A chef who got his start at the Bethel Inn washing dishes has had his Portland restaurant nominated for a prestigious James Beard Foundation award.

Chris Gould, a 2002 graduate of Gould Academy, is the co-owner with his wife, Paige, of the Central Provisions restaurant. They opened the business last year, and have been nominated along with six other restaurants for the Best New Restaurant in the country.

The other restaurants are in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and Minneapolis.

Gould said he is thrilled to be nominated, but acknowledges that because of the format of the award his restaurant “is an underdog, to say the least.”

According to the foundation’s website, the James Beard Foundation “celebrates, nurtures, and honors America’s diverse culinary heritage through programs that educate and inspire. A cookbook author and teacher with an encyclopedic knowledge about food, James Beard, who died in 1985, was a champion of American cuisine. He helped educate and mentor generations of professional chefs and food enthusiasts, instilling in them the value of wholesome, healthful, and delicious food.”

Gould said restaurants are nominated and voted upon for the award “by industry professionals, past winners, and the Beard Foundation. Each category has a different panel and no one knows who’s nominated until it is announced. In order for you to vote for a restaurant of a chef, you must have been to the restaurant or have eaten the chef’s food. That’s why the majority of the winners historically have come from New York, Chicago, or San Francisco. Only three times have a restaurant not in those cities won and they were L.A., New Orleans, and D.C.”

But the enthusiasm for Central Provisions in Portland is clear from the many positive magazine and newspaper articles on the restaurant’s website.

The restaurant features small dishes and dining, much of it at stand-up in tapas-bar style.

The Citizen first wrote about Gould as an up-and-coming chef a decade ago, when he won the National Junior Chef of the Year Award.

He got his start at the Bethel Inn.

“I started working in restaurants my sophomore year of high school, ‘99, at the Bethel Inn & Country Club,” he said by e-mail. “I was a dishwasher/prep cook, making salads and dressings, I really enjoyed the cooking part of the job. At the end of the summer Chef Steve Stone asked me if I would be back the following summer, to which I replied ‘only if I was cooking on the line.’

“The next summer I was on the line, working saute and grill crash course in cooking. Man, looking back it was really hard. When it came time for me to go to college I decided I really wanted to cook and go to culinary school, which at the time was not the cool thing to do. Chef Steve suggested the Balsams Culinary Apprenticeship program, which he had graduated from. I tried out and got one of 10 spots in the freshman class.”

After graduation he went to Houston, Texas to work with a chef there for a year, then moved to Boston, where he worked for the next seven years at restaurants Clio, Coppa and Uni. While at Clio he met his wife, an intern at the time from the Culinary Institute of America.

The move to Portland to open their own restaurant was prompted by their love for Maine, as well as the lower costs, Gould said. And, he said, “The food scene in Portland is better I think; people are so creative. Not just chefs and restauranteurs but farmers, fishermen, potters, blacksmiths, brewers, distillers, the list goes on and on.”

The Goulds used some creativity of their own in transforming the old, former provisions warehouse building in the Old Port into a restaurant. They gutted it, and used Maine craftsmen to build the furniture.

Asked what was the hardest part of opening a new restaurant, and how the result compared to his expectations, Gould said, “Restaurants have an extremely high start up cost, high overhead, and a very high rate of failure. So I think the stress of it all is tough. It takes a certain type of person to do it and most people would think we are crazy if they knew the half of it. The restaurant turned out exactly how I envisioned it. So many people told me that the style wouldn’t work in Portland. That people wouldn’t stand and eat in the bar at the drink rails. I thought that people in Portland were looking for something different and I was right, apparently.”

The small plates menu features four basic categories: Raw, Cold, Hot, and Hearty, with examples including yellowfin tuna crudo, crab and waffles, spicy fried Maine potatoes and braised beef shoulder. Other menus include Drinks, Brunch & Lunch and Snacks & More.

Regardless of what happens when the Beard awards are announced on May 4 in Chicago, the Goulds and their new restaurant appear to have a very bright future, especially given the continuing inspiration Chris gets from cooking.

“I love that you can learn something new everyday from anyone,” he said. “There is no limit to the education.”

For more on the restaurant go to http://www.central-provisions.com.

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