EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third and last column written by chef, restaurateur and two-time James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Northeast finalist Mike Wiley of Eventide Oyster Co., The Honey Paw and Hugo’s, all in Portland.

We’ve held a purveyors dinner every year since 2011 – it’s one of my favorite nights of the year. We shut down Hugo’s, although last year we held it at The Honey Paw, and we invite farmers, brewers, foragers, fishmongers, coffee roasters and folks who raise animals to have dinner with us. These are the wonderful, patient people who day in, day out supply our three restaurants with the raw materials we need to keep our menus running. They each donate something for the occasion – vegetables, fish, beverages, maybe a lamb, and we make a grand feast. It is a hoot.

Some years it has been absolute chaos: A fishmonger drunkenly lectured lambers about the finer points of animal husbandry; a brewer passed out in our office; farmers tried to smoke joints under the kitchen hoods. It was nuts. That year we served punch. We haven’t served punch since.

In the absence of punch, we’ve had much more stately dinners, where we’ve all behaved ourselves. One year, a couple of farmers helped out with service: Daniel Price of Freedom Farm in Freedom presented the grilled swordfish belly and described the accompaniments to the dining room. Afterwards, Ian Jerolmack of Stonecipher Farm in Bowdoinham helped brûlée the warm-spice meringue atop the roasted pink banana squash. As a final flourish, Will and Kathleen Pratt from Tandem Coffee Roasters in Portland provided pour-over coffee service. It was downright soigné.

Sure, the purveyors dinner means another day of work for our kitchen. But it’s fun to cook food for this event. Cooks from the different kitchens that staff our restaurants get the chance to cook on the line together and to cook different types of food than they normally might. At past purveyors dinners, we’ve done cumin lamb moo shu, whole fried bass curries, skate wing taco bar, “practice Thanksgiving,” Peking-style barbecue ducks and large, creamy hillocks of soft-serve ice cream. As a kitchen, we get to spoil our friends and show off a bit, too.

Admittedly, the event is a veritable minefield of clichés. In the contemporary dining scene, it is the height of cool for kitchens to boast of their proximity to their products. Actually, sourcing locally has been eclipsed by kitchens growing their own vegetables and chefs foraging their own wood sorrel in the glen just beyond the restaurant’s kitchen garden. If you ask me, it has all gotten a little silly, which may be why I’m a little cagey about gushing over the purveyors dinner; my mother taught me to be dubious of earnestness.


Still, it is undeniably heartwarming to bear witness to true farm-to-table dining, to take part in a collaborative creative endeavor, to contribute to local economy, and to find community among like-minded entrepreneurs.

Which is not to say that we’re always on the same page: When we’re ordering for the restaurants, we are very precise about what we want. I suspect the farmers and fishmongers think we’re loony when we specify red kuri squash “no larger than a volleyball,” swordfish belly “with the loin removed,” “all the cod heads you can send us” or pinto potatoes “between marble and ping-pong ball-sized.”

But I hope that after the purveyors dinner, they understand. Maybe even remark on it: “Indeed, that German potato salad was more beautiful (and perhaps delicious) with such particularly sized potatoes.” That’s probably wishful thinking. But at base, the dinner gives us a chance to show them what we do, to (cliché alert) change the dynamic: They take such good care of us throughout the year that it’s nice to take care of them, even if just once a year,


Whether entertaining a group of rowdy farmers or putting out a spread for a few friends, it’s important to serve something crispy and salty – especially if beer is served). Enter the chicken skin cracker! (And save the now skinless bird for another use.)

1 whole chicken


Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Lay the chicken breast-down on a cutting board and slice along the spine, just deep enough to cut through the skin. Using your fingers and the knife, peel the skin from the chicken – apart from the wings and ankles, it should come freely from the whole bird.

Whether you remove the skin in one sheet or a few pieces, lay it on the cutting board and scrape the fat so that the skin is translucent. The better you scrape, the crisper the cracker.

Lightly oil a piece of parchment paper and line a sheet tray with it. Lay the skin down onto the parchment, stretching the skin so that it occupies as much surface area as possible. Season the skin with salt and lay another oiled piece of parchment paper atop the skin. Top with another sheet tray and bake for 15 minutes, or until the skin is golden brown.

Allow the skin to cool, it will crisp as it cools. Try not to eat it all at once.

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