Interview with Chris Gould of Central Provisions, Nominated for Best New Restaurant
Alyssa HaakAlyssa Haak
May 04, 2015
It's hard to get more local than Portland, Maine's Central Provisions: the kitchen sources ingredients from regional farmers, foragers, and fishmongers, and the entire restaurant was built and decorated by Maine craftsman. We spoke with chef/co-owner Chris Gould (whose wife, Paige Gould, manages the front of house) to explore how the seasonal restaurant has handled acclaim, the challenges of a Maine winter, and Portland's burgeoning dining scene.
JBF: You’ve both worked in restaurants for many years. What experiences have each of you brought to the table?
CG: Attention to detail is the biggest thing. It’s something you only can develop through years of work.
JBF: The menu and space feature lots of products and details from Maine-based craftsmen. Can you talk about how local artisans are expressed in the food and the setting? What are some specific examples that you really love?
CG: From the beginning of the restaurant’s design, we knew we wanted to support the local economy. By using potters, blacksmiths, and woodworkers, we were able to design a restaurant that truly felt like it belonged in our 200-year-old building. Using reclaimed wood from a 19th-century barn nearby to build the bars and tables and having our blacksmith hand-forge all of our chairs and brackets really helped with our vision. Now that the restaurant is open, we continue to work with local farmers, fishmongers, foragers, and potters to not only supply our customers with a great product, but to also invest in our local community.
JBF: We read that there was a terrible fire that damaged the space while you were developing it. Did that force you to alter your plans in any way?
CG: The fire happened in the building directly abutting our building. Luckily, we were still in the demo phase of the buildout and nothing was ruined. The fire did set us back with our building permit: the city wanted to reassess our fire-protection plan, which took six months!
JBF: The original plan included a seasonal menu that maintained a core number of items. Now that the restaurant has been open a year, how has that played out? Will this remain as the overall concept for the menu?
CG: The menu has evolved nicely. There are still a few core items that have been on it since day one, like the crispy skin suckling pig and the cinnamon and hay–smoked carrots. Other than that, it has continued to flow with the seasons, and we have been able to highlight specific products that don't usually get to be the star of their own plate.
JBF: Maine is finally emerging from an especially brutal winter. How did you cope in terms of the food and menu planning? Any good weather-related stories?
CG: I work with some great farmers! A few of them have been able to supply me with organic greens all winter using long, tall hoop houses in their fields. I have been able to set up root cellar plans with them to store their goods for me over the long Maine winter. I stored items such as carrots, beets, potatoes, squash, and more, but it's nice to finally start seeing a little bit of fresh green—even though we are still six weeks out from any real spring produce in Maine.
JBF: Has the national attention come as a surprise? How has it impacted your restaurant?
CG: I would say it has. I knew we would make good food and have it be served in a fun, relaxed space, but I never thought people would notice us in Portland, Maine. It’s just not as big of a market as New York or San Francisco.
JBF: The restaurant scene in Portland has really taken off over the past few years. Where do you like to dine when you’re not working?
CG: My friends at Hugo’s, Eventide Oyster Co., and the Honey Paw do a great job—I go to those places a bunch. There's also a new breakfast and lunch place called Dutch's—it's incredible!
Alyssa Haak is a freelance writer in New York City.