Maine’s biggest salt marsh provides the scenic backdrop for Steve and Michelle Corry’s wide-open kitchen at their Scarborough home.Photo Credit : Mark Fleming | Styling by Janice Dunwoody
When Steve and Michelle Corry opened the restaurant Five Fifty-Five in downtown Portland, Maine, 14 years ago, they spent a year and a half living in an apartment above it. They were working so many long hours and seven-day weeks, they barely registered that their “kitchen” had just a single appliance. There was no stove, no refrigerator, no oven—only a coffee maker.
Their next home was a tiny bungalow in Cape Elizabeth that they still speak of fondly. They had a real kitchen (and real appliances), but, like the house itself, it was diminutive. While they could comfortably turn out meals for themselves, once they started a family, space was tight. And forget about entertaining.
Today, the couple have two boys, Seamus, 10, and Finnigan, 8; two restaurants, the elegant Five Fifty-Five and the French bistro and pâtisserie Petite Jacqueline, also in Portland; serious culinary cred, including a 2007 Best New Chef nod from Food & Wine for Steve; and a big, beautiful, sunny open kitchen with an even bigger view.
That open kitchen and, more broadly, the easy flow throughout the first floor weren’t mere selling points when the Corrys began searching for a new home eight years ago; they were prerequisites. And the full-on, sensational view of Scarborough Marsh through a bank of windows and the dining room glass doors—the kind of fish-jumping, bird-swooping, coyote-howling view that gives Maine its “Vacationland” tag—certainly didn’t hurt, either.
“I don’t take that for granted at all,” Steve says. “Occasionally, it will catch you off guard, when the light is just right, usually at dusk or dawn. ‘Wow! Would you look at this!’ For the most part, it’s why we bought the house. The kitchen is situated, indoors and out, on that.” He pauses from searing a peppercorn-and-fennel-seed-crusted pork loin to gesture toward Maine’s largest salt marsh.
“I love cooking here,” he continues. “I really do. It’s a hobby again, and not a profession. Cooking at home is where it all started.”
The Corrys’ kitchen has the usual accoutrements of a showstopper: Viking appliances, ample granite countertops, rustic farmhouse sink, walk-in pantry, generously sized workhorse island, outsize refrigerator and wine refrigerators, and dish-drawer dishwashers. (About those last appliances—Michelle loves them. Steve, accustomed to restaurant dishwashers, finds them agonizingly slow.)
But, like the rest of the house, the big, luxe kitchen also manages to be warm. It’s filled with personal touches. There’s a cutting board with “Steve Corry’s Kitchen” etched into its well-worn surface. Two refurbished red tractor seats sit under the counter. Framed antique corkscrews hang below wood cabinets and trace the history of the tool (Michelle oversees the wine programs at the restaurants, along with handling reservations, management, payroll, and marketing). More practically, an elaborate, grape-bedecked counter-mounted corkscrew stands at the ready, while a poster in the dining room suggests: “Save water, drink champagne.” The refrigerator is papered in family photos and children’s artwork, and a National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds is tucked in among the cookbooks.
Although the Corrys have done work in other parts of the house— remodeling a bedroom here, a bathroom there—they have no plans to change the kitchen, which came pretty much as is. But three years ago, they did build a deck—a splendid deck that runs the length of the house, complete with a firepit where they hold the occasional lobster bake, plus an outdoor dining table and comfy wicker chairs.
Steve’s pride and joy stands in the corner of the deck nearest to the kitchen: an imposing masonry oven. Stoneworkers meticulously cut and placed the stones by hand; one afternoon during construction, 17 stoneworkers toiled on it, Steve recalled. The oven walls are 10 inches thick, and the temperature inside can reach a scorching 800 degrees. A turn of an exterior wheel cranks the oven shelves up and down. Altogether, it’s a thing of beauty.
“Half the battle—in the restaurant, too—is the atmosphere and the presentation,” Steve says. “You just look at the fire, and you start to salivate.”
The oven allows the Corrys to extend Maine’s all-too-fleeting season for outdoor cooking; in fact, they use it year-round. On this pleasant October evening, Steve has a good fire going. He places the pork loin and potatoes in the oven to roast, along with a gratin of cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. The couple have used it to grill fish and roast oysters, bake wood-fired pizza, cold-smoke salmon, and roast goat and pork for a staff taco party. Christmas dinner at the Corry household has come to mean a jumbo wood-fired roast: a whole suckling pig, a leg of lamb, maybe a turkey.
It might seem obvious why the Corrys are their family’s designated Christmas dinner hosts: If you were related to award-winning restaurateurs, wouldn’t they get your vote? They’ve got the best food, and even their boys know how to be gracious hosts, greeting a stranger with handshakes, taking an interest in the olives and the cheese, asking if they may be excused from the table.
But that’s not how the Corrys earned their Christmas assignment. The holiday season is frenzied for restaurateurs, and Five Fifty-Five and Petite Jacqueline, though closed on Christmas Day, are packed on Christmas Eve. Since the Corrys can’t get away, their family comes to them: Michelle’s mom and stepfather on Christmas Eve, Steve’s extended family on Christmas Day.
The couple bought their house with exactly this in mind. There’s enough room to seat, and sleep, everybody. Steve does much of the cooking. Michelle usually handles the hors d’oeuvres (some combination of cheese, oysters, and charcuterie), the stylish table setting, and the extensive holiday decorations. But the division of labor isn’t hard and fast. Partners at home and at work, the Corrys make entertaining look serene, seamless, and instinctive. Guests in their home feel well cared for and, it goes without saying, well fed.
“It’s fun for us, to be honest, to entertain at home,” Michelle says. “Entertaining for 20 when you usually entertain for 200 is not difficult. It’s a fun group. There is no stress. If dinner doesn’t come out in time, nobody really cares. And you know, if you have a couple glasses of wine, cleanup is not so bad, either.”
Do you know a house with an irresistible story? Contact Yankee home and garden editor Annie Graves, with photos, at firstname.lastname@example.org.