Chef Andrew Taylor may be more familiar to his colleagues on the national food scene than he is to people in the suburban Maine town in which he lives. “I was a ghost in Cumberland for the first four or five years I lived there,” says Taylor. “I was gone early, came back in the middle of the night. My wife’s friends joked, ‘Do you really have a husband? I see pictures, but does this guy really exist?’” Taylor has been busy: the father of three boys under the age of five, he is the winner of a 2017 James Beard Award and a partner in Big Tree Hospitality, which owns three restaurants in Portland (plus one in the works in Boston).
Taylor grew up in Newton, Massachusetts. He had an early love of the outdoors and locally sourced delicacies—especially those gleaned from a nearby lake. “My four best friends and I used to disappear from our houses and meet at the lake and fish virtually every day, oftentimes before sunrise,” says Taylor. During the summer, he visited his grandparents’ house on Cape Cod. “If there was a genesis of my culinary career it would probably be there,” he says. “I spent most of my time fishing and digging clams and catching crabs and stuff like that.”
After graduating from Buckingham Browne and Nichols School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Taylor attended Bates College in Lewiston. Like many family members before him (including his father), he majored in economics. Also like many family members before him (again, including his father), Taylor considered becoming an attorney. He was traveling back from his grandfather’s funeral when he mentioned this possibility to his dad. “He shook his head and said, ‘No, don’t do that. I don’t think you’ll like that career,’” says Taylor. “He knew that I was restless in nature, and wouldn’t enjoy sitting behind a desk. I’ve thanked him many times for steering me away from it—even if he partially denies it still.” Taylor’s father suggested that he pursue a career that enabled him to work with his hands. “I think he probably had in mind orthopedic surgery or sports medicine,” says Taylor. Watching his high school and college friends enter the financial and legal professions, Taylor had previously felt an expectation to do the same. His father’s words gave him permission to be different. “It was reassuring to hear that I could do something that I enjoyed.”
After graduating from Bates in 2003, Taylor and his future wife, Rachel, spent several months driving across the country before moving to Seattle, Washington. “We had no jobs, no place to stay, and no friends out there, but we made it work pretty quickly,” says Taylor. He enrolled in culinary classes and picked up a job as a prep cook. In his spare time, he learned what he could from chef Thierry Rautureau, 1998 winner of the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northwest. “I walked in the back door of the best French restaurant in town and said, ‘I’m going to spend whatever free hours I have here,’” says Taylor. “I did everything there from peeling shallots, and garlic to breaking down Dungeness crab.” Returning to Boston, Taylor worked at Clio, under the 2001 James Beard Award winner for Best Chef: Northeast, Ken Oringer. “He was an incredible example of how to run restaurants and how to expand responsibly,” says Taylor. “We keep in touch to this day.” In 2009, Taylor moved to Portland to become the sous chef at Hugo’s restaurant, under (yet another) James Beard Award-winning chef, Rob Evans.
While at Hugo’s, Taylor met Arlin Smith and Mike Wiley, both of whom would go on to purchase that restaurant with him in 2012. That same year, Taylor, Smith, and Wiley opened Eventide Oyster Co. next to Hugo’s on Middle Street. Two weeks later, Taylor’s first son, Lincoln, was born. A third restaurant— The Honey Paw—and two more children would follow.
“There have been several times when I’ve tried to persuade Mike and Arlin to open another restaurant or expand, and they’ll say, “I don’t know. Not right now,” says Taylor. “Then I’ll say, ‘Rachel’s pregnant. We’re having another kid. We need another restaurant.’” He grins. “I’ve always been one to pile it on, and take on as much as I possibly can.” Taylor gives much credit to his wife, who is a graphic designer. “Rachel’s just been unbelievable in understanding what it takes to run a growing and expanding business.”
Taylor, who won his own James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northeast this year, has not strayed far from his outdoor-oriented boyhood self. He continues to enjoy hiking and fishing, as well as foraging for wild foods: ramps and morels in the spring, chanterelles and black trumpets in the summer. In spare moments, he explores the islands of Casco Bay, looking for sea lettuce, kelp, and laver.
Taylor has evolved as a chef, and these days, he is no longer a ghost in his adopted hometown. “I just did a speech at the Cumberland Elks club, and it was great to meet some people in the community,” says Taylor. His oldest son enters kindergarten in the fall. “I look forward to that. I hope to be coaching his Little League team, and really being a part of that moving forward.”