Chebeague Chef Cherishes The Island Life
CHEBEAGUE ISLAND - It can be tough recruiting kitchen and wait staff for an island restaurant.
There are the transportation issues that come with having to take a ferry to work, the logistics of working with supplies that have to come from the mainland, and there's not much nightlife in the middle of serene Casco Bay.
But Terry Foster, the new chef at the Chebeague Island Inn, also emphasizes the positive.
"It's pretty relaxing out here," he said, sipping a cup of coffee as he sat on the front porch of the inn with a visitor last week. "It is a hard job, but it's not as fast-paced as restaurants in town because these people don't have anywhere to go."
Foster lives in Pownal but has worked at inns up and down the Maine coast, including Pilgrim's Inn on Deer Isle, the Newcastle Inn, the Squire Tarbox Inn on Westport Island, and the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport.
Why so many country inns? He likes the intimate atmosphere.
"It's more personal," he said. "You get to meet the guests, and it's more of a family atmosphere."
The menu at the 1920s-era Chebeague Island Inn - recently included in the "Best of 2006" by "Travel & Leisure" - had a slightly Asian flare, but Foster is bringing it back to traditional and modern New England cuisine.
First courses include Baked Bangs Island Mussels ($10), Smoked Haddock and Oyster Mushroom Chowder ($9), and Crispy Duck Confit with roasted carrots, brandy-poached figs and a fig balsamic glaze ($11).
Entrées include a Pan-roasted Halibut Filet ($26), Sautéed Maine Fish and Shellfish Cakes ($25) and a Grilled, Dry-aged Sirloin Strip Steak with a sauté of local mushrooms and shallots, and buttermilk mashed potatoes ($35).
The inn has a small wine list of about 30 bottles and serves 24 by the glass.
Foster is using local farmers and seafood purveyors whenever possible, and is working on setting up a garden for the inn's kitchen. The inn is leasing a quarter-acre plot of land halfway down the island where Foster plans to grow vegetables, herbs, and both edible and ornamental flowers.
"It's a whole other element and challenge" having such items shipped over from the mainland, he said. Freight adds about 2 percent to his food budget.
"People don't understand that these places on the islands have all these added expenses," he said.
Foster has a staff of six to eight. His sous chef is Courtney Loreg, formerly of Fore Street.
His kitchen is huge.
The inn serves dinner from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. daily. There is seating for about 70, most of it in the warm main dining room with white linens and custom-made chairs with leather seats.
"And this is where everyone wants to sit," Foster said as he showed off the front porch seating with sweeping water and island views.
Most people who dine here are guests of the inn, but locals also drop by for dinner occasionally.
"It's tricky to get tourists and islanders all together," Foster said. "But when it does happen, it's really cool. That's what we'll be shooting for here."
August 3, 2006
Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.
Staff Writer Meredith Goad