Portland, Maine, chefs Michael Wiley and Andrew Taylor share the James Beard Award For Best Chef in the Northeast.
It turns out that when it comes to the prestigious James Beard awards, the third time is the charm for Portland, Maine, restauranteurs Michael Wiley and his partner, Andrew Taylor. They won this year in the Best Chef: Northeast category after being nominated in 2015 and 2016. The last chef from Maine to win this award was Melissa Kelly, back in 2013.
Wiley says he has his mother to thank for his award-winning career. She’s the one who got him started cooking. “When I was a child I frequently cooked alongside my mother in the kitchen,” he says.
Today he and Taylor operate three restaurants in Portland—Hugo’s, Eventide Oyster Co., and The Honey Paw. All three focus on fresh and local food. Hugo’s, which is where Wiley and Taylor met in 2010 when they were both chefs, is the incubator for all three restaurants. “At Hugo’s, we are methodical and technique-driven. Chefs are encouraged to utilize the highest-level of ingredients available from a tight-knit network of local purveyors, allowing Hugo’s to constantly evolve,” Wiley says. “We then use a lot of that creative technique we developed at Hugo’s at both Eventide Oyster Co. and The Honey Paw.”
Sharing a kitchen encourages chefs across the three properties to collaborate and exchange ideas. Still, each restaurant has its own niche. Eventide Oyster Co. focuses, as its name implies, on the freshest seafood available pulled from nearby Casco Bay and the greater Gulf of Maine. The Honey Paw, the newest of the restaurants, explores international flavors. “We wanted to experiment with the culinary cultures of Southeast Asia, China, and beyond,” he says of The Honey Paw. “We really wanted to serve comfort food—heaping portions of noodles, umami-laden rice bowls, large-format Korean Fried Chicken. The food at The Honey Paw is supposed to be fun, but prepared with the same skill and attention to ingredients as both Hugo’s and Eventide Oyster Co.”
Wiley says he and Taylor focus on using the best ingredients possible while presenting them in a thoughtful way throughout all three of their restaurants. “No matter what type of food, the local ingredients are what shine through,” he says.
Wiley, who grew up in New Hampshire, went to Colby College in Maine. He went out west after graduation, supporting his love of skiing by working in several different restaurants. Taylor, originally from Massachusetts, came to Maine to attend Bates College. After spending years traveling across the country from Seattle to Boston, he missed Maine and took a position at Hugo’s, which is known for its New England fare.
Growing up, Taylor spent time scavenging for wild oysters and mussels while vacationing on Cape Cod. “I’ve always had a passion for seafood and local ingredients,” he says. Not surprisingly, then, his favorite dish to make is Eventide’s Fish Sandwich. “It’s our take on the Filet-O-Fish,” he says. “It hits all the right comfort food notes, but it’s infinitely more complex.”
While some might bemoan Maine’s seasonal cycle, Wiley says the short growing cycle pushes them to think outside the box and be more creative. “Maine has the most amazing bounty—vegetables, seafood, meats. We really have a lot to work with,” he says. And Portland’s strong restaurant scene means they get to experiment to their hearts’ content.