Wine fanatic Joe Appel and chef Brad Messier are two of the most recognizable faces behind Rosemont Market's successful events arm, Rosemont Market Productions. One of the company's latest projects is a series of classes called "Just a Little Bit Off: Cooking Classes That Focus on the Less Familiar," which began this month in collaboration with Damian Sansonetti and Ilma Lopez of Piccolo.
In many ways, what Messier and his team accomplish could be considered challenging pop-up dinners, as they typically go to the source for their events. "How do we feed 30 people without a stove?" is a question that comes up regularly in settings without traditional kitchens.
On Sunday, October 19 (limited tickets still available), they're hosting one of these at-the-source dinners at Crystal Spring Farm in Brunswick. In anticipation of the locally-harvested meal, Eater asked Appel to wax poetic about the seeds of the business offshoot, the way the events come to be, and upcoming extravaganzas to get excited about. Bean suppers never sounded so good.
When did Rosemont Productions and the event series start? What was the impetus here?
We started formally about a year-and-a-half ago. We had been doing one-off events for a while before that. It was basically Brad and me at first, and a few other people at Rosemont like co-owner John Naylor and the guy who's now our general manager, Dan Roche. Rosemont has always been about relationships, and the more great people we met and started to do business with - farmers from right around here, and winemakers from all over the world who came through Portland, or whom we visited on wine buying trips - the more we wanted to communicate what we love and respect about those people to our customers.
So, we started putting on these incredible dinners, with Brad cooking, and pairing them with wines that most people just don't get to drink too often. We charged just enough to break even, keeping the price significantly less than anything comparable in a restaurant. And there wasn't much like that in Portland, because we added this aspect of having, like, some amazing winemaker from Piemonte or Rioja be there to explain his work and really make the connection for guests.
Or we'd invite the woman who raises our grass-fed cattle to come in and speak about her herd and her practices. So often we buy food and drink without realizing it comes from a specific place and a specific person or group of people. And we wanted to communicate that specificity.
At some point we realized we couldn't just do that in a totally ad hoc way. We needed to make it an actual department, a somewhat formalized part of the business. Rosemont is in many ways just a grocery market, but we have a very clear, strong mission. And we saw more and more opportunities to do these other things that supported the mission. So, we started Rosemont Market Productions then.
Who are the main figures involved in the events side of things? How did they get involved?
It's still pretty bare bones. Brad Messier directs the events. He's a Portland native who traveled and cooked in Europe and the Caribbean. Brad is a great cook - he cooked at Fore Street and then was sous chef at 555 for a long time, and he's just been in the local scene forever. And he cooked in Rosemont's production kitchen for a while, too. But the other thing about Brad is that he's an accomplished gardener, and he has worked the Farmers' Market for years, so he knows what it means to actually grow food, and he knows a lot of farmers. So he's really ideal.
Then there's our Front of the House manager, Nikaline Iacono. Nikaline does the scheduling, staffing, logistics, presentation, all that. Nikaline has tons of restaurant experience, has trained people in service, knows everything about wine, makes all the wheels spin. And I'm kind of the hired song and dance man. I think I'm pretty good at communicating the message of what it means to be connected to farmers, brewers, winemakers, so I work on that with our guests. And I love wine, so I help out on that side of things.
Any preview of what Brad is cooking up for the Crystal Spring dinner? Do you work simultaneously, or does he create the menu for you to pair wines with the dishes? Or vice versa?
The cool thing about Crystal Spring is that they have a Master Shepherd, Tom Settlemire, who tends their flock of Katahdin Hairsheep, a very interesting breed. And then Seth Kroeck and his wife Maura Bannon have also taken on some Red Devon cattle from our friend Tom Cope, who raises cows in Bath, New Hampshire; we've sold his meat at Rosemont for a long time. Red Devon are unique in that they are pure ruminants: the entire breed has never fed on grain; they are purely grass-fed. So, the meat dishes will be terrific, but the farm's produce is remarkable, too, and the farm itself is beautiful. The Brunswick Land Trust helped save it from development in 1997. So, the dinner will be an amazing full-circle sort of experience.
For wine pairings, it depends on the event. The Crystal Spring dinner is primarily about the farm and the food. The wines are there to support the food, and they'll be exciting wines, but Nikaline chose the wines based on the rough menu that Brad came up with.
For our winemaker events, where the emphasis is on the wines, it works in the opposite direction. Brad, Nikaline and I will talk about the wines, the region, and its traditional cuisine, what's in season here. It goes back and forth. I'll say something offhandedly, like, "Wow, do you get that piney, rosemary thing from this wine? And that combo of sweet and bitter?" And then Brad will come up with an emulsion that accentuates rosemary, to match with parsnips. Or something like that. It's pretty much the way restaurants work, I imagine.
How are events designed or chosen? Do you attempt to showcase existing partners, to develop new partnerships through the event side, or some combination? Do you get partners reaching out to you requesting event collaborations?
After many years of batting around ideas for a motto for Rosemont (really, it took us years), we finally settled on "Good Food from People We Know". And that's the spirit that determines which events we want to get going. This dinner we're doing this Sunday at Crystal Spring Farm came about because we've sold their lamb for a while, and we know how they treat their animals and what they do in their gardens and how good their produce is. But most of all we like Seth a lot, and we wanted to do something with him. It was that simple.
I don't think we've ever formed a new partnership from an event, because the event always springs from a relationship we already have in place and are cultivating. It's always, "These guys/gals are so great. We want more people to know how great they are."
The two events we have coming up in early November are perfect examples. We have Giorgio Rivetti, truly one of the most respected winemakers in Italy, coming here to do a dinner. He runs these extraordinary estates in Piemonte and Tuscany. We've loved his wines for several years, and we have a good relationship with his American importer. He came to Maine last spring and we hit it off, and he loves this area. So we told him he had to come back!
Then we're going to do an in-depth Champagne event with Terry Theise. Terry is a revered wine importer and author, with an almost mystical quality about him, and just about everyone who loves wine knows about him and knows his philosophical power. Not to mention that the wines he champions are like nothing else in the world. He's the primary reason that the entire younger generation of drinkers, food-obsessers, and sommeliers are so excited about German and Austrian wines, and Grower Champagne.
Terry lives in the Boston area now, and I know him because I write about wine and was inspired by both his wines and his writing. I interviewed him recently and said, "Look, Portland has an amazingly vibrant food culture, and it's perfectly suited to what you do, so PUH-LEEZE." Also, Brian Flewelling at Hugo's loves Terry's wines. So in November, Terry's coming here, and we're going to partner with Hugo's on that. Hugo's will do a sit-down dinner with him, and the next night Rosemont Market Productions is going to go serious rabbit-hole on small-production grower-produced Champagne.
I'm perfectly willing to admit that my standard emotional state regarding wines I love is kind of way-much-crazy-enthusiastic, and I sometimes veer into hyperbole. But I'm being perfectly objective (or, close enough) when I say that these two events are going to be just outrageous. They are going to be totally memorable, Portland Food/Wine Events of the Year. I mean, New York and Boston and San Francisco don't often get these guys. And if they do it's a bigger event with less intimacy, less personal interaction.
But it's not all like that. The next thing Brad, Nikaline, and I are excited about is a series of Bean Suppers we're going to start in January. We're going to use the Deering Grange Hall and hold monthly bean suppers, kind of riffing off the traditional Maine bean supper but with local sourcing, some creative takes on the classics, like that.