May 24, 2024

Maine chef to perform at culinary Carnegie Hall

Named after the late, great chef, the James Beard House in New York City has been referred to as the Carnegie Hall of American cuisine. If that’s the case, then Sam Hayward, chef at the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport, will be orchestrating a culinary concert at 6 p.m. at the Beard House on Thanksgiving Day.

Beard, who died at the age of 81 in 1985, was widely considered the foremost champion of American cooking. His Greenwich Village townhouse now serves as home of the James Beard Foundation and has become a showcase for culinary excellence.

“It is such a great honor to be invited to do the Thanksgiving dinner,” said Hayward, who immediately began planning for the event when asked last May. He’ll leave for Manhattan on Tuesday and start composing the meal early Wednesday. Four friends — also accomplished chefs — will join him to help prepare the feast.

“We’re going to be cooking Wednesday and Thursday,” said Hayward. “It’s going to take the five of us both days to get it just right.”

Getting it just right requires using ingredients raised or foraged in Maine, according to Hayward. His roster of suppliers includes the Foggy Ridge Game Bird Farm in Warren, which produced the centerpiece wild turkeys to be roasted.

The numerous delicacies on the Thanksgiving menu will also include Maine-raised salmon with tiny corn muffins; jumbo diver-harvested Maine scallops served with saffron, rosemary and smoked shrimp; and oven-crisped peeky-toe crab cakes with pumpkin-seed pesto cream.

Hayward said he even asked the New Leaf Farm of Durham, “one of our most meticulous organic farmers, to raise hard spring wheat, which we’ll grind for bread the day before we leave for New York.”

Some the ingredients will be shipped ahead by air, but others will not be entrusted to the airlines.

“The wild turkeys, for example, I’ll be checking several times during the drive down to make sure they are in the right position in the marinade,” said Hayward. “And I’ll even be picking up the Maine-made butter in Biddeford on the way down.”

Hayward, who is now 43, first came to Maine in 1974 when he spent a summer cooking for researchers at the Shoals Island Marine Laboratory on Appledore Island. Vowing to return to Maine some day, he left to continue his culinary training in New Orleans before taking a position at the Regency Hotel in Manhattan.

He and his wife, Jan, returned to Maine where Hayward became chef de cuisine at Restaurant Maurice in South Paris, before opening his own restaurant in Brunswick about 12 years ago. In June of ’91, Hayward closed Twenty-two Lincoln because, “I needed a break. I needed to lay down the burden of ownership.”

He has since continued to build on his reputation for contemporary New England cooking at the Harraseeket Inn.

For those folks in Maine who might not have a chance to share the feast being presented to New York’s culinary elite on Thanksgiving night, Hayward has offered the following introduction to and recipe for “Crisp Peeky-Toe Maine Crab Cakes with Pumpkin-seed Pesto”:

Seafood afficionados know Maine’s crab meat to be about the sweetest in North America. Maine’s crab meat is picked from the native rock crab, sometimes called the peeky-toe, a different species from the familiar blue crab found in waters from Long Island to Texas. Its closest relative is probably the Pacific dungeness crab, and like the dungeness, it tends to yield small pieces of meat and a lot of shred, but be of uncomparable succulence. Our peeky-toe crab meat comes to us from Owls Head, where the cold waters of Penobscot and Muscongus Bays meet. It is considerably lumpier than most other Maine crab meat, and I think it’s the best in the state.

Maine crab meat in now frequently shipped to market in big cities. If your fishmonger doesn’t carry it, ask him to. Otherwise, substitute any fine-grained crab, such as dungeness or blue.

Crisp Peeky-toe Crab Cakes

4 ounces kataify (shredded phyllo pastry, available frozen at specialty food stores)

8 ounces lumpy Maine crab meat

1/4 cup clarified butter

2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds, lightly toasted

2 cloves garlic

1 to 2 tablespoons fruity olive oil

1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese

1 cup fresh basil leaves, loosely packed

1/3 cup cream

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Make the pesto cream: In the bowl of a food processor, place garlic, pumpkin seeds, basil, cheese and oil. Pulse until a rough paste is achieved. Turn the pesto into a non-corroding skillet, add the cream, bring to a boil, adjust the seasoning, and simmer, whisking frequently, three minutes or until lightly thickened.

Divide the kataify into eight parts. Gently spread the kataify into flat circles roughly 3 inches in diameter, and place 1 ounce of crab meat in the center of each circle, using it all. Bring the kataify up around the crab to completely encase it. Place these little snowballs on a baking sheet, drizzle generously with the butter, and bake eight minutes, or until golden brown.

Spoon the pesto cream onto four plates. Place two crab cakes on each. Decorate with perfect basil leaves, if desired.

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