BLUE HILL — A Brooklin native who worked as a chef in France has come home to create fresh, locally sourced Maine feasts.
“I really love food,” said La Mason, who is the chef for the Blue Hill Inn’s seasonal Monday night dinners. “I love eating,” she said. “I love gardening.”
La (an abbreviation for Laurelin) is also a caterer doing business as Fête. She will cook in your kitchen for everything from cocktail parties to dinners to weddings. “Have knives, will travel,” Mason quipped. See her site: www.bonfetecuisine.com.
The three-course Monday night dinners at the Blue Hill Inn are prix fixe (fixed price). Guests reserve a spot and pay for their meals in advance. Tickets are $68 a person. Each course is paired with a wine chosen by Portland Sommelier Ned Swain.
“It’s a very intimate, fun evening for three hours,” said innkeeper Duncan Hamilton. Hamilton bought the inn from his former employer, Sarah Pebworth, on June 1.
The philosophy for the Monday night dinners is “globally inspired, locally sourced,” Mason said.
The last dinners of the season are slated for Nov. 14 and 21 at 6 p.m.
Mason served roasted leek and Parmesan bisque to start the Nov. 7 meal. That was followed with a marinated pork tenderloin, delicata squash puree and caramelized red onions and beets. Mason make cornmeal pound cake with cranberries and orange with white chocolate ice cream for dessert.
Zero waste is another priority for both Mason and Hamilton.
With the prix fixe dinners, they know exactly how many ingredients are needed, which eliminates food waste.
Mason graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY in 2009. Through the institute’s rigorous culinary program she earned a five-month externship at John Besh’s flagship Restaurant August in New Orleans. Mason was offered a job in Besh’s restaurant group upon graduation.
In 2011, Chef Besh sent Mason to represent the Besh Restaurant Group at the Château de Montcaud in Provence, France under Chef Bernard Guillot.
Mason’s first cooking job, at age 14, was closer to home — in the WoodenBoat School dormitory.
After France, Mason helped Besh open a new restaurant, Borgne, featuring coastal Louisiana cuisine. It was then Mason realized she wanted a change from the restaurant scene. So she founded Fête, which in New Orleans, offered gourmet meal service as well as catering.
But, Maine called her home.
“Cooking in a city where I didn’t have a connection to the food was weighing on me,” Mason said. “I know all the farmers here. I felt like I had an opportunity for growth here.”
Also, Mason has more time as a chef in Maine to spend with her son, who is 2.
Before attending culinary school, Mason had pursued a career as a visual artist, which lends itself to her work in kitchens.
“I strive to be an artist every time I come into a kitchen” Mason said, noting that her art background comes through when she’s plating food.
“I cook with a lot of integrity and thoughtfulness,” Mason said. “I feel very lucky that I get to do this every day.”
La Mason’s Roasted Leek and Parmesan Bisque
2 medium-sized leeks washed thoroughly and sliced
1 fennel bulb cleaned and chopped, remove greens
5 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 Tbsps. garlic, chopped
1 tsp. dried dill
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Two qts. water or chicken stock (approximate)
2 Tbsps. butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
In a large soup pot on medium heat, add olive oil and butter. Add to the pot, chopped fennel, leeks and garlic. Sauté vegetables on medium heat until they begin to turn a light golden brown.
Add potatoes, salt, pepper and dill. Stir to combine.
Cover vegetable mixture with water or stock and simmer on low heat until the potatoes are tender. If needed, add a small amount more of stock or water if evaporated during cooking. The vegetables should be fully covered.
Add Parmesan and stir to combine. Simmer while stirring for two to three minutes more, then transfer mixture in two or three batches to a blender. Blend until smooth and eat immediately.