The Paupered Chef: Keeping it local
We just had a cool conversation with Melissa Kelly of Primo Maine restaurants, who is cooking squash blossoms with handmade sheep’s milk ricotta and pesto pantesca. Her restaurant in Rockland, Maine has its own produce farm, pigs, and soon-to-be-installed windmill. “I don’t know if you can ever be totally off the grid,” she said, “but we’re pretty close.”
We were interested to learn, though, that Primo Maine has expanded to Florida, and now Arizona. How did the philosophy of a self-supporting system keep its integrity. How did they keep it local?
“It went hand-in-hand,” she explained, referring to the restaurants and their devoted produce farms for ingredients. In other words, Melissa is so enthusiastic about absolute freshness that she wouldn’t even open a restaurant until it had its own farm nearby.
But why expand at all and leave the pastoral coast of Maine? “To support the restaurant itself,” she explained. Maine has a very short tourist season and they’re at least an hour and a half from Portland, where chefs like Sam Hayward of Fore Street run award-winning kitchens (he’s also here tonight). To make sure she stayed afloat, the other locations were opened. But Melissa has stayed in Maine to run the original kitchen. Local places like Chase’s Daily, another restaurant/farm, share their values, and create what seems to be a Maine ethos.