Ben Hasty of Thistle Pig restaurant in South Berwick holds some of his favorite snacks: Kettle Brand Jalapeño Potato Chips, Fox Family Salt & Vinegar Potato Chips and Late July Snacks Green Mojo Multi-Grain Tortilla Chips. “I love chips. If I open the bag, I come close to finishing them,” he says. Above and top: Staff photos by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Like a lot of other chefs, Ben Hasty of Thistle Pig in South Berwick lists on his menu the local farms where he buys fresh, unprocessed beef, pork and vegetables. He serves only sustainable seafood. He even has a special “Stay on Track Menu” dedicated to helping his customers keep their New Year’s resolutions with healthy dishes such as a Super Greens Salad and a Spicy Quinoa Bowl.

But put a bag of potato chips in his hands, and Hasty is suddenly powerless.

“I love chips,” he said. “If I open the bag, I come close to finishing them.”

Hasty and other chefs, it turns out, are like the rest of us. They’re human. They talk a good game when it comes to eating great food and avoiding processed junk, but they almost always have at least one guilty pleasure – that snack food or bad-for-you meal that they just can’t resist. Some have even (gasp) been through fast food drive-thrus.

A few find their fixations embarrassing. Take Niko Regas, the chef at Emilitsa in Portland, and Dave Mallari, chef/owner at The Sinful Kitchen in Portland, who both confess to having a thing for Americanized Chinese food. Oh, the horror.

“Normally I don’t tell people this, but…” Regas begins before revealing his love of extra-spicy sesame chicken with a side of beef teriyaki skewers.

Mallari goes all in, visiting all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets where he doesn’t have to wait to order and “some of the dishes are really good.”

“I usually go in dressed like the Unabomber, with a hoodie and sunglasses, so that no one sees me eating there,” he joked.

For Sara Jenkins, chef/owner of Nina June in Rockport, a guilty pleasure break from her classic Mediterranean-style food is a classic grilled cheese-and-tomato sandwich made with white bread and Kraft American singles. But most of the guilty pleasures Maine chefs will admit to are just what you’d expect – salty or sweet treats, or that winning trifecta of salty, sweet and crunchy.

Judy Donnelly, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Nutrition Works in Portland, said when you think about the foods that people crave, such as ice cream and potato chips, they are foods that stimulate the sweet, sour and salty taste bud centers in the mouth. “They’re quick, they’re easy and they taste good,” she said.

Chefs, she noted, understand how to capitalize on these flavor proclivities, turning even salads into bursts of flavor that include, for example, tangy vinaigraitte, sweet candied walnuts and salty feta cheese.

Nothing is wrong with occasionally indulging in guilty pleasures, she said – within limits.

“We don’t have to be perfect eaters,” Donnelly said. “I do think we have to take care of ourselves and eat foods that are going to be protective of our health.”

A lot of Maine chefs have a sweet tooth. Jake Smith at Black Birch in Kittery says his weakness is Oreo cookies – and not the double-stuffed kind, or the flavored ones, just regular Oreos. “I don’t buy them anymore, but if they end up in my house I will eat the entire package in one to two days,” Smith said. “With a glass of milk, of course.”

Guy Hernandez, chef/owner of Lolita in Portland, says he has no willpower when it comes to doughnuts.

“I am hard-pressed to pass up on a basic glazed doughnut and a black cup of coffee,” he said, “even at a sketchy rest area or gas station.”

His mother-in-law buys him little powdered doughnuts from the grocery store “because she heard a story about me eating a whole bag when I was little. I resist them as long as I can, but when I get home after work and the whole family is asleep, their siren song is often too much,” Hernandez said.

Other chefs favor salty snacks. Clay Norris, chef/owner of Baharat in Portland, is hooked on Goldfish crackers, which he says are the perfect size and crunch, and have just the right amount of salt. And Hasty isn’t the only chef with a predilection for salty chips. James Beard Award winner Melissa Kelly, owner of Primo in Rockland, is obsessed with the salt-and-vinegar variety. The brand is important, too, she says: They must be Lay’s Kettle Cooked.

“I can eat them until my tongue is raw,” she said. “Embarrassing.”

Another James Beard Award winner, Mike Wiley of Hugo’s, Eventide Oyster Co. and The Honey Paw in Portland, once mentioned that his favorite snack is Andy Capp’s Hot Fries, which are sold at gas station convenience stores. Two years later, his love for them has not diminished. Indeed, it has only grown.

“I’ve recently fallen prey to the siren’s call of Andy Capp’s Cheddar Fries,” he said, calling it “more of a low-octane snack food than the Hot Fries, although I love them both.”

JUNKY, BUT ALSO FUNKY

Jeff Buerhaus, the chef at Walter’s in Portland, couches his chip cravings in the guise of doing a good deed. A longtime employee collects old and limited edition food packaging, so whenever Buerhaus goes shopping, or when he travels, he is on the lookout for “unique, funky or limited chips.”

Fox Family Salt & Vinegar Potato Chips, one of Ben Hasty’s favorite snacks. Hasty is the chef/owner at Thistle Pig restaurant in South Berwick. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

He enjoys presenting his finds, and sharing the contents of the packaging with his staff before weekend service so the employee can have the remains for his collection. Buerhaus’ favorites are always changing, he says, but over the years he has found – and eaten – truffle chips, poutine chips, garam masala-flavored chips made by Lay’s for the Indian market, cheeseburger and hot dog chips, and “guess the flavor” chips. The “golden chalice” of chips, he says, is a bag of the limited edition, rainbow-colored Doritos that Frito-Lay came out with in 2015 to raise money for an organization that helps LGBT youth.

Hasty’s favorite chips are Late July Green Mojo tortilla chips, Fox Family BBQ potato chips, and Kettle Buffalo Blue potato chips. When paired with salsa, Hasty said, a chip is “honestly kind of like the perfect bite. It excites your palate, and it’s a change of flavor from what you’ve been tasting throughout the day” in the restaurant.

Sometimes guilty pleasures are borne of childhood memories. James Beard Award winner Sam Hayward, who is a co-owner of Fore Street and Scales in Portland, names ice cream as his.

“My father grew up on a farm in western Kansas, and his family regularly cranked their own ice cream, rock-salt-and-crushed-ice style,” Hayward said. “All through my childhood, his homemade ice cream was a regular summertime weekend treat for our family and friends.”

David Levi, chef/owner of Vinland in Portland, also has a thing for ice cream, as well as peanut butter, licorice and dark chocolate. (He doesn’t feel guilty about that last one, though.) But what he yearns for most is the Austrian rum cake, or Punschkrapfen, of his youth, when he lived in New York City and had access to German and Austrian bakeries.

Evan Mallett, chef/owner of Ondine Oyster & Wine Bar in Belfast and Black Trumpet in Portsmouth, spends his days breaking down heritage hogs and cooking with heirloom beans, foraged mushrooms, and local dayboat fish. But when he gets a craving, it’s for tub cheese. Raised by a single mother who never put potato chips, candy bars or sodas into his lunchbox, Mallett would come home after school, get the tub cheese out of the refrigerator, grab a box of Stoned Wheat Thins from the pantry, and chow down.

“That was my hour of sin before my mother would get home from work,” Mallett said.

Today he prefers Squire Mountain tub cheese, which is made in Standish. But now that he is 49, he is trying to end his love affair with the stuff “because I was turning into a tub of cheese,” he said.

Mallett confesses that he once went through a Burger King drive-thru (and also proudly notes that although he adores Mexican food, he has never been to Taco Bell). Driving up I-95 with his kids, who had been fed, he could not quell his own hunger and was “famished.”

“I pulled off at a rest area and into a Burger King,” he recalled, “and ordered a Whopper Jr., which was the ‘thing’ when I was young and with my grandparents. That was my crack cocaine.”

Biting into the burger, he said, “took me back to that same peak of adrenaline, just wanting to shove the entire thing into my mouth.”

His young daughter scolded him, pointing out that eating the fast-food burger “was against everything I ever stood for.” She needn’t have worried because her father learned his lesson: He spent the next hour trying to get rid of out-of-control hiccups triggered, he says, by the sodium and other stuff in the burger.

Cara Stadler, chef/owner of Bao Bao Dumpling House in Portland and Tao Yuan in Brunswick, uses a drive-thru on road trips, but she’s not loyal to any particular brand. “I did have a problem in China at KFC,” she said. “They sell egg tarts, and they are so delicious and so unhealthy, but so cheap and good.”

Steve Corry, who owns Five Fifty-Five and Petite Jacqueline in Portland, goes through the McDonald’s drive-thru once a year with his two sons to re-create a favorite childhood memory – drinking a minty green Shamrock Shake, which is available only around St. Patrick’s Day. Each year, Corry (a proud Irish-American) orders the same thing: A Shamrock Shake and a McKinley Mac, a secret menu item “which is essentially a Big Mac made with quarter pounder patties instead of the small ones.” (Who knew?) He also gets a large order of fries with no salt. Then he oversalts the fries “so that I can dip them in my shake and enjoy the sharp contrast.”

“My kids seem to add something new to their order every year and walk out feeling as miserable and yet as happy as I do,” Corry said. “It should be noted that my wife does not partake in this debauchery as it does not appeal to any of her sensibilities. But hey, it’s once a year and a tradition of overindulgence that I am sure would make at least some of my Irish ancestors proud!”

Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MeredithGoad

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