From left, Chef Devin Finigan, co-general managers Matt Spector and Dan Marchese with line cooks Cameron Coyle and Rob Crisler at Aragosta at Goose Cove in Deer Isle. Flanagan took her crew to France for three weeks in November. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

DEER ISLE — Devin Finigan, chef-owner of the destination restaurant Aragosta at Goose Cove, no stranger to collaboration dinners, received a surprise request last June from Paris-based chef Braden Perkins.

Perkins – owner of buzzy and highly acclaimed restaurants near Paris’s Jardin du Palais Royal, including Verjus, Ellsworth and 22 Club – reached out via Instagram, where he follows Finigan and Aragosta, though they’d never met and he hadn’t eaten there before. Perkins and his partner, Laura Adrian, have paid summer visits to friends near Mount Desert Island for the past several years.

“He reached out, out of the blue, and said, ‘I’m coming and would love to collaborate on a dinner,’ ” Finigan recalled last month. Perkins said he’d be visiting the area in the first week of August, a crazy-busy time for Aragosta, which had weddings scheduled for most of the summer weekends, and was fully booked with regular customers as well.

Nevertheless, at Aragosta in August, Perkins and his sous chef put together a seafood-heavy menu for a dinner that went off without a hitch. After service, Finigan asked if Perkins would consider reciprocating.

“I was like, ‘So, can we come and cook with you in Paris?’ He said, ‘Yes, of course,’ ” said Finigan, the memory still able to make her eyes widen with glee. “That was all I needed to hear. I figured somehow I’ll make the rest happen.”

The Deer Isle pop-up led to the Aragosta crew visiting France in November for three weeks, with a one-night pop-up of their own scheduled at Perkins’ Ellsworth. These two dinners were no mere one-offs: Bolstered by how deeply rewarding the experiences proved on both ends, Perkins and the Aragosta crew will cook dinner at each others’ locations again next summer.



Restaurant owners often travel abroad for inspirational trips, but taking staff is much less common, mostly due to the cost. The Aragosta staffers paid for their own airfare to Paris, but Finigan picked up many of the meal tabs as well as the lodging, which came to nearly $40,000 for a Burgundy chateau and two Paris apartments.

It may seem like an unimaginable splurge, but hospitality veterans call these trips smart investments. Rob Tod, founder of Allagash Brewing Co., takes his team members to Belgium after five years of employment as an enrichment opportunity, to let them bond, and thank them for their passion and hard work. Others agreed that the benefits of research travel are immense.

Finigan’s lieu jaune, or pollack, served at Ellsworth with a frothed fumet tinted from purple cabbage. Courtesy of Aragosta

“The kinds of cuisines that have inspired work among restaurant cooks and chefs forever – to actually taste them at the source and get a sense of their context within the culture is invaluable,” said legendary Portland Chef Sam Hayward of Fore Street, who took his crew on several tasting trips to France, Italy, Spain and Northern California, though not since about 2010. “It is an investment, and I’m sure it will benefit the business side of their restaurant over time.”

“It’s always an incredibly rewarding experience,” agreed Chef Jake Stevens of Leeward, who traveled with his former sous chef to southern Italy for research this spring. “It helps us get out of our bubbles in the kitchen or in Maine. And in a business that doesn’t necessarily have a lot of travel perks, it’s a great thing to do for your staff. It also pays dividends down the road.”

Gathered last month around a 16-foot locally crafted ash harvest table in the middle of Aragosta’s open, airy dining room with its dramatic view of Goose Cove, Finigan and her co-general managers, Dan Marchese and Matt Spector, recounted the trip and the pop-up they did Nov. 19 at Ellsworth.


Chef Finigan and the Aragosta crew look out the double windows at the end of the Ellsworth kitchen in Paris last November. Courtesy of Aragosta


Finigan decided they’d travel in November, and indeed made it happen in short order, booking Airbnb lodging for 11 people, including seven Aragosta staffers and four of their family members. With Aragosta closed for the season, the group left Nov. 7 for a three-week tasting and research tour of Paris and surrounding wine regions, highlighted by the pop-up at Ellsworth.

While Aragosta is not an explicitly French restaurant, Finigan and her kitchen staff lean heavily on the foundations of classic French cuisine and technique while working with Maine ingredients. The Ellsworth dinner – a chance to cook Aragosta-style dishes at an esteemed Paris restaurant – was like a dream come true for Finigan and her team.

Moreover, any potential language barrier problems were smoothed by the fact that Perkins – who opened his first Paris restaurant in 2011 – is an American expat; he grew up in the Boston area. Perkins said one of the major challenges for the Aragosta team – or any American kitchen brigade coming to cook in Paris – comes down to what he called “matters of scale.”

“The (Aragosta) dining room is enormous, just the amount of space they have in general is enormous. And then they come to Paris, where everything is tiny, and all the ordering is complicated,” with deliveries frequently delayed by heavy traffic on tiny city streets.

About five days before the dinner at Ellsworth, Perkins gave Finigan the rundown on all the incredible regional ingredients available for her market order. At this stage, Finigan was most struck by the difference in scale between the luxe items she could score in Paris versus what she could easily procure stateside.


“There was sturgeon caviar, uni, razor clams, venison, wagyu beef, game bird,” Finigan said. “They have everything. My eyes were like a kid in a candy store.”

Their pop-up dinner was sold out, but the 33 guests were paying only 75 Euros (about $80) for tickets, coming to roughly $2,640 total. The wish-list ingredient order Finigan had compiled came to about $5,000.

“Braden was like, let’s be realistic, you need to reel that in,” Finigan laughed. So after lopping off $1,000 worth of sturgeon caviar and some other luxe ingredients, she whittled her order down to about $1,500.

Still, because of schedule clashes, Finigan wasn’t able to even visit Ellsworth and tour its kitchen until the very day before the event. She felt pressure mounting.

“I’m trying to keep my cool, but I’m feeling stressed. I’m freaking out,” she said. It didn’t help that when she finally did get inside Ellsworth and reviewed her ingredient and equipment order, they appeared incomplete.

Aragosta’s “Ode to Seafood” course at the Ellsworth dinner, including scallops with brown butter, clementine and sorrel; oyster with quince, pickled persimmon and nori; and razor clam with leeks, cherry tomato and capers. Courtesy of Aragosta

“The day of the pop-up, though, everything shows up, and we prep our hearts out until we open,” Finigan said. Many ingredients, while pristine, arrived in ways her staff was unaccustomed to. Whole scallops came with their shells caked in muck that had to be scraped off before the cooks could even begin to work with them.


“We hustled the whole time,” Finigan said. “We were sweating, but we were crushing it.”  They weren’t too busy to notice how the second-floor Ellsworth kitchen featured a massive double window at one end, with a captivating view of the charming city streets below.

Their dinner was a chance to show off their Maine-based culinary chops in one of the world’s most renowned food cities, and it was well-received. But the dinners they ate around town proved even more eye-opening for the Aragosta group.


“The front-of-house staff over there is mind-blowing,” said Rob Crisler, a line cook at Aragosta. “They’re storytellers. Every single one is a bard, telling you a story about the chef who creates this experience around the food, and it’s so interesting.”

Crisler said the group was struck in particular by a madeleine served at Table, a Michelin two-star restaurant from Chef Bruno Verjus (no relation to Perkins’ Verjus restaurant).

“It was a madeleine with citrus zest in the dough, stuffed with olive tapenade,” Crisler said. “The server said it was how the chef expressed his experience on the Provence coast during COVID, smelling citrus and olive trees as he walked around. And you were asked you to close your eyes when you ate it and imagine the chef. Sometimes that feels forced, but it resonated there.”


“There was a story for everything, but it was how the chef would tell you, which is exactly what I would want,” said Finigan, who said she plans to spend time this coming season training staff to tell Aragosta guests engaging stories behind their dishes and ingredients.

“For me, a big thing I want to take from this trip is making sure my voice as a chef comes through,” Finigan said. “Like, ‘This lettuce was just picked today, and we’re highlighting it with a vinaigrette of beets that were in cold storage all winter, and we’re bringing them back to the table now in May.'”

“Our clientele wants to know,” Spector said. “Our job is to relay the stories of our fishermen and farmers, as well as Devin’s.”

Marchese said the trip also afforded plenty of opportunity to explore wine regions and Parisian cocktail culture. He said he saw ample symbiosis between kitchen and bar in Paris, where featured ingredients in a chef’s dishes – particularly produce like fennel, sugar snap peas and mushrooms – playfully but purposefully show up in drinks.

“It’s something we’ve been excited about here,” Marchese said. “But just how much of it is happening there reinforced that it’s an avenue worth traveling down.”

When her Aragosta team was invited to cook at a buzzy restaurant in Paris, Chef Devin Finigan was determined to make a dream trip happen. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer



“Trips like these help us get out of our bubbles in the kitchen or in Maine. Even if you glean just a couple of ideas, it’s totally worth it,” said Stevens, explaining that he added a dish to the Leeward menu featuring anchovies with chive butter and pickled shallot on grilled toast after being inspired by a similar dish at a Naples wine bar last spring.

Finigan already has one such dish in mind, based on Chef Bruno Verjus’ steamed oyster with julienned cabbage, herb oil and an umami-packed, silky, dark mole sauce that rested beneath the oyster, looking like the mud from which it was plucked. “It tasted delicious, but it looked like an oyster I could have just harvested. I’m totally replicating that. Bruno said he’d give me the recipe.”

More than the recipe, Verjus actually told Finigan he’ll close Table and come to Aragosta with a crew of five for a collaboration dinner next September. Perkins also plans to return to Deer Isle for another pop-up in July or August, and then the Aragosta crew will head back to Paris for another tasting tour and more pop-ups after their 2023 season ends.

“It’s super-nice to be able to get a second crack at it,” said Perkins, echoing the feelings of Finigan and her crew. “I’d say 70 percent of the time and energy my sous chef and I spent at Aragosta was just figuring out where stuff was and how to turn things on. Just to be able to have some level of familiarity going into it will feel like a million bucks.”

“Every time we do a collaboration, we take something away, whether it’s a technique or an approach to an ingredient,” Marchese said. “And we filter that into our food in our own way. Other people’s opinions and skill sets are very valuable. It takes you out of your mind and your preferences, and it can really change your perspective.”

“It’s a huge investment, but I think it’s important,” said Finigan. “I tell my crew, ‘You’ve got to be inspired, and you can never stop learning.'”

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