Steve Corry, an F&W Best New Chef 2007, built his reputation by using as many local ingredients as possible at his restaurant, Five Fifty-Five, in Portland, Maine. But like many other chefs, he’s also drawn to ingredients that come from further afield, such as the extraordinary Mediterranean products imported by Taylor Griffin, who happens to live across the street from Five Fifty-Five. The resulting recipes show just how thrilling and satisfying the combination of native and imported foods can be.
Corry’s soup of plump Bangs Island mussels, harvested just a few miles from Portland, has a rich, smoky quality thanks to Griffin’s thick-cut ibérico chorizo from Spain’s Castilla y León region. A salad of roasted beets, using vegetables grown by the Snell Family Farm in nearby Buxton, gets a Spanish twist with sweet and crunchy candied marcona almonds and the smoothly acidic Vinagres de Yema Cepa Vieja aged sherry vinegar. For a crispy-skinned roasted branzino, Mediterranean sea bass, Corry mixes a compound butter using Griffin’s extra-large and pungent Moulins Mahjoub capers, which grow wild in the mountains of Tunisia. (“They’re tough buds,” says Corry, who likes that the capers stay moist despite being packed in sea salt.)
Soon Corry will start serving Griffin’s newest exclusive import: jamón ibérico, the legendary Spanish ham that is available in this country for the first time. In the five years since Griffin took over his family’s business, the Rogers Collection, he has almost doubled the number of food products it imports. Much of Griffin’s success is based on his strong relationships with chefs: In 2006, he started selling avant-garde Spanish chef Ferran Adrià’s line of culinary chemicals and tools; Adrià, in turn, tipped Griffin off to torta Cañarejal, a spicy sheep’s-milk cheese from a small producer in Castilla y León, which Griffin started importing last fall. Since Griffin eats at Five Fifty-Five once a week when he’s not traveling, Griffin and Corry might just be each other’s best customers.