Deep-Fried Pemaquid Oysters with Bacon and Green Pepper Relish
Cream of Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
Agnolotti with Brown Butter
Paprika Roasted Duck with Warm Brussels Sprout Salad and Chive Mashed Potatoes
Bibb, Pear, and Endive Salad
Sesame Truffles & Kirsch Truffles
Written and produced by Stephen Exel
Photographs by Matthew Benson
Rewarding patrons with cuisine that's a fusion of local Maine traditions and hints of Asia, the Mediterranean, and Europe earned chefs Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier the James Beard Foundation's 2010 award for Best Chefs of the Northeast. While gentlemen are respectfully requested to wear jackets for dinner at Arrows in Ogunquit, Maine, one of their three restaurants, chef coats and formal service are left behind when the two head home at the end of the day.
Home is a shingled cabin-style residence furnished with classic contemporary furniture and excellent examples of mid-century abstract expressionism art. Purchases from travels abound-wanderlust takes over from January to mid-March, when Arrows shutters for the winter season. The two have commissioned such treasures as a pair of red-stained chests from Thailand with handles depicting the signs of the zodiac and brought home bright yellow silk pillows from Laos.
Mark and Clark often gather friends for a meal founded on a traditional American repertoire. Given their "best chef" status, it's no surprise they can raise tomato soup and grilled cheese to an art form.
Front and center on the dining table stands an oversized crystal candelabrum from Villeroy & Boch. Small silver souvenirs from Siem Reap and Angkor Wat in Cambodia surround its base. Woven silk placemats purchased in Thailand complement gold-hued English damask napkins. The eclectic place settings combine porcelain plates, found on a trip to Florence, with L'Objet's dinnerware in the Greek neoclassic-inspired "Mythologie" pattern.
"We love the whimsy of it all," Mark says. "We rarely set the table the same way twice."
"Restaurant settings require some uniformity," Clark chimes in. "At home, we can get personal and use our collections."
Their culinary partnership is a yin-yang of diverse backgrounds. Mark is a Midwesterner who started cooking in Boston restaurants; Clark is a Californian who became interested in Chinese cooking while studying in Beijing. They met in 1985 while working at Jeremiah Tower's San Francisco restaurant, Stars. In 1988, they purchased Arrows, slowly renovating the design and menu of the restaurant housed in a 1765 farmhouse into one of Maine's premier fine-dining destinations, known for extensive gardens, flawless service, and cuisine that is both classic and innovative.
When friends arrive at Mark and Clark's for dinner, they're greeted with cheery hellos, a glass of sparkling wine, and encouragement to come into the kitchen and lend a hand. Deep-fried Pemaquid Oysters with Bacon and Green Pepper Relish are sampled. Their briny, lemony taste is a perfect counterpoint to the Champagne.
"We set ceremony aside at home," Clark says. Complicated restaurant techniques are also set aside-nothing on the menu requires a culinary degree to prepare.
When the first course is served, the Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese earns its "oohs" and "aahs." Garlic and thyme flavor the creamy soup; its counterpart sandwich is one part crisp and one part gooey, cooked "low and slow" in a buttered pan.
Naturally, a certain amount of restaurant discipline-and artistry-manifests itself when the two cook at home. Plates are lined up according to course. Their shape and pattern might determine how the dish is presented-a ribbon of cheese-filled Agnolotti Pasta with Brown Butter breaks over the border of an octagonal plate; the large, square dinner plate becomes a blank canvas for presenting Paprika Roasted Duck, a swirl of rich pan sauce, and warm Brussels Sprout Salad. The duck rests on a mound of fluffy Chive Mashed Potatoes.
To keep things informal, the Bibb, Pear, and Endive Salad with a bright hazelnut-lemon dressing is served in a well-worn, well-loved wooden bowl.
When Kirsch and Sesame Truffles are offered, just half the plate is dusted with cocoa powder, allowing the motif on the other half to be visible. This visual trick mates truffles to dish in a clever, graphic way.
It's a fitting end to a meal that's low-key, high style, simple to prepare, and complex in flavor. Tell everyone to leave their jacket at home.