Nearly 25 years since opening Portland's Fore Street, "he's almost like the patron saint of the Maine food scene." Reason #81 from our special bicentennial issue, "200 Reasons to Love Maine."
Photographed by Greta Rybus
By Michaela Cavallaro
Even as a thought experiment, the idea is scary: imagine a world without Maine chef Sam Hayward, who cofounded Portland’s renowned Fore Street restaurant in 1996. The East Coast may never have had its answer to Alice Waters. The now-lauded Portland restaurant scene may never have found its footing. And the downstream repercussions? A generation of Maine farmers decimated, lacking the markets of restaurant kitchens run by creative young chefs who, without Hayward’s influence, may never have been drawn to Maine.
Sure, the invaluable Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association would still exist, but it wouldn’t have benefited from the guidance, advocacy, and fundraising prowess Hayward contributed during a decade-plus on its board. Maine island lamb would have remained an obscure pleasure, unheralded by influential foodie media. Foodie media may never have given Maine a second look.
The character of Portland would be diminished. Before COVID-19, the Forest City was enjoying a 20-year boom built largely on the back of its explosive restaurant scene. That scene owes to an army of chefs maximizing the bounty of Maine’s farms and fishermen, and those chefs owe a lot to Hayward, a former musician and native Ohioan who settled in Maine in the ’70s. Hayward’s first restaurant, 22 Lincoln, in Brunswick, developed a cult following, and his decades of championing producers and seemingly endless curiosity about Maine foods eventually sparked a dining revolution.
“That little restaurant on Fore Street — when you talk about definitive American restaurants, it’s right up there,” says Bon Appétit editor at large Andrew Knowlton, who started eating at Fore Street as a Bates College student in the ’90s. By the early ’00s, when Courtney Loreg was sous chef there, Fore Street’s shadow was long across Portland. “It used to be everyone thought they had to do the same thing Fore Street did — naming every farm, farmer, and chicken on the menu,” says Loreg, now executive chef at Portland’s Woodford F&B. “Now, it’s just assumed you’re in this great area that has so much [local food] to offer, but it wasn’t really like that before Sam.”
Today, 71-year-old Hayward spends less time at his restaurants than speaking about and advocating for sustainable farming, fishing, and aquaculture. But he’s no less an icon, says Anestes Fotiades, who runs the Portland Food Map blog. “He’s almost like the patron saint of the Maine food scene,” Fotiades says. “He doesn’t have to be seen everywhere for everyone to be aware of the impact he’s had.”