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Susan Axelrod

Susan Axelrod's food writing career began in the kitchen; she owned a restaurant and catering business for 15 years before turning to journalism. By day, she is the social media editor for Portland Press Herald. To relax, she bakes, gardens and hikes with her husband and their two dogs, preferably followed by a cocktail or a Maine beer. Susan can be contacted at 791-6310 or saxelrod@mainetoday.com On Twitter: @susansaxelrod

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Posted: April 16, 2014

First taste: New chef brings culinary clout to Chebeague Island Inn

Written by: Susan Axelrod

Chebeague Island Inn Chef Brandon Hicks with, from left: Gerri Prentice, Caitlin Prentice and Casey Prentice.

Diners at the Chebeague Island Inn, which opens for the season on May 16, are in for a treat.

Chef Brandon Hicks in the kitchen and describing one of the seven courses.

Brandon Hicks, whose resume includes Michelin-starred restaurants in New York, California and France, showcased his cooking at an intimate tasting dinner in Yarmouth last night, hosted by the Prentice family, who own the inn.

Left: the menu for the evening. Right: The inn’s sommelier explains a wine pairing.

Hicks studied at the French Culinary Institute in New York City (now the International Culinary Center) and has a BA in Marketing from Missouri State University. He spent the last three years as chef de cuisine at ilili Restaurant; previously, he was chef de cuisine at Brasserie 8 1/2, maitre fromager at Artisanal Restaurant; and chef de partie at Picholine — all in New York City. He has also worked at Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, California; Maison Pic in Valence, France; and Le Grand Vefour in Paris. Hicks is also certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers; one of the wines at the tasting dinner was from his own cellar.

Feast your eyes …

One of the passed hors d’oeuvres: Spring Garlic Financiers with Smoked Salmon

The first course: Belon Oyster with Pickled Ramps, Dill Seed and Fleur de Sel.

The third and fourth courses: Diver Scallop Crudo with Sea Urchin, Marin, Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Sea Lettuce; Casco Bay Merluza (Hake) with Avocado, Green Apple and American Sturgeon Caviar.

The fifth and sixth courses: Calamari and Lamb Belly with Fennel Barigoule, Preserved Lemon and Squid Ink; Maple-Miso Cured Duck with Baby Bok Choy, Local Spring Onions and Pickled Blueberries.

The terrific finale: Baba au Rhum with Coconut Cloud Yogurt, Pineapple and Micro Thyme.

My takeaway from the tasting: Hicks is a confident chef with the skills to deftly combine ingredients in novel ways — such as lamb belly and cuttlefish — without going over the experimental edge. From the pickled ramps with the Belon oyster, to the passionfruit seeds with the baba au rhum, he clearly knows how to effectively balance flavor and texture, giving each dish an element of surprise.

It will be interesting to see what he comes up with for a summer menu at the inn, which is poised to be a serious dining destination.

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