Spring has sprung in Portland! That means warm lingering days, outdoor dining and a whole new season of Maine Foodie Tours.
We’re thrilled to introduce you to a few brand new culinary experiences. This week we tagged along on a recipe shopping trip with Chris Papagni, a beloved Maine Foodie Tours guide, and Chef of our recently added “Cookin’ With Friends” classes.
Chris is one of those people that make you feel immediately comfortable. Within moments of greeting him (and his sidekick, a gregarious Maltipoo named Giorgio), we are laughing and swapping stories about our latest kitchen experiments. Our first stop is Portland’s Monument Square Farmers’ Market, open every Wednesday from 7am – 1pm. Chris and I are mesmerized by all of the beautiful produce and he reminisces about shopping for tomatoes with his father, sniffing them to test for ripeness. You can sense the deep connection Chris feels to his family when he prepares food, and it reminds you of your own childhood memories from the kitchen. He recently wrote a beautiful article about these foodie inspirations.
Eighteen months ago Chris moved to Portland from Manhattan where he served as the Executive Vice President of The International Culinary Center (formerly The French Culinary Institute) for sixteen years. Needless to say, Chris knows good food, but his spirit and love for food is about so much more than what’s on the plate – he is all about highlighting the ingredients, telling a story and making everyone feel at home. And at home you will be; cooking classes are hosted in his downtown Portland loft. A well-appointed kitchen with lots of personal touches makes you comfortable and recipes approachable.
Today we’re making a frisée salad with warm red wine vinaigrette and crispy pancetta, topped with a fried egg. This is one of several recipes you’ll learn to prepare in this season’s classes. Inspired by the abundant produce at the farmers market, Chris is also preparing a little snack for us: Radishes, pan roasted until golden brown in his father’s cast iron pan and finished with a sprinkle of Maine sea salt.
Chris’ knife skills and organization are fascinating, you can learn so much watching an experienced cook move through their mise-en-place (a French term used in kitchens to indicate putting all things and ingredients ‘in place’). He sets to work preparing the components of the dish, including a perfectly cooked egg from K.Horton Specialty Foods (the city’s best kept secret for excellent and inexpensive farm fresh eggs, says Chris). Once the pancetta lardons have rendered, Chris prepares the warm vinaigrette using red wine vinegar home made by a long-time friend and colleague. The pungent smell of vinegar and crispy pork fills the kitchen and I’m suddenly ravenous.
A few moments later we sit down to enjoy our lunch. It is a simple feast, beautiful and balanced, and easily replicated in any home kitchen. While we eat we discuss the Portland food scene and how many incredible restaurants there are, but that sometimes the best meals are the ones like these…excellent ingredients shared in good company.
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