Harding Lee Smith, Chef, Restauranteur
What is Italian-Inspired Food?
To chef Harding Lee Smith, founder of The Corner Room located in Portland, ME, creating Italian-inspired food means infusing Maine’s staple foods with spices, flavors and hints of classic Italian cuisine. For example, take the Beef Carpaccio dish from The Corner Room’s dinner menu. This dish uses thinly-sliced raw beef with capers, red onion, aioli and shaved Parmesan.
Mainers are familiar with beef, onions and Parmesan cheese; however, it is Venice, Italy that made the name Carpaccio synonymous with a dish surrounding thinly-sliced raw beef. With the addition of capers (a type of pickled flower bud common to Mediterranean countries that adds a burst of salty flavor) and aioli sauce (a sauce made of oils, eggs, garlic, lemon juice and sometimes mustard) the dish begins to take on a flavor reminiscent of another world.
Seafood is a staple export and a beloved food of nearly all Mainers. Known for its lobster, Maine also has delicious scallops. In his Local Scallop Dish, Chef Harding brings a hint of the old-world flavor to seafood lovers by adding prosciutto (thinly sliced dry-cured ham) to the mix, but it’s the white bean purée & whole grain mustard buerre fonduta (a signature buttery sauce) that makes his dish to die for.
While Mainers have grown accustomed to lunch and dinners with cultural accents, it’s the breakfast dishes that can truly turn mornings into an exotic experience! How does Italian French Toast sound? What makes the dish decidedly Italian is that the bread is soaked in custard before it is cooked! Traditionally, French toast is dipped in eggs with a bit of vanilla and perhaps some sprinkled cinnamon for flavor. Harding’s version goes just beyond traditional flavors with his special custard and poached winter fruits.
Brunch will never be the same for pizza lovers that try the Cured Salmon Pizza. Traditionally pizza is made with mozzarella cheese, but with the addition of mascarpone cheese, a buttery, spreadable type of cheese popular in Italy, the pizza begins to take on a richer texture that offsets the salmon, capers, red onion and herbs in a heavenly way. Think “melt in your mouth” instead of the stringy, slightly chewy texture of mozzarella.
It takes an artist to take traditional foods and “inspire” them with another culture. Chef Harding is one such artist and Maine diners will continue to support his creations for years to come.