If Chris and Paige Gould ever took the Caramelized Sheep’s Cheese off the menu at Central Provisions, there would likely be a revolt.
“There are certain dishes that people come back and get every single time,” says Chris about patrons at their Portland, Maine–based restaurant. And the thick slice of MitiCaña de Oveja griddled with peaches or pears is one of them. The salty-sweet delight—on offer since the James Beard–nominated Central Provisions opened in early 2014—was inspired by a similar preparation featuring Bûcheron and root vegetables that the couple swooned over while honeymooning in San Sebastián, Spain. Indeed, the dish truly encapsulates the eatery’s tagline: internationally inspired small plates with local, seasonal ingredients.
“Chris comes up with these flavor profiles that draw from all sorts of different cuisines that you wouldn’t necessarily see, but he can see it,” Paige says. “I could have said ‘fusion,’ but that’s such an overused word. It’s not exactly fusion—it’s American, it’s everything.” (Chris is the chef; Paige is the director of operations.) Another example of Chris weaving far-flung flavors through familiar produce and herbs is a fan favorite that’s available year-round: cauliflower and chickpeas with French feta and a heady, housemade ras el hanout dressing. Chris’ take on the Moroccan spice blend includes two nontraditional ingredients: rosehips and anise hyssop flowers. “Ras el hanout incorporates a lot of local spices from North Africa that are not available here, or hard to get,” Chris says. “Cooking is about using what is abundant in your area.” Not only are his two additions readily obtainable in Maine, but Chris grows and dries the anise hyssop himself.
This creativity and worldview no doubt stem from Chris’ training: He grew up in Bethel, Maine, and became a dishwasher at age 15 before moving up to line cook. After high school, Chris completed a culinary apprenticeship with certified master chef Roland Henin at the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in Dixville Notch, N.H., won the Student Chef of the Year award from the American Culinary Foundation in 2005, and took home silver from the Global Young Chefs Challenge in New Zealand the following year. In 2007, he landed at Ken Oringer’s acclaimed French-American eatery Clio and spent the next few years bouncing around the star chef’s Boston empire: as opening sous chef at Italian enoteca Coppa and then at the helm of lively sushi and sashimi joint Uni. (Culinary school graduate Paige hails from New Jersey and met Chris while interning at Clio; she also worked at Toro, Oringer’s South End tapas spot.)
Before long, the Goulds started thinking about opening a restaurant of their own. They considered San Francisco and Chicago, but ultimately decided on Portland, moving there in the fall of 2012. “The food scene was good—we felt it was about to explode, and I think we were right,” Paige says, laughing. They bought a circa-1828 brick warehouse in the city’s Old Port—which had been, at various times, a barrel top and burlap bag shop, a tool store, and bitters and wine storage—and hired area artisans to craft the stools, chairs, tabletops, sign, and more, from local and reclaimed materials.
Central Provisions opened in 2014 to much fanfare (a coveted spot on Bon Appétit’s “Hot 10” list, the James Beard nod); the Goulds’ second restaurant, Tipo, followed in early 2017. The centerpiece of the latter—a laid-back neighborhood spot in Portland’s Back Cove—is the wood-fired oven that turns out lightly charred pizzas with aplomb. And a menu revolving around pasta and pizza gives the Goulds even more opportunities to cook with curds.
“We have cheese in almost every dish we do—whether it’s ricotta or fontina or cheddar or blue cheese,” Chris says. (Apparently the couple that eats blue together, stays together: One of Chris’ favorites is Shropshire, while Paige craves Blu del Moncenisio.) The Tipo team hand-pulls pillowy mozzarella daily to serve with greens and pesto or atop their margherita pie.
At Central Provisions, meanwhile, they make fresh chèvre and cook with the whey. To stock the cheese plate, Paige turns to the Cheese Iron in nearby Scarborough, Maine. “When I buy through them, that means I have quality control already done,” Paige says. Plus, proprietors Vincent Maniaci and Jill Dutton always have four cases of the MitiCaña de Oveja at the ready for the beloved caramelized sheep’s cheese.
Chris and Paige also pluck edible flowers, vegetables, fruit, and herbs—parsley, cilantro, savory, sage, two kinds of thyme—from their garden, situated on two and half acres in Freeport, where they live with their two young daughters. This bounty winds up on the menus at Central Provisions and Tipo as well as in family meals.
On days off, Chris often develops recipes in his own kitchen. His philosophy for feeding restaurant guests is simple: “Basically, we cook what we want to eat,” he says.