An Interview with Executive Chef Mitchell Kaldrovich
Portland, Maine, March 10, 2011 – Fresh seafood, local produce, and farm-to-table practices are the essential ingredients in the kitchen of Chef Mitchell Kaldrovich. The Executive Chef of the Sea Glass restaurant at Inn by the Sea, Chef Kaldrovich is making his mark on the greater Portland, Maine food scene with his innovative take on all things Maine.
“If I had to define what I’m doing, I’d say that I’m keeping it simple,” Chef Kaldrovich says. “We have great ingredients from the sea and from the local farms that surround the hotel. I don’t cover it up with too many ingredients. It’s not fusion. It’s New American, and it’s about balance. I take the best of what Maine has and approach it with Mediterranean techniques. This is all about light and healthy food, sourced locally and often to keep it fresh.”
The Argentina-raised Chef Kaldrovich is a hybrid of European techniques developed since childhood in Buenos Aires and cooked at ground-breaking restaurants in Patagonia and California before coming to Maine. At Sea Glass, he keeps his culinary focus by using the freshest seasonal fare from the local purveyors with whom he has fostered relationships and loyalty – the most important elements to a well stocked pantry in a place where non-Mainers are often referred to as “from away.”
An example of Chef Mitchell’s bi-coastal, bi-equatorial influences is his pan seared jumbo scallops served with organic quinoa, pine nuts, raisins, citrus supremes and a pomegranate reduction. His Maine seafood and grilled lobster paella begins with Spanish saffron rice, peas and chorizo, but the lobster tail, clams and other seafood get a distinctly different treatment.
In Spain, paella if often too dry,” Chef Kaldrovich points out. “Here I take a different approach and don’t serve paella in the traditional way but in a nouvelle cuisine style. I prepare the rice separately and cook the seafood individually, so the lobster is pan grilled, the mussels are plump, and the clams are juicy.”
Chef Kaldrovich credits much of his success in the kitchen to the excellent local purveyors he knows in the greater Portland area where one of the most dynamic, burgeoning dining scenes in the U.S. keeps the standards exceptionally high. Chefs like Kaldrovich have the luxury of organic farms nearby, as well as the bounty of fresh fish brought in daily from the Gulf of Maine waters right off shore.
“I have great relationships with the local producers,” he says. “I work with the Jordan family at Alewive’s Brook Farm, which is nearby. They come to me with their catch straight from the boat and I usually take everything they have. Late into the dinner service on a recent Sunday night a family came in and wanted lobsters. I had run out earlier, so I called the Jordans and they came over with a fresh catch in just minutes. It’s one of the best things about working with Maine people.”
Chef Kaldrovich calls on other regional purveyors as well, such as Harbor Fish Market, Fern Hill Farm Goat Cheese, Backyard Farm Tomatoes and the Maine Sea Salt Company. Maine’s forest bounty is also in evidence.
“Every Thursday, Rick Tibbets, my mushroom guy, arrives at the kitchen door,” he says. “He grows mushrooms but he’s also picking them wild in the spring, summer and fall. He brings chanterelles, black trumpets and morels and they’re every bit as earthy and good as Oregon mushrooms.”
Born in East Orange, New Jersey, Chef Kaldrovich was raised in Argentina and by the age of 10 he was helping his grandmother cook elaborate family meals, which sparked a life long interest in culinary excellence.
“My grandmother was German,” he says, “and so I learned that if you make bread today, you have bread pudding tomorrow. You have to be very smart and it makes you an economist in the kitchen.” After completing three years of rigorous studies in culinary schools, Kaldrovich was hired as a line cook at Galani Restaurant, a four-star establishment at the Buenos Aires Park Hyatt Hotel.
“I was a student at a French culinary school in Argentina, where my mentor was a French chef,” Chef Kaldrovich recalls. “I was schooled in the techniques of French fine dining, but it was the Mediterranean approach that really influenced me.”
I went on to become the Chef Partie at Harpers 1 and 2 in the prestigious Recoleta neighborhood in Buenos Aires. Yet he wanted to return to the United States, so he moved to California and worked at the celebrated L’ Orangerie Restaurant in West Hollywood and then the Duck Club restaurant in Monterey, California. He relocated to Florida to work at the La Palme D’Or at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables and then returned to South America for a stint at the luxurious Llao Llao Hotel & Resort in Patagonia. Then it was back to California, where he became Executive Chef of the famed Plump Jack Café in Squaw Valley, California. Three years ago, he arrived at Sea Glass where he has made it one of greater Portland’s most celebrated tables.
“Cooking in Maine requires its own natural rhythms on many levels that have an impact on my menu and require a different approach. In California I was creating menus that were year-round. Here, it’s more seasonal, and often challenging, with shorter growing seasons for tomatoes and baby vegetables. Yet you support Maine and find great pleasure in creating new dishes based on your local, sustainable resources”
Chef Kaldrovich makes a point of visiting local farms, cultivating relationships with farmers and supporting local growers. “I get great beans, potatoes and spinach, “he says. “There’s a place that has indoor grown farm tomatoes. And I’m happy to be supporting Maine in every way, through the seafood and fishermen too.”
Today, sustainable cooking also means farm-raised salmon, oysters, clams and mussels. The lobster and the Jonah crab are wild, but everything else is farm-raised, which is better for everybody. It’s never been frozen or handled too much.
“My cooking style is light and healthy” he says. “I use olive oil, fresh ingredients and not much cream. Our lobster bisque is actually low in carbs. French chefs will use a case of cream to make a batch. I substitute with olive oil. In fact, most of our soups are vegan.”
From his stints on the West Coast comes his take on the California staple, the Fish Taco. “My version uses a blackened local catch with an avocado mousse and a tropical salsa, along with house made potato chips,” he notes.
And the obligatory Lobster Roll? Chef Kaldrovich’s approach is not surprisingly, simple and direct. “We start by loading up lots of super fresh lobster meat, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and some light mayonnaise. That’s it. We serve it in a homemade soft brioche roll that’s made in house by Karen Voter, our Pastry Chef.” As a nod to Maine tradition, it comes with chips (pictured) or fries, both handmade in house using local Maine potatoes.
“I feel at home in Maine. I think people place more value on what they do here, the same as in Argentina.” he says. Chef Kaldrovich lives with his Maine-born wife, also in the restaurant business, and their 14-month old daughter in a house on the edge of a cornfield. He says it reminds him of Argentina because “it’s rural and has so many dairy farms. At home he cooks the same food in the same way as he does at Sea Glass. His young daughter has already acquired a taste for local blue cheese and fresh fish.
As for a culinary offspring of Maine and Argentina, it can be found in his handmade gnocchi, which he says is eaten daily in Argentina. At Sea Glass, he pairs it with traditional sauces like braised short ribs or with a slow braised beef ragu sauce. But he also renders a Maine version, pairing it with butter poached lobster and tarragon butter glazed baby vegetables and serves as a popular appetizer.”
“This is a hands-on menu that changes regularly “he says. “My aim is to be light and fresh, to enjoy Maine’s natural flavors, and to let the food speak for itself.”
Most major carriers fly into Portland International Jetport (PWM). JetBlue has non-stop service and great low fares from JFK, only 45 minutes flying time from New York. The Inn is a two hour drive from Boston, Amtrak offers rail service into Portland from Boston, New York and Washington D.C.
High-res images available upon request
Inn by the Sea
Rauni Kew, Director of Public Relations