ROMANN DUMORNE Executive Chef at Northern Union

interview CHEF ALI WAKS ADAMS  |  photography courtesy NORTHERN UNION

A Brooklyn native, Romann Dumorne and his wife moved to Maine in 2006. His creative ingredient-forward fare takes inspiration from around the world, while using primarily local Maine products. Dumorne makes use of several modern techniques to create dishes at Northern Union, but underneath the fancy lies a passion for simplicity. Dumorne is
a chef who can create complex flavors from singular ingredients. In this conversation he gives us an insider’s look at a chef’s home kitchen, providing tips and techniques for creative home cooking as well as reflecting on his craft as executive chef at Northern Union.


At HOME…

What are your top home pantry staples?

Salt, sugar, butter, olive oil, shallots, thyme, flour and yeast.

And what about a little luxury? Is there an ingredient that you reach for when you want to make a dish feel luxurious?

I always keep a quart of demi-glace in my freezer.

What ingredients are you looking forward to putting on the grill this summer?

Corn wrapped in aluminum foil and some type of whole fish, usually snapper or trout.

Do you and your wife cook together?

My wife doesn’t cook very much. I can be pretty domineering in the kitchen so I usually go it alone to keep her from killing me. LOL

As chefs we are used to finding ways to use all the bits and pieces of product, especially when we are working with more expensive ingredients. Are you doing the same at home? Do you have a no-waste dish that you make at home?

I don’t waste anything when I’m cooking at home. I keep all leftover ingredients in quart containers and usually reuse them in stews or long braises like oxtail or pig trotters.

You have such a special way with vegetables—I’m thinking of your roasted carrots, salt-baked celery root, sweet potato soup. Please share with us a few techniques for home cooks who are looking to make vegetables the center of the plate.

I really like veggies and will always have a protein with a green or other vegetable for dinner. I think vegetables are underused and I like to feature them when possible. Salt-baking root veggies is my go-to for imparting flavor and giving great texture. Adding egg whites to the salt is a way to salt-bake. I have also added coffee grounds to the mixture for beets, which gives complex flavor.

I think one thing we are all missing about dining out (aside from not having to do our own dishes) is plating, and your plates are so lovely. Any tips for home cooks looking to create pretty plates at home?

Plating is something that I enjoy in the restaurant because it gives me the artistry that I have always related to cooking. At home, I plate a little simpler but the key to a nice plate for me is showcasing the main ingredient and then surrounding it with its co-stars. I try to keep everything centered and tight as though the co-stars are hugging the main player. And most important is to keep things neat and in balance.

Tell us about what makes the perfect cheese plate: How many cheeses? What about condiments and accompaniments?

I like to go with three cheeses: a cow, a goat and a sheep. I like
honey with my cheese and a toasted nut is always a welcomed accompaniment, as well as a nicely acidic chutney.

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Clockwise, from top left:
· Executive Chef Romann Dumorne.
· Roasted Carrots with butternut squash cloud, pepita and maple    granola.
· Chef Romann's elevated take on bar food: Chicken Croquettes with caesar dressing kewpie, romaine puree, parmesan.
· Charred Octopus with white bean purée, roasted red pepper gel, lemon and Kalamata olive powder with potato chips.

At NORTHERN UNION…

How often does your menu change?

We change with the four seasons. And within the seasons we bring in new dishes and improve on the ones that we feel can be even better.

What are the three most popular dishes at Northern Union?

The roasted carrots with butternut squash cloud, pepita and maple granola is well liked and we have done many variations of it over the years. To my surprise, we did a charred octopus with white bean purée, roasted red pepper gel, lemon and Kalamata olive powder with potato chips that went over very well—even people who didn’t particularly like octopus wanted to let us know how much they enjoyed it. The seared pork belly steamed bun is also very popular and has been a mainstay on the menu since the very beginning.

What is the biggest compliment someone can give you about your food?

I think the best compliment I normally get is how diverse the menu is without being all over the place. I attribute it to finding a style that I call my own and then applying it to different types of cuisines, while keeping the integrity of where the dish came from.

Do you have a favorite combination of ingredients for spring? For summer?

I love ramps and peas in the spring and tomatoes and corn at the tail end of the summer.

Which item was the most difficult for you to get right? And how did you get there?

Pasta was something early in my career that was difficult to get right depending on which kind I was making. When I worked at Grissini Restaurant in Kennebunk I worked with a chef named Leanora who was proficient in all-things pasta. She knows her way around flour and eggs. She did a stage at a Relais & Châteaux [property] in Italy called Il Falconiere and when she returned I watched and learned. Funny that one of our sous chefs now did her externship with Grissini out of culinary school and also learned pasta under her.

Who inspires you? Do you have a mentor?

I am inspired by chefs everywhere and it’s great to live in Maine where there are too many awesome chefs to name. I mean, they are everywhere. As far as mentors go it’s Johnathan Cartwright. I left my first chef job in Plattsburgh, New York, to move to Maine in 2006 to work at the White Barn Inn under the tutelage of Chef Cartwright and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made thus far in life. He has always been a great teacher in and out of the kitchen and a good friend to boot. You can have all the determination in the world but you always need that one person who pushes you in the right directions and he was that for me.

Where are you from? How long have you been in the food biz?

I was born in Brooklyn, New York, but I actually did not start cooking until after college when I was looking for work to start my career in criminal justice, which is what my degree is in. I have been cooking for 20 years—14 of those years living in Maine.

What is it that you love about being a professional chef?

I just love to cook and I really love the camaraderie of the kitchen and everyone coming together during a service. There’s a lot of adrenaline and chaos but it’s focused and it’s beautiful when it’s in sync.

Name three dishes you’ve eaten that have changed the way you think about food, good or bad.

First dish I can remember having that changed my view of food was in 2004 in Montreal at a culinary school that was doing a chef’s tasting with graduates of the school. I had a consommé with an egg yolk in it that you broke and then emulsified it with your spoon, and it blew my mind. It was the first time that a dish I was eating was interactive and I loved the theater of it.

Another time, at the famed Eleven Madison Park [in New York City], one of the courses they brought out was what looked like a whole truffle in a glass jar with rice. It was placed in front of all seven of us at the table and the waiter walked away without saying a word. I’ll never forget the look on everyone’s face. I could not believe we were all getting a whole truffle. Well, we weren’t and what looked like a truffle was a beignet made with chickpea flour that looked so much like a truffle it fooled all of us. May I also mention that my mentor was with me and also sitting at the table was Chef Matt Louis of Moxy? More great theater.

What song gets you going before a big day?

I’m a big fan of the ’80s, particularly Hall and Oates. I always start my day with anything by them, especially “Say It Ain’t So.”

Is there a technique, dish or a cuisine that you have yet to master but have always wanted to?

All things pastry and chocolate work. I would love to be proficient in that department. It’s the one discipline in culinary where your technique has to be sound.

What would your last meal be?

Nothing fancy, just a nice seared salt-crusted ribeye and a mound of green vegetables doused in butter and a single-malt scotch neat.

Northern Union
261 Shore Road
Ogunquit, Maine
(207) 216-9639
northern-union.me

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