There’s already quite a buzz circulating through southern Piscataquis county about the new executive chef in Guilford. I recently saw an article written by Mike Lange in the Eastern Gazette about his return to our area, but more importantly… I am hearing talk within the communities from folks who have already had the pleasure of experiencing the higher-end cuisine now offered at the Red Maple Inn.
It really doesn’t surprise me that Paul Zimmerman and Martha Ward, owners of the Inn, are yet again stepping up their game. I met Paul for the first time several years ago, when he was in the process of some significant renovations to the outside of the building on the corner of N Main and Water Street. Between 2012 and 2014, I watched the building undergo an amazing transformation, with four brand-new guest rooms added above the pub, and a laundromat and tanning facility on the first floor of the building alongside the pub. Paul and Martha always seem to be working on something, each time bettering the Inn while finding ways to provide other needed services in the community. Those driving through Guilford without stopping at the Inn may have taken notice of the upgrades made to the facade of the building, but unless you’ve taken time to stop – you might never fully realize the investment these two have made in the place.
From where I stand, it has been a continual process of improvement, when one project ends another seems to begin, and the menu is no exception. Though menu items have been added and improved upon over the past couple of years, Paul and Martha have now made a decision to take the cuisine and the atmosphere of the Red Maple Inn to a higher level.
Those who are regulars at the Maple have always loved the tavern feel, live bands and pub food. Now, though many of the Pub menu favorites will remain, many new, higher-end offerings and unique desserts will be offered as well.
Enter: Executive Chef Chris Converse.
Chris was raised in Piscataquis County and attended both Piscataquis Community High School and Foxcroft Academy. In 1983, when he was a junior in high school, he began working at Thistles in Dover-Foxcroft, where his mother was a waitress. He washed dishes and made salads. His boss, Dale Thistle, became his mentor and took Chris under his wing. Eventually, Dale was elected into Legislature and began to give Chris more responsibility at the restaurant, specifically in the kitchen. This would set Chris on a path that would impact the course of his life.
Dale Thistle was not the only adult who believed in Chris and saw his obvious potential. Ariel and Shirley Ellis, parents of Chris’s friend Greg, also had a profound impact on his life. During an interview with Chris, he talks about the couple: “The Elllises were good, God-fearing people who believed in me and kind of adopted me into their family. They encouraged me to pursue this, and actually paid to send me to the Culinary Institute of America in New York”. Upon graduation, Chris earned himself a spot as one of 47 chefs at Cape Cod’s prestigious Chatham Bars Inn, a beautiful resort with a dining room which sat 180 customers. “It was like being in school all over again, I learned so much and gained so much experience during my time there”.
Chris’s abilities in the kitchen continued to grow with each new opportunity he was given. He has worked for other acclaimed restaurants throughout New England, including Sunday River Ski Resort, Amore’s in Booth Bay and most recently, 22 Broad St. Italian Restaurant in Bethel. According to Chris, the journey has been both rewarding and exciting, but over the past couple of years, he has been feeling the pull to come back to his roots, here in Piscataquis County, where he will continue his successful career at the Red Maple Inn. Aren’t we lucky?
Paul and Martha have turned the kitchen inside out for Chris, giving him control of the kitchen’s design and flow, and investing thousands to provide him with the equipment he needs to be successful, from new industrial appliances to pans and utensils.
While speaking with Chris, his love for cooking and creating was so very apparent. “We won’t be using anything pre-packaged. Everything will be made from scratch, from stocks to glazes, and we’ll offer signature desserts that will only be available here, which I will create myself”. When I asked Chris to give me an example of what he might offer, he said, “there will be new dinner salads never before offered, and things like salmon, scallops, or braised lamb shanks and risotto, but for those who still crave our pub burgers or tacos, they’ll be on the menu, too.”
Though the new cuisine is a major change for Red Maple customers, it won’t be the only one. The area of the restaurant formally used as the band/dance-floor was emptied out; new floors were installed and new custom tables and chairs will fill the room. Bands, for the most part, will be replaced by after dinner music or solo musicians. Those who dine-in will notice new television screens displaying trivia questions and photos of the chef’s specials for that day.
Since 2012,the Red Maple Inn has experienced a rebirth – more than once.
Just when I think they’re all done, they surprise me again.
This time, we won’t just SEE the difference, we’ll taste it, too.
So, the next time you are driving through Guilford with an appetite, you might want to stop in to the Red Maple Inn and find out what Chef Chris has on the menu for the day…and let me know what you think!
Until then, thank you for taking a Peek into Piscataquis.