Clark Frasier + Mark Gaier have carved out quite a culinary niche for themselves in Ogunquit, Maine. The duo runs a pair of restaurants: Arrows and MC Perkins Cove, and this fall, they’re adding MC Medici Ristorante & Bar, a historic Italian restaurant at Boston’s Renaissance Hotel. On April 5, Frasier and Gaier shared several insights after presenting “three signs of spring” to kick off the Pebble Beach Food & Wine Battle of the Coasts: EAST.
What was the inspiration for MC Medici?
Frasier: Traveling in Italy a lot.
Gaier: We’d done a ton of historical dinners over the years, and we really enjoy history and travel, so the two kind of combined, so when the Renaissance approached us to do something, we thought, “Oh, how clever are we?”
Were either of you history majors?
Gaier: No. I was in pre-med, pre-pharmacy, and Clark’s a Chinese scholar, speaks Mandarin, which comes in real handy in Maine.
Was it a given that both of you would become chefs, or did you consider other careers?
Gaier: I definitely considered other careers. At first, I was going to be a veterinarian. Then I was going to be a physician. Then I was going to be a pharmacist. Then I started cooking.
Frasier: Same with me. I just kind of fell into it. I was studying Chinese language for five years, needed a job, basically. I grew up on the [Monterey] Peninsula, so I always worked in restaurants here.
What do you remember about your very first night in a professional kitchen? Where was that?
Frasier: My first real restaurant was STARS in San Francisco, and it was opening. I’d worked in a lot of restaurants, but nothing like STARS, for Jeremiah [Tower]. It was very exciting.
Frasier: No station at all. Stand in the back here and do something. Don’t get run over.
What about you, Mark, what was your first night like in a professional kitchen?
Gaier: It was actually more of a day. I was working breakfast in a hotel. I was working as a busboy and was just starting college, and I just started helping out in the kitchen and just got thrown in. Cook breakfast is initially what I did. When I first started in a real restaurant, a crew of temporary people came up from Boston to a restaurant in Maine with a chef who disappeared in the middle of the night and took all the staff with him. I kind of got thrown into the kitchen. I was working on the hot line, which I had done in crappy restaurants, but not a real restaurant, and just got thrown to the wolves. I worked with a really great English guy for about a month, and he really taught me how to work the line. I started off absolutely in the wrong place. It was slightly ridiculous. I guess I was good at it, because I just jumped in and did it.
What was the restaurant?
Gaier: It was called the Whistling Oyster. It was real high end, fine dining [in Ogunquit]. It was early ’80s, so 30 years ago, which is a long time ago. The dining scene has changed, but the chef I worked with for most of the time there was taught by Madeline Kamman, and she was a French woman who has written a lot of books. She had a cooking school in New Hampshire. Then she moved to Boston. The man I cooked with was actually her chef, at her restaurant. I worked with him for quite awhile. It was the peak of the Nouvelle Cuisine movement, in the ’80s.
I imagine this will change with your new restaurant, but what does a dish have to be to go on one of your menus? Are there any common threads?
Gaier: It has to look pretty. We sort of believe that people eat with their eyes. That’s a saying in Chinese, I think. People do eat with their eyes. The first thing they do is look at something, before they even taste it. We want it to look really pretty appealing, even if it’s really simple, to be really appealing. Then it needs to taste really good, and not overly worked, overly fussy. I think it’s funny tonight, because we were out sitting in the sun and talking about the three signs of spring. In Maine, you’re painfully aware of the changes in seasons. We’ve been gardening at Arrows since 1992, really out of necessity, rather than trendiness or style. Everything we do is really driven by that garden, and the orchards, and everything there.
Frasier: Growing up in California, I never really thought about the seasons much. Mark is more attuned to it. Oh yeah, there are more flowers in January. There, it’s like, “Oh my god, it’s spring, we need to cook spring food. And we need to cook summer food. We need fall food.” That really inspires us a lot.
What was the last dish that you developed for any restaurant, and what was your inspiration?