After an August morning of foraging, Ross Florance, a sous-chef at New York’s Per Se, joined Devin Finigan, chef and owner of Aragosta in Stonington, Maine, in preparing a five-course dinner to support Ingrid Bengis’s Island Culinary & Ecological Center.
Russ Island, a 15-minute lobster-boat sortie from Stonington, at the southern tip of Deer Isle, measures out at barely one square mile — but in a couple of hours some two dozen experienced foragers led by Florance and Bengis gathered seven pounds of chanterelles along with an assortment of boletes, wild sorrel, sea arugula, juniper berries, blueberries, wild cranberries, and reindeer moss. “I discovered reindeer moss at Noma, in Copenhagen”, explained Florance, who combines a love of the outdoors with a passion for cooking. “We use it to add crunch and fragrance.”
Florance moved smoothly around the Island in a state of evident rapture: “The island," he said, "has so many different ecosystems; look how the juniper berries have taken over this little field and how we have gone from wild cranberries to boletes to sea beans within 10 minutes and 100 yards. This wild sorrel we will use for acidity instead of adding more vinegar.”
By evening, the ingredients had been blanched, stewed, sautéed, or creamed and appeared in appetizers such as Stonington oysters with wild cranberries, new-potato chips from Deer Isle’s 5 lbs of Dirt Farm with peekytoe crab and sea arugula, and mackerel paste on new potatoes, all accompanied by Castellroig Reserva cava and local Maine Fatty Bampkins cider.
Ingrid Bengis — owner of Ingrid Bengis Seafood and also author of the 1973 feminist classic Combat in the Erogenous Zone: Writings on Love, Hate, and Sex — opened the dinner with a brief presentation of ICEC highlights, from Jean-George Vongerichten and Thomas Keller dinners in collaboration with Deer Isle Stonington Elementary School to Devin Finigan’s mid-January 2014 Winterfest lunch of mussel and lobster tart that packed 200 people into the school cafeteria. ICEC, in its five-year history, has taken the local elementary school from a 100 percent heat-to-serve system to cooking from scratch, and local students from lunchbox PB & J to crispy kale and heirloom pig, not forgetting roasted broccoli and beets or polenta. Arguably among the planet’s most gourmet grade schools, DISES now has a chef, Liz Barbato, who is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, and more and more families are signing up for the school lunch program.
Dinner with wine pairings by Blue Hill Wine Shop’s Max Treitler began with poached Stonington shellfish in smoked herring broth, braised seaweed, and crunchy roasted buckwheat accompanied by a Bonnet-Huteau Muscadet Les Dabinières 2012. Next was foraged (i.e., fished) mackerel with mustard greens, sea arugula, and herring roe emulsion with Rising Tide Daymark ale from Portland, Maine. Then grilled lobster tail with foraged chanterelles, toasted nori, and cream of foraged juniper berries followed with a La Luciana Gavi 2013 from Piemonte, Italy. The next course was Devin Finigan’s duck sausage with pickled blueberry and fresh coriander, duck thigh confit, duck prosciutto, brown butter spelt, frisée, and cured egg yolk with a Domaine Les Aphillanthes Côtes du Rhône rouge 2013.
Finally, sous-chef Susannah Taylor engineered a brilliant chocolate coulis with hazelnut, Swiss meringue, raspberry ice cream, macarons, and lemon sugar paired with a La Talandina Albana di Romagna white from the region around Bologna.
The evening ended with an auction of reservations for dinners and lunches at Jean-Georges and Per Se, and an inscribed copy of Thomas Keller’s French Laundry Cookbook.