Was Maine snubbed by the food Oscars?

The James Beard Award nominees were announced Tuesday and not a single Maine chef made the list. Nary a one.

If Portland, with as many indie restaurants per capita as San Francisco, is the food Mecca of the state, gaining on Boston, the slight seems particularly galling. Especially considering only one chef, the talented Mr. Miyake was in the running.

Reigning Beard best North East chef Melissa Kelly, up for another gold for Primo in Rockland, downplayed any talk of Maine fatigue.

“There are many great chefs on the list. We are so lucky to have that many of us that made it to the semi finals,” she said of her seven peers that didn’t advance.

True, but if the endless lists are to be believed, the news leaves me, well listless. It runs counter to every “best-of” that puts Portland on top of the food pyramid. “Small cities, big flavor.” “Best chef-driven restaurants,” you dream it, they’ve listed it this year.

The pain was felt all the way up the chilly coast. Chef Brian Hill of Francine Bistro in Camden was bummed by the Beard blow off.

“It does seem like an intentional snub,” he told me. “The guys at Hugo’s and Eventide are doing an amazing job, you hear about the New York edge that’s moving into Portland. So why not put them on the list?” said Hill.

Up for his 6th Beard nod, Hill is like the Susan Lucci of the food Oscars.

“Always a bridesmaid, never a bride,” said Hill, who also owns Shepherd’s Pie in Rockport.

His theory? He hasn’t been on Chopped, thrown it down with Flay, nor does he tweet. Seems all this chef does is cook.

Sheperds Pie 1 GD.jpg

Chef Brian Hill, photo by Gabor Degre

“The people that got chosen are on the Food Network, they are really good cooks, I’ve known them for years when I worked in Boston. It’s disappointing. It’s such a cool thing to get recognized. To have this national attention is always welcome.”

With four Boston area chefs named nominees in the best North East category, could a Boston vs. Portland rivalry be brewing?

“We’ve had our embarrassment of riches, the Maine guys have kicked the Boston guys asses,” said Hill who worked for Todd English at Olives and Figs in Boston before he headed north.

“I don’t know how they pick these, members of the Beard Foundation eat at my restaurant all summer long. I don’t post a Twitter feed about what I’m cooking, that makes you a bad chef. In my little 40 seat restaurant that seems like BS to me.”

And about going tweetless?

“People have complained to me. But I’m thinking like a Parisian chef, focusing on my sauces. I think that it’s complete crap to have to do that level of marketing. It’s bullshit. There is that level of realism in Maine. None of us can afford interns and that sort of thing to take those pictures.”

Somebody get this guy a Twitter account — stat.

As for Kelly, her Beard award didn’t change her life. “It’s like Cinderella. You are all dressed up, feel great for the night … However the next day you are back at work.”

Hill, Masa Miyake, Cara Stadler and all the other semis take heart. It “actually makes things harder,” said Kelly. “There are more expectations.”


Kathleen Pierce

About Kathleen Pierce

A lifelong journalist with a deep curiosity for what's next. Interested in food, culture, trends and the thrill of a good scoop. BDN features reporter based in Portland since 2013.