Down East 2013 ©
Big news for Maine food lovers. Rob Evans, chef and owner of Hugo’s in Portland, Maine, won the highly coveted James Beard Award last night for Best Chef: Northeast. Evans was competing against some heavy hitters – Maine’s Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier of Arrows in Ogunquit; Michael Leviton of Lumiere and Marc Orfaly of Pigalle, both of Boston; and Tony Maws of Craigie on Maine in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Two years ago I was lucky enough to spend the days with Evans at Hugos for an article I wrote for Taste Magazine. After spending twelve hours in the kitchen besides Evans there was no doubt is my mind that Evans is one of the brightest, most talented chefs in the state, if not the country. He has a passion for food that translates to something truly original — which is hard to find in the restaurant world.
Here’s an excerpt from the piece I wrote for Taste about Evans: “It's a little before two o'clock on a cloudy Saturday afternoon, and the kitchen at Hugo's is starting to get busy. There is an air of controlled intensity in the room -- a sense of anticipation for the busy evening to come. Hugo's has a relatively small restaurant kitchen-two long, narrow rooms, and a separate area for the dishwasher and coffee station. There's a fourteen-burner stove and all sorts of cooking equipment-some fancy, but most look like tools you'd find in my kitchen. Evans hands me a white apron (now I look like I fit in), but the truth is, I'm trying to make myself invisible as chefs whirl around me, grabbing fish and hunks of meat from the refrigerator. I stand next to Evans, like a kid cozying up to the teacher on the first day of school, ask questions, take notes, and occasionally dodge a hot skillet.
There are six cooks working quietly at their stations: chopping, sautéing, pre-assembling sauces. First thing I learn: organization is the key to the flow in a restaurant kitchen.
Rob Evans is a big guy. At six-foot-three-inches, he towers over everyone else in the room. With his brown mustache and gentle smile, he seems strangely calm for a chef. In the past year, his kitchen has been awarded several prestigious accolades. Hanging over the doorway that separates the main part of the kitchen from the prep and dessert room is a skillet inscribed with the words "Best New Chef, 2004. Food & Wine Magazine." Last year, Evans won his first James Beard nomination for "Best Chef, Northeast" (he lost to Chef Frank McCleeland of L'Espalier in Boston, a ten-time nominee). All in all, things are going well for Evans and his small restaurant in Portland.