|Sam Hayward. Photo by Martha T. Harris, courtesy of Fore Street Restaurant.|
By Marada Cook
The subject of veal came up at a MOFGA board meeting, and a year later two Maine farmers had found a market for young milk-fed calves, thanks to Sam Hayward. An obscure root tuber called skirret caught his eye in the Exhibition Hall at the Common Ground Fair and made its way to dinner plates at Fore Street Restaurant. A gathering of dairymen in the restaurant lounge resulted in the addition of blue cheese to the list of specialty foods produced in our state. In each case, Sam Hayward’s support – as both a visionary and a consumer – transformed raw ideas into tangible, and tasty, results. Furthering this type of work drew Hayward to MOFGA’s board of directors in 2001.
“Sam Hayward’s role is that of a catalyst,” says Russell Libby, MOFGA’s executive director, “which transcends his work as a board member. Hayward participates in MOFGA’s annual Moveable Feast and helps as a liaison and coordinator for Tastings Events. To say he appreciates local flavor is an understatement.
“I’m an encourager of new foods and people more than anything else,” Hayward says; “That’s the type of work that excites me.” As executive chef at award-winning Fore Street Restaurant in Portland, Hayward uses organic and locally grown food as the starting point for his menu. Volunteering for MOFGA, he says, “dovetails nicely with the work I do in the kitchen.”
“Sam is passionate about the possibilities of Maine-grown food,” Libby explains. “He takes his enthusiasm with him wherever he goes – to the restaurant, MOFGA board meetings, or just chatting with his neighbors in Bowdoinham.”
“I’m sort of an amateur food historian,” Hayward explains. “I get really excited about how people in this bioregion used a food, gardened with it and cooked with it. I add a social twist to items on the menu.”
Hayward’s research on venison, for example, covers everything from pre-Mayflower cuisine to Maine legislation on farm-raised game. He follows FEDCO’s seed trials closely and tasted many of the 30-some odd kale varieties trialed last year. When I ask what he would say to the crowd who will touch nothing but iceberg lettuce, Hayward automatically suggests an heirloom alternative. “Reine de Glaices,” he says, “It’s got the same crispness.”
Hayward gathers some of his knowledge at the library and online, but a large portion comes straight from the field. When he’s not volunteering at the Membership Booth at the Common Ground Fair, visitors might catch him scouring the Exhibition Hall for delicious vegetable varieties, both new and old. His penchant is for foods that have fallen out of fashion, such as skirret.
“I’m always on the lookout,” he notes. “Skirret was just lying in the Exhibition Hall. Historically, it was grown as a back-up crop. It likes swamps, edges of fields, marginal soils, muck. It looks like a stumped parsnip.”
If skirret’s culinary possibilities have you stumped, do a little food research of your own: Look Hayward up in the Membership Booth at Common Ground and ask him what else is new. For many Maine farmers, this may be an opportunity in the making.