Eric Klein, Executive Chef and Associate Partner with Wolfgang Puck at Spago, Las Vegas, steps ashore in Bar Harbor, Maine, from Holland America’s cruise ship Maasdam, carrying his chef’s jacket and his leather kit of chef’s knives. He and his wife, Tori, are on a holiday.
Chef Matt McPherson, Executive Chef at The Looking Glass Restaurant in Bar Harbor, is on his day off. The chefs meet for the first time at Eden Farmer’s Market. The pre-arranged plan is for the two men to select fresh local produce at the market before combining their resources and talents in The Looking Glass Restaurant kitchen to create a lunch for a group of food, wine, and travel writers.
With writers hovering, the chefs shake hands and immediately begin to exchange pertinent information. The restaurant is just minutes away. Lunch has to be over by one o’clock in order to transport everyone back to the ship for departure. Tori is put in charge of timing.
Market stalls offer both organic and conventional fruit and vegetables along with bread, seafood, cured meats, and cheese. Eric glances over to the seafood truck, examines the corn, greens, peaches, and plums, and begins to suggest menu ideas. “Avocado and crab. Lobster. Peaches. Bitter greens. Maybe melon for the first course. Have you got tomatoes?” Matt fills him in as to what is available in the kitchen and the restaurant’s garden. They look at cantaloupe but it is too ripe.
Tori slips away and returns with a good one. After stops for loaves of French country bread and a selection of cured meats, Tori points to her wristwatch. It is time to get cooking.
The cruise ship makes a perfect picture through the front windows of The Looking Glass Restaurant.
After a tour of the kitchen, the two chefs review their supplies and pen their menu. Eric describes how each course is to be plated – with emphasis on simple and small.
Matt takes Eric to his garden where herbs spill out of their boxes. Black cherry tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, baby beans, Brussels sprouts, and pumpkins pose for photos.
Eric touches the herbs, tastes the leaves, and suggests mint, parsley, thyme, sage, rosemary, marjoram, and basil blossoms.
The kitchen temperature begins to rise as greens are steamed, oysters are shucked, crab is cooked, and pork tenderloin prepared. Serving dishes for the main course are set into warmers. Matt and sous-chef, Joe, are chopping, slicing, and grilling. Matt’s girlfriend, Sarah, sets up the dishwasher. A blender whirs.
With an eye on the clock, Eric sends a tray of local cheese, meats, honey, and bread out to the dining room for guests to enjoy. He works beside Matt and Joe, offering suggestions on technique and explaining why certain procedures are done certain ways, why the traditions of cooking are important, and at the same time proposing that once a cook understands the basics it is possible to do things a little differently, to improvise. He throws his voice above the hum of the exhaust fan and, listening intently, Matt responds every time with “Yes, Chef.”
The first course of local oyster with pickled radish and Bar Harbor halibut is plated on ceramic tiles with chilled seaweed, cubes of melon, soy-lime ginger, and a smooth black beach rock. Eric demonstrates placement on the first tile. Every one after that matches perfectly.
While Eric is in the dining room describing the first course to the guests, frying pans flame on the line in preparation for course four. The aroma of seared pork fills the room.
In the dining room the pace is calm, the mood appreciative. The writers photograph the food. Back in the kitchen, the pace picks up as the second course is set out for plating.
Peekytoe crab with avocado, mint, and parsley, and salad with delicate tomatoes on the vine, local goat cheese, basil blossoms, and pesto. At the very last, a drop of balsamic vinegar christens each tomato and Eric twists a pepper grinder above each plate. Any wrongly placed drips of pesto are wiped away. The moment the salad plates are on their way to the dining room, course three begins.
Butter-poached lobster, corn, and mascarpone spume with French summer truffle. The chefs follow the line of plates around the pass-through table, first spooning the corn, then placing the lobster. Matt whisks the spume that is inspired by the sea right up until seconds before plating it.
Eric chats while he carefully grates truffle over dollops of the foam. “Some food preparation has to be at the last minute to maintain freshness. Today we have everything from the garden, everything from the ocean. We are making memories with food.”
When dirty dishes return from the dining room, the beach rocks from the first course are washed, to be given to guests as mementos. Clean plates are lifted from the warmer for course 4 – local pork loin and tenderloin. Sarah wipes every plate to remove condensation. Greens appear from the oven. Peaches are still sizzling in a frying pan. Eric sprinkles herbs. Matt pours sauce over hot sliced pork.
Eric arranges the first plate – Swiss chard on the bottom then fava beans, sliced pork, grilled peaches, and sauce. The chefs move rapidly, the food must be served hot. Wait staff stands ready to serve as soon as Eric gives the word.
It is time for the final course. A red port, cinnamon, and ginger sauce is swirled onto chilled plates. Raspberries are nestled in place next to sautéed plums and crumbled cannoli shells.
Scoops of local goat cheese and honey ice cream glisten as the desserts are carried to the dining room.
Before he removes his chef’s jacket and packs his knives back into their kit, Eric joins Matt, Joe, and Sarah in kitchen clean up. Two chefs, one willing to share what he knows and the other willing to learn, have created memories not only for their guests in the dining room but for themselves.