2014 Coastal New England Rising Star Chefs Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley of Eventide Oyster Co.

2014 Coastal New England Rising Star Chefs Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley of Eventide Oyster Co.
April 2014

Mike Wiley cooked his way across the country in kitchens like Black Cat in Colorado before landing in Maine. Andrew Taylor made his way from, Daniel’s Broiler in Seattle to Ken Oringer’s Clio in Boston. In March 2012 the duo joined forces and bought landmark restaurant Hugo’s from legendary Portland Chef Rob Evans (also their mentor and previous boss). And by that summer, they went from one restaurant to two with the opening of Eventide Oyster Co. next door.

Wiley and Taylor are united by their respect for the classic oyster bar, business savvy, and ambition, all tempered by friendship and a sense of humor. Their restaurants are united by a single kitchen, showcasing the best of the Gulf of Maine. Both Imbibe and Food & Wine named Eventide “Best Restaurant” in 2013, in part due to their philosophy that fully embraces New England foodstuffs, manipulated by a delicate but precise hand, or four.

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Interview with Coastal New England Rising Star Chefs Andrew Taylor and Michael Wiley of Eventide Oyster Co. and Hugo’s – Portland, ME

Sean Kenniff: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
Andrew Taylor: I was born in Boston, Massachusetts and grew up in Newton, a suburb just west of Boston.

Michael Wiley: I was born in Portland, Maine. My family lived in Williamstown, Massachusetts until I was in fifth grade. We moved to Hanover, New Hampshire where I did most of my growing up.

SK: Do you come from a family that had a particularly strong food culture?
AT: Not particularly. My mother is a good cook and taught me some of the basics, but my dad—and I say this affectionately—needs instructions on how to boil water. I did spend a bunch of time in the summers on Cape Cod and the Maine coast where my boredom with the family’s days going to the beach, turned into full-blown expeditions to pick wild mussels and oysters, dig for clams, fish for scup, and catch crabs. This, in turn, led to evenings trying to make crab cakes, fried fish, chowder, steamers with drawn butter, and steamed mussels.   

MW: Cooking and eating together were always important in the Wiley household. My mother is a great cook and she deserves credit for getting me in the kitchen. We would cook together, never anything too ambitious—the most soigné preparations were wontons and handmade pasta. But eating out was always a big deal for us. My brother and I were rewarded for good report cards with a meal at a restaurant of our choosing; normally Ben and I chose Jesse's Steakhouse or Shorty's Mexican Roadhouse—again, nothing too soigné. 

SK: When did you first get into cooking and what was your first industry job?
AT: My first food service job was scooping ice cream at The Ice Cream Works at age 15. The motto was: candy is dandy, liquor is quicker, but Ice Cream Works. A play on the Ogden Nash quote that I still think is amusing. I worked a number of casual front-of-the- house jobs during summer months, until I moved out to Seattle at 22 and jumped into the kitchen. I had wanted to get into kitchens for a long time, but it took me moving to a new city where I had nothing else to turn to, for me to dive in and focus completely on cooking.

MW: Mom deserves credit for getting me excited about food. The first job I held in the industry was as a busboy at The Hanover Inn's Daniel Webster Room. I was skinny and the plates were gold lined, I went home everyday with an incredible backache. Needless to say, I wasn't completely enamored with the industry. I did however get a chance to see what one species of fine dining looked like: crumbers, charger plates, and ornately folded napkins. Looking back, the napkin folding was my favorite part of the job—I enjoyed Zen-ing out on one repetitive task for a couple of hours.

SK: What were your formative work experiences? Biggest challenges?
AT: Almost all of my work experiences have been formative, but three stand out. My first really good job was at Thierry Rautureau's Rover's. It just closed last year, but I learned seemingly everything about good, sound, classical technique under Thierry. And so much more, like how important it is to have a wonderful working environment. At Clio, I was thrust into doing a lot of things that didn't make a whole lot of sense to me at the time. Of course, looking back, they do, but I was really pushed to the edge of my comfort zone and introduced to a lot of new products and techniques. And at Hugo's, Rob Evans always seemed to have a better, more efficient, more elegant way of doing everything. In addition, I was so impressed with the sense of community he created within the restaurant.

MW: Working under Eric Skokan at the Black Cat in Boulder, Colorado was incredibly instructive. While I wrote my Master's thesis I worked as a stagièr. I did menial jobs and cleaned lots of vegetables, but he and I talked a lot about food, philosophy, and wine. After I finished my thesis, I asked him if he could put me on the payroll and he made me the sous. With a Jeffersonian approach to management and menu design, Eric threw me into a pretty serious position—sink or swim. After a bit of doggy-paddling, I became confident writing menus, ordering, and managing the kitchen staff. I owe him immensely for the opportunity.

SK: What has the experience of taking over an institution like Hugo's been like? And following it up so quickly with Eventide Oyster Co.?   
AT: Taking over Hugo's was the easy part. Mike, myself, and Arlin Smith, our general manager and business partner had been effectively in control of the menu and front of the house for some time and we had the full blessing and support from Rob Evans and Nancy Pugh. It was turn-key. Eventide presented a far greater problem—particularly since people seemed to like it. Running two busy restaurants out of one kitchen is not something I'd recommend unless you're a masochist.  

MW: I would not recommend taking over a well-regarded restaurant and opening a new one all in the same year, unless, as Andrew says, you are a masochist. Looking back on it, I struggle to name any challenges in particular, that summer was a fugue state. I know we overcame huge obstacles, I know I felt creatively challenged, and I know that my feet hurt. It was amazing and terrible.