We talked quite a bit about cheese when we first sat down to chat with Chef Josh Berry. This led to the longstanding debate, should you ever serve fish and cheese together?
Chef Josh Berry is the head chef at Union Restaurant at the Press Hotel in Portland, Maine. It’s one of my favorite spots for lunch in Portland because the ingredients are fresh, delicious, local, seasonal, and healthy. I like to sit at the bar, and I usually run into a couple of other people I know there so it’s like Cheers, I guess? But better food and less drama. You can read a bit more about Chef Josh’s dedication to eating healthy food HERE. (Also, follow Union on Insta for updates on their weekly lunch menu.)
We all bonded quickly over snacks and talking about food because that’s what good food does, it connects people. At the table was my friend Stu, he fishes out of Portland, and my dear friend Togue. (You can read about Togue’s love of scallops HERE.)
We sat at one of the low tables by the bar and our conversation ranged from sliding down a mountain on garbage bags, travel in Europe, the weather, and of course, fish and seafood and how Chef Josh makes his decisions about what to serve in the restaurant. He is constantly looking for inspiration and ideas from his surroundings, and he asks his staff to do the same. “If I see a Ferrari coming down the road and it’s bright red then maybe I would cook something spicy. Same thing with fish. I’m heavily influenced by the seasons.” He also appreciates the story about the product he’s using, “Why is the halibut so great? Was it sunny out? I need to know. I want to know why it’s great.” I love that he mentioned the weather because if you look back at my piece about Bangs Island Mussels, we chat about whether the atmosphere a product is raised or harvested in impacts the quality of the product.
During our conversation, it became apparent that Chef Josh and I have something in common and that’s our relationship with the word “no.” Especially when it comes to food, saying no should be embraced, shouted (politely), and far more accepted. (This is why I have created the Pesce Challenge, BTW.) For chefs, saying no may mean not following a trend or avoiding certain ingredients that don’t align with your values. As a restaurant-goer, I value that because when I go to a restaurant like Union, there’s a certain expectation that some of the work has been done for me. And if something makes its way into a recipe and onto a menu (especially seafood), it’s because the chef has vetted it. As a consumer, I tend to land on the pickier side because I value healthy ingredients and from where/when those ingredients are sourced. Chef Josh says, “There’s a line we have, and I don’t want to cross it because then it dilutes our messaging.” Well said. Saying “no” adds quality, it does not diminish it.
Time and time again when I watch a show on Netflix about chefs or talk with a chef and fisherman, I’m reminded how similar the two careers are because they are both more identity and less occupation. Chefs are constantly thinking about new recipes and menu options while fishermen are always thinking about fishing and their boats. Want to make plans with a chef or a fisherman? Well, it will depend on the time of year and the weather, respectively. Weekend? That’s when everyone goes out to eat. Sunny day? Gotta go fishing. The passion exhibited by chefs and fishermen goes beyond just their occupation and saturates their lives and how they go about their days. It’s not that they have to work, it’s that they want to work; exemplifying the old saying, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” (That’s not to say being a chef or a fisherman is not hard work. Fishermen and chefs are some of the hardest working people I know.) Listening to Chef Josh and Stu was heart-warming and interesting because despite their different occupations, their experiences with how those occupations are perceived were very similar.
And the cheese thing? Chef Josh Berry doesn’t love it because he hasn’t had anything yet that has made him love the pairing. He loves fish with other dairy, like cream, but he worries about cheese overtaking the taste of the fish, “In Maine we have the best seafood in the world, and I wouldn’t want to cover that up with anything.” So true, bub.