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The making of Fore Street chef Sam Hayward

“Like playing rock-and-roll and jazz, there was an improvisational aspect to cooking that really caught me.”

PORTLAND, Maine — The man who just might be the most acclaimed chef in Maine never worked in a restaurant until he was in his late 20s, which is a rather advanced age on that career path. 

Instead Sam Hayward—godfather of the farm-to-table movement in Maine, chef and co-owner of Fore Street in Portland, first chef working in the state to receive a prestigious James Beard award—got started in the food world in an unlikely place. He started by cooking for the staff and students at a marine laboratory on Appledore Island, 6 miles off the coast of Kittery.

“That’s how I fell in love with the Gulf of Maine,” Hayward said. “And with cooking and with the daily routine of it, the pleasure I got from it, the sheer joy of being in that location here in Maine.”

After Appledore, without ever toiling in a restaurant or attending culinary school, Hayward decided to chart a new course in life. 

His next stops were two great food cities, New Orleans and New York, where he worked in hotel kitchens and received an on-the-job education, always with the goal of coming back to Maine with his wife to settle down and raise a family.

In 1981, Hayward bought 22 Lincoln, a restaurant in Brunswick where he presided in the kitchen with such flair that customers continue to compliment him—even though he has been gone for 31 years. 

“People still send me an occasional menu and say, ‘This was our 25th anniversary dinner that you prepared for us.’ And it’s really flattering,” he said.

The life of a restaurant chef is demanding. Long hours, lots of stress, fiercely hot kitchens in the summer, unrelenting expectations of quality and consistency. Now in his 70s, Hayward keeps a watchful eye on Fore Street and spends time teaching, speaking and mentoring, but he no longer cooks in the kitchen. 

A “real retirement,” as he calls it, is inching closer.

Before turning to food, Hayward worked as a musician and figured that would be his career. In the end, he got much of the best of both worlds. 

“Like playing rock-and-roll and jazz, which I was really familiar with, there was an improvisational aspect to [cooking] that really caught me, that really grabbed me,” he said. “I still love being handed a basket of ingredients and figuring out how to put them together and what to do with them.”

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