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June 8, 2018

Couple launches Portland food tours with an educational twist

Photo / Renee Cordes Husband-and-wife team Bryce and Sarah Hach founded Maine Food for Thought to offer educational tasting tours in Portland's Old Port.

Lunch while you learn? That’s the aim of an educational tasting tour offered by a Portland start-up on a mission to tell — and show — the story of Maine’s food.

Maine Food for Thought, launched by Bryce and Sarah Hach, takes visitors on a three-hour walking tour to six restaurants in the Old Port, each chef serving a locally, responsibly and sustainably sourced dish with an insight into where the ingredients come from.

“Food tourism was not really the end game we had in mind,” but rather a means to tap into broader narratives about how food is sourced, Bryce said in an interview a few days before giving the first tour this week.

“A restaurant menu can’t tell you that story, and the wait staff can’t tell that story,” he adds, “but we can provide that context, the human interest stories and the information about the journey from the ocean or the land to the actual plate, and what it means to the community and its implications.”

Citing one example, he says: “Sure we love Maine lobster, but the lobster tells us these really interesting stories about climate change and its impact on the Gulf of Maine, and about economics in our state.”

An idea takes shape

Both originally from the Midwest, the Hachs met in graduate school in Pittsburgh and spent their first wedding anniversary in Maine in June 2007, falling in love with the natural beauty, the art and the food.

Five years later in winter, they moved here with their daughter.

When they came up with the idea for the business more than a year ago, they familiarized themselves with the industry by consulting with a successful Chicago food-tour operator and attending a global food conference.

“When we went to that there were tours from all over the world,” Sarah says, “but we haven’t really come across one that’s doing something from an educational standpoint.”

They set out to do that with Maine Food for Thought, drawing on Sarah’s background in economic development and Bryce’s in conservation, education and social services. They also share a love of food.

“All of those factors come together in making what the food system really is,” said Bryce. “What’s the vehicle to help explain all that in a really provocative way? A food tour is the best way.”

The next step was doing the research for the educational content, which they did in partnership with over a dozen nonprofit and research organizations, including the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and Maine Farmland Trust, and by visiting farms across the state.

“We wanted to tap into that knowledge pool and create an access point for the general public,” Bryce explains.

A three-hour tour

Bryce leads most of the tours, aided by a part-timer, while Sarah handles the business side of things.

So what can people expect who pay $72 for a tour, which goes from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.Tuesday through Saturday?

It starts at the Press Hotel’s UNION Restaurant with a bowl of chowder — blending vegetables grown on Maine farms and seafood from the Gulf of Maine — and ends with dessert at Piccolo prepared by Ilma Jeil Lopez, a 2018 James Beard Award finalist for outstanding pastry chef.

They also stop at Evo Kitchen + Bar, Solo Italiano, Scales and East Ender.

The couple hopes that tour participants leave thinking about how they put food onto their plates and wanting to learn more about its origins.

While Bryce knows the script by heart that they both worked on and will update with new information, he's ready to answer any questions that arise as well as hear from participants. They’re promoting the tour to tourists as well as locals.

As for their favorite Maine delicacies, Bryce is a fan of the lobster roll while Sarah likes all seafood from the Gulf of Maine.

“I couldn’t narrow it down,” she says.

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