Top Chef Cooks Up Ways To Cut Costs, Not Quality Lower earnings this year are forcing five-star restaurants across the country to look for ways to cut costs without compromising quality. In Portland, Maine, chef Sam Hayward is sustaining his clientele with homegrown comfort foods that are less expensive to prepare — like fish cakes and beans.
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Top Chef Cooks Up Ways To Cut Costs, Not Quality

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Top Chef Cooks Up Ways To Cut Costs, Not Quality

Top Chef Cooks Up Ways To Cut Costs, Not Quality

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The recession has caused chefs across the country to try and cut costs without sacrificing quality. In Portland, Maine, a chef at Fore Street Restaurant is going for homegrown comfort foods. Caitlin Shetterly reports on Sam Hayward. His work has earned him a nomination for this year's James Beard award.

CAITLIN SHETTERLY: According to the National Restaurant Association, by June of this summer 80 percent of America's fine dining establishments reported that their earnings were significantly down from last year. But Sam Hayward says that one way he's keeping business up is that he started offering lower-priced entrees that still feel special.

Recently, in his kitchen at Fore Street, amidst the sounds of ovens and fans, and the murmurings and gurglings of pots and pans, he started making a meal that would harken back to the traditions of Maine.

Chef SAM HAYWARD (Fore Street Restaurant): I thought that we'd try a little something that was sort of old-fashioned. Kind of our take on an old folkloric dish, which is a newfangled take on cod cakes.

SHETTERLY: Today, he's using haddock, a close relative to cod and a favorite of Mainers. Hayward says haddock is a good fish to serve these days.

Chef HAYWARD: The beauty of haddock in the last 10 years or so is that it's one of the success stories of regulations. It's come back.

SHETTERLY: Because it's more plentiful, haddock is not only sustainable, but also cheaper than say cod or tuna. Hayward spoons some of last night's mashed potatoes into a bowl and adds an egg, stirring them into a silken emulsion. He pulls a just-off-the-boat haddock filet out of a bowl of ice and begins poaching it on his enormous wood-burning stove.

While this simmers, he starts working on an unusual, fancy dining accompaniment to the fish cakes: the New England cheap staple — beans.

Chef HAYWARD: This particular bean was grown on farms owned by many of the lumber companies up North, and would've been one of those bean varieties used to make beans that fed the lumberjacks that worked on the North Woods all year long, and usually four times a day.

SHETTERLY: In a pan, where he's already caramelized some onion and garlic, he adds the plump, dark brown Maine marifax beans, two kinds of pepper, a dash of malt vinegar and plenty of Maine sea salt. As the beans simmer away, he pulls the haddock off the stove, flakes it by hand and adds it to the potato-egg emulsion. He throws in some fresh chives, summer savory and parsley, and begins forming fat, soft fish cakes, which he then rolls in finely shredded brioche crumbs. He adds them to a pan lined with a thin film of olive oil.

Wow, look at that.

Chef HAYWARD: I keep the temperature low because the brioche will tend to scorch very quickly because it's got egg in it and tends to…

SHETTERLY: A few moments later, the golden, puffy fish cakes come out of the pan and are plated next to the earthy, brown beans and some sliced, almost translucent, fresh turnips.

Oh, my goodness. These are amazing.

Chef HAYWARD: Thank you.

SHETTERLY: These are incredible. They're really good. Do you like them?

Chef HAYWARD: I like them a lot.

SHETTERLY: Sam Hayward says he'll offer his fish cakes with beans at a price point in the mid-teens, which is about half the cost of the fancier items on Fore Street's menu.

For NPR News, I'm Caitlin Shetterly.

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