do you dine when you have a night off?
Clark: Cornerstone (Ogunquit) for pizza. They’re good friends, and it’s casual and fun.
Mark: Anju (Kittery) for noodles
Clark: Tulsi North (Wells) for Indian food.
Mark: Love Fisherman’s Catch (Wells). It’s a classic Maine fish shack.
Clark: Ocean at the Cape Arundel Inn (Kennebunkport) is our go-to for fine dining, white tablecloths, and good food. Pierre Gignac is making well-prepared interesting food; the best he’s ever done.
Mark: Love going to Pearl (Kennebunk’s Lower Village).
Favorite meal anywhere, anytime
Mark: A number stand out, but one of my favorites was in Cairo, Egypt. We’d been traveling all over Egypt for a couple of weeks; can’t get a good martini, whatever, but the food was pretty good. Ended up at the Four Seasons at Nile Plaza, a Lebanese buffet restaurant. I’m like, this is going to be disgusting, no way. I was wrong. The food was 6 or 7 stars, off the chart. Everything cooked to order, beautifully presented. All Cairo-people were dining there. There was a huge female party from an Egyptian soap opera. And people from that neighborhood eating there. The food was unbelievable
We also had a flawless overall experience at Per Se during the downturn. We called on our way down—we were going down to do the Today Show. They got us in that night. It was 98 degrees in August. We went into the restaurant and entered another world. It overlooks Central Park. I had stopped drinking shortly before, and we were presented with a bottle of champagne, when I mentioned I didn’t drink, in a matter of a second, another glass of something that looked like champagne was presented. They didn’t miss a beat, not kidding. For every course, the waiter came out and poured an amazing nonalcoholic drink. Everything about the night was unbelievable; a lot of it was whimsical. It was just perfect, absolutely perfect.
Clark: When I was a teen, some friends and I went to Spain. We were driving and driving and arrived in an industrial hell hole, port city. We were exhausted, famished, and had no money; we were kids. Finally, we got to this row of crumby seashore places. We just picked one and went in. We were presented with huge menus, octopus to zebra. We kept saying: we’ll have this; the response: we don’t have that. It kept on, until finally we asked: What do you serve? Paella. Okay, we’ll have it. This was Spain; we waited 45 minutes. They came out with this huge mounded plate, an immense amount of food for three of us. It was so delicious, so perfect.
We had an amazing experience in Syria. We went to dinner at restaurant, where a group of about 20 guys were having a bachelor party dinner without the groom (as is the custom there). At that time, there were few Americans in Syria, and we didn’t blend in. The waiter brought a huge platter with lamb to the group, and we asked about it: What is it and what’s the tradition? All of a sudden, over came a whole platter from the bachelor party to us. I still get choked up thinking about it. It was one of the most kind, gracious, neighborly actions and the most impressive part of our whole trip. It said so much all the acrimony between West and East, Muslim and Christian. Here we were, obviously Americans and we we’re treated like brothers and friends.