As many of you know, or may have noticed from my postings on Instagram, I have recently started sharing my time between New York and Maine, enjoying The Way Life Should Be!
And so, I thought it would be appropriate to explore the rich food scene Portland, and Maine at large, has to offer.
Our first stop is Portland’s only ramen noodle restaurant, Pai Men Miyake. The creation of Chef Masa Miyake, it is part of the Miyake restaurant group co-owned by William Garfield. Don’t forget to look at the rest of the photographs below our interview, and without further ado, we turn it over to William:
NYK: How did you and Chef Masa Miyake come to be partners? Are you in charge of the front of the house?
WG: I started working for Masa in June of 2007 when he only had his original restaurant called Food Factory Miyake (where the diner is now) I needed a summer job and he had just opened up so I came in for lunch a couple times and finally he agreed to let me start working as a server. I swing between all of the restaurants, though I predominately work on FOH and Office issues, I do work the line when needed and currently am running the kitchen at Miyake Diner.
NYK: Chef Masa cooked in New York kitchens, and worked – and owned a restaurant – in Japan. Though it seems that chefs worldwide tend to speak the same professional language of the kitchen (as pertains to cooking practices, training, culinary history), what were the biggest differences – if any – when opening a restaurant in Portland? Would you say it’s a more supportive environment?
WG: The pace is certainly different in Portland versus NYC, but Portland has grown up so much in the past 5 years or so that there is new competition and new options for collaboration presenting themselves seemingly every day. Masa moved away from the bustle of NYC to focus on food and local ingredients and also to be integrated into a small community where he could make a viable difference. When we started Miyake Farm in 2010, I think that Chef’s dream was realized as far as being able to utilize the land Maine has to offer while putting his own calling card on the customer experience in the restaurant. There is actually a lot of similarities between Maine and Northern Japan where Masa grew up both in climate, proximity to the ocean and the plethora of ingredients available from both land and sea.
NYK: Between the three restaurants, catering, and Miyake Farm, you have built a small empire in an impressively short amount of time – are there plans to expand further? (With Chef’s experience with macrobiotic cooking, as well as his French and Italian classical training, you could very well surprise your dining public again!)
WG: I don’t think Masa will every stop pushing the boundaries as far as new cuisine and giving the public a new perception of either Japanese culture or his interpretation of a previous global trend. Though we have no current plans for expansion at this time we will be revamping the farm in the coming months and focus on developing the Miyake Diner’s sake list and educating the public on sake and Izakaya-style dining.
NYK: How do you and Chef Masa divide your time between your restaurants and farm? What does a typical day or week look like?
WG: I do not spend much time on the farm these days, but Masa is there every morning mending fences, feeding the animals etc. We have both discovered that the farm is truly a 365 day per year and 24/7 endeavor as we always have surprises coming at us like the time we had an escaped pig on a Friday at 4pm that we both have to rush back to Freeport to deal with and then make it back in time for dinner service. I tend to start my day at Pai Men and Masa is at Miyake by the start of lunch service and from there, depending on staff, we will either remain at one location for the day or make a rotation by dinner service. We have great management that allows us to be slightly flexible with our schedules, but it is very important to both of us to be in the restaurants during service especially on the kitchen side for Masa. The Diner and Pai Men both have a late night service that I take care of while Masa usually wraps up around 10pm as he hits the farm early.
NYK: Given the abundance of fresh seafood, many local farms, and vibrant food scene, it seems like a great place to open a restaurant. Would you say the local food scene is locavore-centric?
WG: Absolutely, the amount of local farms within an hour drive of Portland is amazing and our menus are able to seasonally reflect the offerings of various local farmers.
NYK: Other than the meat and produce you grow on Miyake Farm, do you work with many purveyors? Would you care to name a few?
WG: True World Food supplies most of our Japanese fish and dried goods. Nishimoto Trading out of NYC supplies our custom-made ramen noodles for us, and they are produced by Yamachan in LA. We use Archer Angus (a local farm) for grass fed beef. Green Spark Farms, Dandelion Spring, and Fuzzy Udder Creamery are just a couple of the many local farms we use for produce etc.
NYK: While shooting at the restaurant, I couldn’t help but notice the grow room in your basement (there’s a photo of it below); what types of micro-greens are they?
WG: We grow micro daikon, radish, shiso , among others for use on Pai Men’s menu.
NYK: Ten pigs had arrived from Miyake Farm early on the morning of our shoot, and I was able to photograph a couple of them being butchered in your basement kitchen. Do you feed the pigs anything special?
WG: We use beer mash from Infiniti and Maine Beer Company to supplement their diet along with compost from the restaurants.
NYK: Does your farm supply other restaurants/outlets?
WG: We will collaborate or give meat from a new breed of pig to various chefs in town but at this time we do not have enough product to viably sell to other restaurants though we would like to in the future.
NYK: How big is your crew in the Pai Men kitchen?
WG: I have a great staff of 36 employees at Pai Men. We are open 7 days a week from 11:30am-12am and only close on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the 4th of July, so though we only have 46 seats Masa and I rely heavily on all of our staff from the dishwasher to the manager to create a unique and satisfying experience for our patrons.
NYK: Is this head chef Robert Pieper’s first foray into ramen?
WG: It is . Pieper started working for us about 3 years ago after stints in French and Italian restaurants so Pai Men was his first experience with Japanese cuisine, and like Masa he is able to use his past experiences and techniques to really create some amazing specials with farm ingredients etc.
NYK: How long does it take to make the broths?
WG: Our signature Pai Tan stock which is a blend of pork back bones, pork fat back, chicken feet, necks and frames rips at a high boil for 22 hours now. We have constantly been changing our recipes since we opened and with the help of the Ramen Refractometer, which takes accurate readings on fat content in the stock, we have been able to create a consistent product.
NYK: Do you make your own noodles?
WG: Unfortunately we do not but it is a custom blend . We have plans in the future to purchase a machine, but have not yet had the time or resources to make this switch. When we get in pigs from the farm we will make a special tonkotsu ramen and for small batches we will make our own noodles for that specific dish.
NYK: Where do you go out to eat when you are not working? Do you have a favorite Maine restaurant?
WG: I tend to be a creature of habit and Thanh Thanh II is usually where I am if I have the day off. There raw beef salad and pho is amazing and the place is always consistent and quick service. I would say my favorite restaurant in Portland is Schulte & Herr, and in Maine is Hoss & Mary’s.
188 State St, Portland, Maine www.miyakerestaurants.com/pai-men-miyake/
[click here to see more photos]