Saturday, October 3, 2009

Hotbeds of innovation: food in Portland

Why are Silicon Valley and Cambridge MA hotbeds of innovation? A nice NY Times story about the culinary scene in Portland Maine, by Julia Moskin, might give some insights: In Portland’s Restaurants, a Down East Banquet .
"Portland’s many chefs and bakers, its turnip farmers and cookbook sellers and assorted mad food geniuses are gearing up for another lively winter.
“I wouldn’t call it a competition, I’d call it a collective,” Josh Potocki, the chef and owner of 158 Pickett St. CafĂ© in South Portland, said of the city’s food scene. “We are all trying to raise the level of food in Portland to insanely high.” ...
"Chefs here feed off one another’s work in a way that’s impossible in larger cities (Portland’s population is about 65,000, and it has a compact urban center), constantly eating in and commenting on one another’s restaurants. “I’ve made enemies, for sure,” said Joe Ricchio, a bartender who makes Vietnamese pho on his days off, has a weakness for flaming scorpion bowls, and writes a blog titled Portland Food Coma.
In 2007, Mr. Ricchio started a festively debauched event now known as Deathmatch, a kind of extended “Iron Chef” dinner, with each invited chef contributing a course. “Each one takes five years off your life,” Mr. Ricchio said."...
"Most of Portland’s young chefs ...have worked in — and walked out of — one another’s kitchens. ...Many have cycled through the twin temples of Sam Hayward’s Fore Street or Hugo’s on Middle Street, where Rob Evans is the chef. These are the kitchens that first defined Portland as a destination for rigorously local and regularly delicious food. "...

“Ninety percent of the best restaurants are chef-owned, small, single-operator places,” said Samantha Hoyt Lindgren, an owner of Rabelais, an all-food bookstore on Middle Street ...“That makes a huge difference in the quality of the food and the relationships with purveyors,” she said."..."And for chefs to become owners, the price of entry — key money, kitchen renovation, etc. — is relatively low. "

For related earlier posts, see Market for hand crafted food and Market for hand crafted food, continued

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