On the outskirts of Maine’s much-boasted food scene in the Greater Portland area is the small historic college town of Brunswick, Maine. I spent most of my adolescent years in, or passing directly through, this cozy Midcoast Maine destination– and over the years, I ate at many of the area’s restaurants. As a child, I never thought too much about the behind-the-scenes competition that thrived in the professional work environments of my favorite places for an evening milk shake, lobster roll, or bowl of soup. But as I’ve spent the last 14 years in the restaurant industry in this great state, that competition has become very real for me.
I find now, at the age of 28, that it is nearly impossible for me to stop an ever-revolving thought pattern of culinary critique wherever I eat; whether it’s a search for refinement, musings about price points, or simply the little adjustments I would make to the recipe if I made it. I notice this same instinct in my colleagues and especially in my chef and educator, Cara Stadler. When you dine with other restaurant professionals, sometimes the conversation is not as full of “ooo”s and “ahh”s, but more like a boardroom meeting (even if it can seem like a boardroom of misfits and quasi-pirates).
I feel that building an establishment like Tao Yuan in Brunswick has helped to strengthen the ecosystem of this strong culinary mentality. The more restaurants and eateries that constantly challenge themselves and others to be innovative in the locales outside of famous foodie Portland, the better off my home state will be. Living in Midcoast Maine, seeing these important transformations has inspired and solidified my career in the industry. Maybe the outskirts of Portland won’t always be home, but it is surely where I learned the difference between a simple monetary transaction for a meal and what the story of a restaurant can really be– the staff and their countless hours and efforts to perfect every detail.
–Kyle Birkinbine, Sous Chef, Tao Yuan Restaurant