Q+A with the Authors: The Portland, Maine Chef's Table
SKORDO: While many of your followers know you from Portland Chef’s Table, you have a Ten Apple Farm and Goat Tours following! Tell us about life as authors who are running a farm!
Karl: We started our diversified homestead, Ten Apple Farm in 2005 after spending a year traveling around the United States researching and documenting everything goat-related in America. That story is told in Margaret’s first book, The Year of the Goat: 40,000 Miles and the Quest for the Perfect Cheese. We started doing goat hikes with our herd of Alpine dairy goats around 10 years ago as a way to get the goats fresh air and exercise in the winter. As we invited more people to join us, it because so popular that last January we decided to make the farm’s growing agritourism business our full-time occupation (together with book publishing, of course!). Our goal is to focus on the farm business in late spring, summer and fall, and be working on cookbook and other publishing projects during the winter off-season. That said, we do the goat hikes all year round, so there really isn’t an off-season for us!
S: You’ve described yourself as agricultural ambassadors. Do you see yourselves as food ambassadors?
Margaret: I think we’re definitely advocates for delicious, healthy, seasonally-based food. It’s how we eat, and it’s what we share with visitors to the farm. We feel strongly as a couple—and we live this as a family with our three daughters—that sharing meals creates a foundation for deep connections and relationships. Some of our strongest memories, individually and as a family, are connected to food. I think the writer M.F.K. Fisher (my favorite food writer!) said it best: “There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk."
S: What excites you most in Portland’s/Maine’s food scene?
Margaret: To me, one of the most exciting things about the current food scene in Portland (and across the state) is how many couples and families are working together in restaurants and food businesses. I love how relaxed the vibe is! As a couple that works together, I know how gratifying—and challenging—it can be to achieve a shared vision, and to work together every day. I love seeing the well-deserved successes of so many of Maine’s food businesses!
S: What are your Portland must eats/drinks?
Margaret: That’s too hard! It’s like asking us to choose our favorite child!
S: Which ingredient do you reach for everyday and why?
Margaret: It’s a little predictable, but I think almost every meal at our house includes olive oil, citrus juice and kosher salt. Also probably garlic! Those are our go-to ingredients that perk up almost everything.
S: What’s your favorite SKORDO ingredient and how do you use it?
Margaret: I lived in North Africa for a year after college, and I’m in love with the flavors of that region. The SKORDO spice blends of harissa, baharat, and za'atar are wonderful! I love the harissa with roasted or grilled eggplant, the baharat with chicken, and the za’atar with our homemade fresh goat cheese. (Actually, I put za’atar on almost everything!) I’ve also recently discovered your rogan josh spice blend, which is amazing with lamb! Oh, and smoked paprika. Karl puts it in all his spice rubs for grilling, and we make a wonderful fresh chèvre with smoked paprika and garlic or shallots.
S: Where do you draw inspiration for your homecooked meals?
Margaret: We grow and raise about 70% of our food here on the farm, so the biggest influence on our cooking is what’s coming out of our gardens and freezers. We draw our inspiration in the kitchen from a lot of influences: Karl and I have both traveled a lot, and we’ve raised our kids to have pretty wide-ranging palates. We don’t eat a ton of meat, and a lot of our meals are vegetable based. We try to let vegetables really shine, while also experimenting with bold spices. I’m a huge fan of Yotam Ottolenghi’s style—bright flavors with lots of herbs and citrus—so that’s a big inspiration. As we worked on the Chef’s Table book, I borrowed ideas from chefs around town; for example, I never really used my mandoline much before, and now it gets a lot of use! I also just personally love a plate that’s colorful, so I try to make sure that we have something green and something red or orange (even if it’s just a simple grated carrot salad) in every dinner. And dessert every night! (That’s my grandmother Honey’s influence!)
S: How has the union of your New York City past and Maine agricultural present inspired this cookbook?
Karl: I’m not sure inspired is the right word, but having lived in New York, and now living on a farm growing food and making cheese, definitely gives us certain connection with chefs, in two very different spaces — it was definitely a way to connect and find common ground with many of the chefs that we worked with on the cookbook, a number of whom have come to Maine having worked or lived in New York themselves.
S: How did you select the restaurants/chefs featured in New Portland, Maine Chef’s Table?
Karl: We didn’t want to repeat any restaurants from the first book, and we eventually decided to try to only include restaurants that had opened in the 7 years since the first book came out. We wanted to focus on what was exciting and new, and on the chefs and restaurants who were trying new things, bringing great food to new places in the city, or breathing new life into old spaces. The first Chef’s Table book focused only on the Peninsula. At that time, that’s where most of the good food was being made. As the Portland food scene has expanded, we were excited to go off the Peninsula and include more food and places outside of the downtown.
S: What is the most referenced cookbook in your home collection?
Margaret: There are a couple that I consult all the time: Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking is so well worn that the center pages fall out. Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is also on my heavy rotation. All of Ottolenghi’s books (Plenty, Plenty More, Jerusalem, etc.) also get a lot of love—particularly because he uses a lot of unusual ingredients that we grow, like lovage, fava beans, and quince. If we start talking about baking, the list gets even longer!
S: Is there a kitchen gadget or tool you couldn’t live without?
Karl: We have this serrated grapefruit knife — it’s got a curved knife on one end, and a double knife on the other. Our kids love grapefruit and we use it all the time. I don’t know where it came from — I think it got it in a discount bin at a hardware store, and we love it.
S: Food for us is synonymous with family. We know you have three awesome kids, do you think any of them have that Author/Farm Owner/Professional Chef inclination?
Karl: Our three girls all like to cook and they all contribute to the life on farm in their way. Charlotte is a writer and operates our farm stand in the summer. Beatrice raises pigs and recently started adapting recipes and making her own herbal tea blends. Sadie collects the eggs and loves cooking shows. Who knows? All we can do is give them the skills and opportunity to find what it is that they want to do, and instill in them the confidence to pursue it. We love that our kids have such a healthy relationship with the food they eat. They know where it comes from, they take responsibility and joy in raising it, cooking it, and consuming it. I don’t think we could ask for more than that.
S: What’s your favorite recipe you’ve made recently?
Margaret: I just made a Persian jeweled rice dish the other night that’s my new favorite! I combined a few recipes (which is usually the way I cook), and came up with a dish that had dried fruit, pistachios, tons of fresh cilantro and scallion, and actually a bunch of SKORDO spices: whole cardamom pods, ground turmeric, and cumin seeds. It was incredibly delicious!
S: We know you both JUST published your brand new book, the Maine Bicentennial Community Cookbook. Tell us a little about what we can expect! Do you have any recipes in there you already can’t live without??
Karl: Well, it’s not quite published yet! We’re in the thick of editing and book design and layout of the Maine Bicentennial Community Cookbook right now, and if all goes well it gets sent off to the printer beginning of April, and we’ll have books in hand mid-June. It’s really been an amazing project. This is a cookbook that’s all about home cooking, and the incredibly meaningful relationship that people have with the food — how it connects them to people and place, to family and family history. It’s been such an incredible honor for us to be the recipients of heartfelt and moving family stories about food, and recipes that have been passed down and continue to be cooked in homes all over Maine today. There’s a little something in this cookbook for everyone, and recipes and stories that we all will identify with, and treasure. It was really hard editing it down to 200 recipes. We can’t wait to share it with all the cooks of Maine.