EDITOR’S NOTE: Mike Wiley, chef and co-owner of Eventide Oyster Co., Hugo’s and The Honey Paw, all on Middle Street in Portland, is the second chef to contribute to our occasional chef-written series, Bread and Butter. This is the first of his three columns.

I’m not going to whine about how hard it is to hire good cooks, because enough ink has been spilled on the subject already. Cooking is hard work, it eats up a lot of time, and it isn’t for everyone. But as part owner of three restaurants in Portland – Hugo’s, Eventide Oyster Co. and The Honey Paw – I can say with authority that staffing sure is hard.

A lot of cooks have quit our restaurants over the years. We’ve fired a few people for dangerous, insane or illegal behavior, but for the most part, cooks leave of their own volition. We’ve had people leave our kitchens and change careers entirely; frequently these folks need more time with their families and a more “normal” work schedule. Or they finally succumbed to the siren’s call of insurance adjusting, I’m not sure which.

Occasionally, cooks quit because they don’t like the job. Earlier this summer, in an unforgivable display of cowardice, a cook walked out the door without giving any notice on a very busy Saturday afternoon – he melted a plastic container by accident, and was embarrassed. You should hear the Hugo’s cooks talk when his name comes up.

On the other end of the spectrum, fantastic cooks like Dane Newman, who had worked for us for almost three years, move to Seattle for their partner’s career, no matter how much begging I did – or how much I slandered the Emerald City.

In some cases, the best thing to do is to shoo people out the door. Since in this industry, cooks aren’t in it for the money, learning is part of the salary. If we come to a point where we don’t have much left to teach cooks, it seems like the right thing to encourage them to find a new job where they can grow and learn.


However it happens, it’s always painful to lose a staff member with whom you’ve shared a lot personally and professionally. I can’t imagine that rehashing “Game of Thrones” around the water cooler in an office setting forges the same kind of deep bond that challenging prep days and busy services at restaurants can.

In fact, people in restaurants become so close, so dependent on each other that many chefs behave like disowned parents when valuable cooks leave.

But such behavior is childish and short-sighted. We’ve been lucky enough to rehire cooks regularly. We’ve hired Teen Wolf (Ian Driscoll, who started at Hugo’s and needed a haircut, hence the nickname) something like three times, maybe because we got a him a gift certificate to Eleven Madison Park (one of New York City’s best restaurants) when he left the first time. Or maybe because we treated him like a human being.

I’m interested to see if Nick Nappi ever comes back. We presented him with a gilded Gray Kunz spoon. If that’s not a symbolic parting gift, I don’t know what is. (Gray Kunz, for those of you not in my world, ran the four-star Lespinasse in New York for many years. And he designed a special spoon for chefs to taste, portion and sauce.)

We’ve been lucky enough to have cooks work in the building while they are working toward opening their own restaurants, such talents as Anders Tallberg (eventually, he opened Roustabout) and Chris Gould (Central Provisions). Right now, Brant Dadaleares is helping us out in the pastry department (and pulling the occasional shucking shift at Eventide) as he works toward opening his dessert bar.

It is a privilege to have such dedicated professionals staff our restaurants. We provide them a source of income and a place where they can keep their knives and skills sharp before their own spots open, and they set a high standard of professionalism in our kitchen. I’m not so deluded as to think that they’re working for us to pick up new recipes from the likes of me. But I am thrilled that they serve our kitchens’ culture by inspiring and teaching greener cooks.


It’s funny, people want to believe that all restaurants have one artistic genius, the brilliant chef, from whose noggin springs – like Athena from Zeus – inspired and delicious dishes. This is not the case. At least not for us.

When I try to be frank with our guests about where the ideas and food come from, I get the sense they think my explanations are false modesty. That’s not it at all: A lot of really talented and hardworking people work in our restaurants, and everything is a collaboration.


This dish is a real crowd-pleaser. You can bake it as a big log or pack it into the same kind of pan you might use for meat loaf, or you could make it into little meatballs.

Serve this with pitas, a red onion and tomato salad, grated cucumbers in a yogurt dressing, some leaf lettuce, and maybe a little hot sauce on the side.

2 pounds ground beef (90 percent lean)


1 tablespoon Diamond Kosher Salt

1 onion, minced

5 garlic cloves, minced

5 parsley sprigs, minced

1 mint sprig, minced

1 teaspoon ground cumin


1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon ground Aleppo pepper (sweet paprika is a reasonable substitute)

1/2 tablespoon smoked paprika

Pinch of red pepper flakes

Combine salt and dry spices with the ground beef.

Allow to cure in the refrigerator for at least an hour.


Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.

After curing period, transfer mixture to a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.

Paddle on low for 5 minutes.

While the mixer is running, add garlic, onion, parsley and mint.

Choose your shape – logs, meatloaf or meatballs.

Arrange schwarma mixture on a baking sheet, and bake until golden brown and delicious. Internal temperature should be 155 degrees F.

Allow to rest for 10 minutes. Arrange your delicious Grecian buffet, and slice schwarma as you like it.

While you bask in the adulation of your friends and loved ones, look skyward and whisper, “Thank you, Chef Ben Groppe.”

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