When ROB EVANS won the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Northeast, he and his wife, Nancy Pugh, owned two Portland restaurants: the fine-dining landmark Hugo’s, which they had purchased from the original owner in 2000, and the casual sandwich shop Duckfat, which they opened in 2005. In 2012, the couple sold Hugo’s to focus on Duckfat. Evans reflects on his win and Portland’s changing culinary scene.
Q. How did you react when you won the James Beard Award?
A. I was elated just to be nominated. For each of my three nominations, I just gave myself over to the experience, and then the third time around, we won. It was very validating.
Q. How did you react when you found out Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley won?
A. I happened to be at The Honey Paw on the night of the ceremony. Their staff was glued to their phones the whole night. When they won, the staff told me right away, and I immediately reached out through a text and congratulated them. Andrew and Mike also thanked me for their opportunity with Hugo’s; they bought the restaurant from me.
Q. Why do you think you won the award?
A. To be recognized, you’ve got to separate yourself from the pack and take chances. I think it’s important to take risks, learn from them, and listen to the feedback coming from all different angles, including customers. We stood out at a time in Maine when we didn’t have the thriving foodie scene we do now, and I’m proud to have been on the frontier of this movement.
Q. Did Taylor and Wiley take risks?
A. I think Eventide’s genius is in simply taking a Maine model that has not been totally refined. We just didn’t have an oyster bar that represented all the species of oysters in the state. They established a concept around oysters and lobster rolls. There was a safeness to that, but it also involved a lot of risk taking.
Q. How do awards like this affect the Portland restaurant community?
A. James Beard Award winners bring in food tourists, and the dynamic food scene has played a big part in Portland’s development. Food is the foundation for a thriving community. I love going out to eat in this town. It’s also different from New York or Boston in that you can hit all these spots in 20 minutes, just walking.