Joe Ricchio introduces us to Red Rice Beer. Photos by Jessica Elsemore

SEACOAST MEDIA GROUP ARTICLE:

There are moments in life when trust is earned: following through on a promise, going above and beyond in service, remaining committed through obstacles, and ordering the right food from a menu.

Wait, what?  Food from a menu?

Yes, when the person ordering is Joe Ricchio.

I had read about Ricchio, followed his monthly food column and blog, watched episodes of his growingly popular show, Food Coma TV, and laughed along, as he slung drinks at the Taste of the Nation in Portland. A food personality in his own right, I had a good notion of his larger-than-life persona, but not his true self.  Ricchio is headlining at this year’s Kennebunkport Festival, an event that has become the pinnacle of food-lover showcases in Maine.  I wanted to know more.

I met him for lunch at a sushi and noodle bar, Pai Men Miyake (a restaurant to which, he is the most influential ambassador).  We shook hands upon greeting, smiled congenially, and rolled immediately into the kind of banter reserved for friends.

I asked him for menu suggestions, and followed his lead. He said, “I won’t steer you wrong.” Ricchio ordered the house ceviche roll. It arrived, plated like small works of art. I took a bite and  looked up at him with the taste of truffled rice, and the texture of meltingly fresh fish and crunchy sprouts in my mouth;  the dish was perfection and my trust of him- complete.

Ricchio is the quintessential gourmet: he is warm, bright, funny, and loves to talk about everything. With Joe, you are instantly alive and at ease.

A Yarmouth native, Ricchio has worked in the front and back of the culinary house, peppered with stints in upscale clothing sales and stand-up comedy.  His skill and ebullience led him to start a blog four years ago, chronicling the food scene of Maine.  The work channeled him into a post as the Food editor at Maine Magazine. “They liked what I did and have let me be creative. They are incredibly supportive.”  he stated. Ricchio travels around the state, eating at the well-lauded and hidden spots that make up the food landscape.  “Maine has a lot to offer and I get a lot of great base ingredient ideas that can be mixed with other flavors.”

Lately, its Chinese and Japanese techniques that inform his cooking. Ricchio will host twenty guests as part of the Maine Magazine dinner at the Food Festival on June eighth.  “I will be making crabcakes with lemongrass, prawns and a mango lassi for sure.  I will use as much food from Maine as possible, adding in all the Asian flavors that I like.  I want people to try it and of course, really enjoy the flavors.” He said.

Wearing his hat in wine sales, Ricchio will pair with Chef Desjarlais of Bresca for one of the event’s intimate dinners.  Ricchio will also be the blogger-in-residence during the Kennebunkport Festival, attending  each event, providing daily, behind-the-scenes coverage to the dinners, tastings, and music events. The Festival starts June 5 and runs with daily through June 9th, 2012.

Kristin Fuhrmann Simmons.

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Some back story and links:

Joe Ricchio hosts a wealth of information online at his blog, http://www.themainemag.com/blog/ on Maine, all things food.

He and partners have formed , FOOD COMA TV, a passionate and snarky look into what they dub, “the rest of Maine.”  The series capitalizes on the “food-as-vehicle-for-exploration” medium and travels around the Maine to showcase the hidden gems of life in the Pine Tree State.

Suprise!  Well, not so much, just some juicy tidbits

  • Joe laughed during 50% of the interview. In fact, it was the most “non-interview” interview I had experienced. When I wrote, that I “immediately felt at ease”- it was the truth. Both the photographer, Jessica Elsemore and I got back in the car after we finished lunch, and could not stop smiling. Giddy? Not quite that girly-squealy, Excited? – yes.  We were happy to have met a person who has an intelligently irreverent take on the food world.  We joked that we “felt like young comic-book-enthusiasts, attending their first COMICON convention, realizing that they will never feel like outsiders again.”
  • Ricchio has a circuitous path to food and food writing.  With stints in restaurants, starting with the “RL” Bistro in Chicago- Ralph Lauren’s foray in the world of upscale cuisine, Ricchio moved from Chicago back to his home state of Maine.
  • Ricchio told us he worked in the Ralph Lauren Boutique and has a “penchant for great shoes.” He has also worked at Cole Haan and completed a stint as a stand-up comedian, with gigs at the likes of Kowloon, the glowering tiki-hut megalith that stands outside of Boston.  When he explained this, it all seemed to fit perfectly.
  • Ricchio was adamant about saying, “I am not a chef.”  While he has had no formal training in culinary arts, he has worked heavily in all kinds of kitchens. He has developed an enviable food vocabulary that lend their effect to his cooking and journalistic style. I am sure, when on the other side of being interviewed by Ricchio, he asks the good questions.

KFS- Updated 6/1/2012  All photos by Jessica Elsemore Photography