Chef Doug Lavallee Makes the Scarlet Harlot

head chef: doug lavallee
location: scarlet begonias, brunswick, me
recipe: the scarlet harlot (a puttanesca)

Culinary influences?
I don't have any chefs who I aspire to be like, however I am inspired by books by Anthony Bourdain, Mario Batali, and Marco Pierre White. You can feel the passion they have for food, and it's fun goes into me and flows through, because sometimes after a while you can get a little stale.

I do what I do because I think food should be fun and enjoyable and delicious and memorable.

Where did you learn to cook?
I have been interested in food and cooking since I was a kid. I got my first cookbook when I was ten. I went to Johnson & Whales University in Providence, Rhode Island and that's where my wife and I met. We both have a good background in food. Then I also took two years in food service management because I knew you needed more than just culinary skills to be a good cook. My big influences were when I worked with a guy who was 6 years younger than me, Glen Thomas. He spent two and a half years in Provence. he worked his way up to being an American sous chef which was a big deal because usually the French only let the French run things over there. He worked his way up to second in command of whatever kitchen he worked in. I learned a lot from him.

I learned to make pizza and pasta at what is now a defunct restaurant in Hartford, Connecticut called Max on Main. There are still seven or eight restaurants in this guys empire. He owns Max's Downtown, Maxamia, Max's Oyster House... He drove us to perfection. To achieve this incredibly high level , it takes a lot. But there were really good people who worked there and I learned a lot. I had almost two full years of training there. Soon after that we opened our place.

Favorite cookbook?
I don't have a favorite cookbook. But the most inspired food book I've read of recent was Heat, which is about Mario Batali. It's not just about him. It's about going back to Italy and learning old-style food and how Italians approach pasta, dairy products, meats, butchering, there's chapters...there's so much about this butcher shop —where and how animals are raised.

What's the one ingredient you could not live without?
Garlic. We're the kings of garlic here!

Favorite Microbrew beer or wine?
I don't drink. I gave it up fifteen years ago. I drank too much. When you work in restaurants, it's just always there.

Favorite music to listen to while cooking?
Really good jazz or Grateful Dead. Scarlet Begonias is a Grateful Dead reference. I listen to predominantly jazz and latin music, which is a form of jazz, because that's more condusive to eating— the whole process of music in restaurants is keeping people eating, and moving along.

What is your favorite type of food?
I don't look at us as an Italian restaurant. I look at us as a restaurant with Mediterranean underpinnings. In a nutshell, I like big, bold, strong flavors involved. I like to experiement with lots of garlic and big, earthy, huge flavors. I like to experiment with hot peppers, but not so hot that it hurts you. I think that using heat is overdone by people, once you start blistering inside of your mouth you're not tasting anything any more. Lots of Olive Oil and good mushrooms, olives, things that really wake you up. I like good Mexican food too, not that you can find it in Maine.

Most memorable meal?
I get this question alot, and it is so hard to pick one meal. To pick a meal that is truly memorable would be a really good piece of beef filet, or a really nice piece of lamb with copious amounts of garlic and herbs rubbed inside and out— slowly roasted or grilled. Simple accompaniments like a fingerling or new potato and some sort of a brussel sprout or something and the natural juices of the meat to bring it all together.

Most memorable dinner guest?
The coolest person that's every walked through the door was Gene Rayburn. I don't know if you remember Gene Rayburn, he used to do Match Game. What was hilarious was, he was on in age, he was here with his daughter. His daughter would order him all this low fat, heart healthy food and go off to the real estate agency. He would look at me and say "I want a freakin bowl of chowder, I want butter with my bread" —and he'd scarf it all down. He was probably in his eighties and he be like "I've done it, if my heart stops today that's fine."

Most irritating celebrity chef?
Bobby Flay. You know, I sometimes watch him when he's getting beat. I don't watch a lot of celebrity chefs and that is a good twenty minute discussion of how they're ruining what I do because their making it look glamorous and it's not —I can show you the cuts and burns. it is a very unglamorous business. I think a lot of those celebrity chefs lose their way, or have lost their way and tend to forget what it's really all about.

What makes indie food better?
There are people that own four restaurants, and I don't know how they do it. Some people ask why I'm always at my restaurants. I would like to cook for every customer. To be truly successful, it takes hard work and dedication. I am here every day. I get off one night a week. It takes absolute dedication to translate my passion for food from the plate to my customer. People don't get that when they go to 99, or Applebees, or Olive Garden, a lot of what you're eating in one is made for six different chain restaurants. The dumbing down of food in America is mind–numbing and pathetic. People have got to re-acquaint themselves with real food.

What is Colleen's role at Scarlet Begonias?
Colleen is involved in this restaurant from the front to the back. You see her work as soon as you walk in the door. Everything you see on the walls and in the front window. We just changed from the Summer motif to Halloween and then it will go into Christmas and then Valentine's Day —She is the one who gives you the visual flavor as you walk in the door. A majority of foods that you don't see me making which she does in the back...a lot of the ingredients, most of the dressings, a lot of tasks that people wouldn't associate with me the rock star. Without the solid backing of my partner it wouldn't work.