Archive for September, 2012|Monthly archive page

Maine Men

In October 2009, two twenty-something guys opened up Luke’s Lobster— a seafood shack in New York’s East Village. Less than a year later, they expanded, setting up a second, larger Luke’s on the city’s the Upper East Side. Here, in a new GQ blog series, Ben Conniff reveals why he and Luke Holden quit their day jobs to dive into the shark-infested waters of the N.Y.C. restaurant business—and how they’re scrapping their way to the top of the heap

from GQ, July 29, 2010

One afternoon in July of 2009, my cell phone started buzzing. I had recently sent an article to a popular food magazine, and my editor’s name was blinking on my screen. I’d been freelance writing for some decent publications in New York, but money was still tight. My editor was writing to say she loved the story. She was even going to pay me this time. As soon as the story ran. Sometime in 2010. Exactly one year ago today, I opened my laptop and turned to the place where everyone goes when they discover something missing in their lives: Craigslist.

I was ready to stop writing about food and start making it. But no restaurants were looking to hire an Ivy League keyboard pecker whose only food-service experience was seven teenage years spent eating the merchandise at a Connecticut doughnut shop. Surfing Craigslist was a real Hail Mary, and that day it paid off: I came across an ad for a nascent lobster-roll business looking for someone smart, talented, and hardworking to help create something special. I was none of those things. But I was sure I could learn.


Luke’s Lobster roll

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Ship Shape

Cooking on a vintage schooner takes skilled and steady hands.

From Saveur Magazine, April 2010Image

By the time the first of the six passengers aboard the American Eagle, a 92-foot schooner based out of Rockland, Maine, emerged from his sleeping berth, the boat’s cook, Robin Pietila, had been busy in the tiny galley for hours. She’d gotten up at four o’clock to feed kindling into the firebox that fuels the cast-iron oven and stovetop. It can take a long time for the stove to heat fully on a chilly morning like this one, and hot water needed to be ready for coffee and tea when the passengers awoke. Working a system of vents and flues, Pietila had channeled the heat from the firebox, now loaded with burning logs, to the stovetop. As soon as the water was boiling, she closed off the flue, forcing hot air into the oven, which she needed for today’s breakfast, a lobster frittata. After a few minutes, she opened the oven and stuck in her hand, holding it there for several seconds before yanking it out. “If I can keep it in there for just five seconds, I know it’s about 425 degrees,” she said. The oven is the same kind that was originally installed on the boat, almost a century ago, and has no temperature gauge.
I’ve seen chefs perform miracles in cramped restaurant kitchens, but I’ve never seen any cook do as much with as little as Pietila, a 52-year-old former teacher from southern Maine with no formal culinary training, does here on the Eagle. She and other galley cooks provide one of the paramount pleasures of sailing aboard a vintage schooner off Maine’s rocky shores, where a number of historic boats like the Eagle ferry paying guests up and down the coast. On a four-day sail from Rockland, I marveled at the dishes Pietila produced in her kitchen: from the fluffy, perfectly golden frittata to a delicious porcini-and-shiitake focaccia to fruit salads, turkey chili, and corn bread.
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