BOWDOINHAM, Maine - The 8-acre Fishbowl Farm here overlooks the banks of picturesque Merrymeeting Bay, with farmland that has some of the richest, most nutrient-packed soil in Maine. Owners Gallit and Chris Cavendish have been farming for less than a decade. She came from a promising career as a professional chef. He left architecture.
Fishbowl Farm delivers organic produce to top local restaurants and markets in Brunswick, Bath, and Portland. The couple also sells their goods at the indoor winter market in Portland. But when they sit down at their own table, Gallit Cavendish, 39, who trained as a chef at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., is most at home. She might serve eggplant spread on crusty French bread she made herself and greens from the hoop houses on the land.
Chris Cavendish entered the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association’s two-year farmer-in-residence program in 2003 at the Unity campus, filling a vacancy left by a friend of his who didn’t finish her term. Before she left, she remarked to him, “It’s like living in a fish bowl.’’ That comment obviously made a different impression on Chris, who liked the close quarters. When he bought his land in Bowdoinham in 2005 (“just a hay field,’’ as he describes it), he named it Fishbowl Farm. He received organic certification from MOFGA shortly thereafter.
Gallit Sammon worked at Chase’s Daily in Belfast, a farm and restaurant, which was her first experience on the land. Then she became chef de cuisine at the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport in 2006. On the loading docks one day, she met Chris, delivering vegetables from Bowdoinham. Today they are parents of a 9-month-old daughter, Calliope.
This time of year, Fishbowl greenhouses and hoop houses are filled with baby Swiss chard, kale, bok choy, scallions, and a trial run of winter-sprouting broccoli. “The broccoli is an experiment for us,’’ says Chris Cavendish. “We’ll have to wait a year to see how it does in this climate.’’
A root cellar holds potatoes, onions, and winter squashes, which fill the stalls at the weekly markets they attend.
At Fishbowl Farm, meal time is never a casual event. Recently, the main course for lunch was a roasted onion tart using most of the couple’s own ingredients. Caponata, the Italian eggplant spread, was served with Gallit Cavendish’s homemade baguette, and beets the chef had pickled.
Cavendish cooked in some top kitchens. She apprenticed at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., and worked at the Waldorf Astoria and restaurant Daniel in New York. At Daniel, says Gallit, “The chefs only spoke French and they weren’t used to having women in their kitchens.’’ But, she adds, “It was an exciting place to learn my trade.’’
She also spent time as a chef at the Culinary School of the Rockies in Boulder, Colo., something she calls “the dream job, the one that made me love cooking and being a chef all the more.’’ The school offered a program that included a month in the south of France at a chateau with a specially equipped restaurant kitchen. “All of that foie gras, caviar, salmon, and Champagne was put to great use,’’ Gallit says.
A typical day in France began with shopping at an outdoor market. “These were great markets,’’ she says, “with everything from the best produce to meats, fish, and baked goods.’’
Maine’s markets, she adds, “are just as good.’’
The family chef has no trouble dreaming up menus to make with the farm’s ingredients. But a whole lamb that the couple just bought from a neighboring farm gives her pause.
“I’ll come up with a few ideas,’’ she says. “All I have to do is look out my kitchen window for inspiration.’’
On Saturdays, Fishbowl Farm produce is at the Portland Maine winter farmers’ market, Irish Heritage Center, State and Gray streets in Portland, Maine.