Dick Reid on life at The Thistle, marriage and lobster chef of the year competition

Posted:  Thursday, October 5, 2017 - 9:15am
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Dick Reid and his (very) soon-to-be wife, Anya Heyl, own The Thistle Inn business in Boothbay Harbor.

Together, they run the restaurant and bar that have been popular with both locals and people from away since the early 1960s. They also manage the seven rental rooms above the restaurant, they oversee the seven employees in the kitchen, and pitch in with cooking duties.

All this with a 16-month-old baby, Richie, and a son, CJ, 11.

Reid recently found the time to design and execute a lobster bite to enter into Boothbay Harbor’s annual Claw Down competition. His bite took the People’s Choice Award, and now he’ll be doing it all over again, at the Lobster Chef of the Year competition at Portland’s annual Harvest on the Harbor on Oct. 20.

Reid said he came up with the idea of using a Newburg sauce for his bite at Claw Down, but the final result, a truffled lobster Newburg with butter poached lobster, black truffle oil, lemon-thyme port reduction, local micro greens, and a sliver of black truffle, on a saffron risotto cake, was a group effort. “Everyone in the kitchen was committed to coming up with something that would blow people away.”

He said he wanted to make something that was a little outside the box. Traditionally, a Newburg sauce would be used on an English muffin or toast. “We played around with a couple different risotto cakes, and settled on the saffron one.” Saffron isn’t a typical flavor to pair with lobster, according to Reid, but he and his team liked the combination.

Then one of the cooks suggested adding a little black truffle oil to the Newburg sauce. “The flavor just kind of exploded in your mouth. So we had our sauce figured out.”

The butter poached lobster was a no-brainer, according to Reid. “You can’t beat that. The lobster is going to be tender, and have a ton of flavor, and saltiness.

Finally, fresh black truffle shavings were added. They had three truffles shipped in from Italy; 2.5 ounces came to almost $200. “When you put all those flavors together it almost dances on your palate,” he said.

Reid has worked in restaurant kitchens for over 15 years. “You’re constantly learning. I always say that any day you think you know everything when you walk into a kitchen, you should probably quit and find something else to do. You can never stop learning.”

For the event in Portland, he said he and his team are playing around with ideas for what his lobster bite will be.

“We want to do something that is a classic dish, because that’s what we represent at The Thistle Inn. Our meals have a lot going in terms of flavor, but at the same time the food is approachable. We present food that everybody can enjoy.”

Reid said he’s proud of his staff. “We’re getting a chance to compete against some of the best chefs, hands down, in New England, and the fact that our team has been able to put us on the map like this, since we opened last Nov. 9, is a testament to the people who work here.”

He said roles aren’t defined in his kitchen. “We’re a team. You’re only as good as your weakest link. We are continually able to put ourselves in a position where we don’t have a weak link. We have a phenomenal crew and I’m proud of them all. They go above and beyond, and they understand that everything, from the presentation to the flavors and the overall quality is under a microscope when it hits the table.”

None of the cooks in the kitchen have attended a culinary arts school, and Reid takes pride in that fact. “We all started at the bottom – washing dishes and scrubbing floors. None of these guys have a sense of entitlement. They have come to where they are through hard work.”

Reid said he gives the cooks freedom to make their own dishes. “We don’t really run this like a business. We run it like a family. Everybody pulls together to get the job done.”

“Dick is being recognized as the chef at The Thistle, but in reality we don’t really have a chef. Everybody works together as a team. Everybody is contributing creatively,” Heyl said.

Reid and Heyl are getting married a week before the Lobster Chef of the Year competition. “We may have a honeymoon in January,” Heyl said. “We’re going to need one. It’s been a long summer, but it’s been great.”

“We really enjoy being a part of this, and I think that’s reflected in our customers and the amount of local support we’ve had since we started,” Reid said. “It’s a place where everybody can feel comfortable.

“Anya and I love walking through the door each day. We’ve been putting up with each other 24/7 and we still love each other dearly. I guess that would be what you call true love.”