Back to Basics in Uncharted Waters
Maine seafood recipes and reflections from Luke Holden
Navigating the uncharted COVID-19 narrows is reminiscent of Maine’s summer fog rolling in and out—one moment lands perfectly clear and the next is completely shrouded. I have been leaning into the true norths of my life: family and simplicity. Luke’s brand was built around those tenets, the simplicity of a good lobster roll that allows the sweet flavor of Maine lobster to shine, served with the Maine values I learned through my father and working among fishermen: integrity, perseverance, and resilience. Since early March, everything at Luke’s has been drastically simplified even as we solve complex problems. All our 26 shacks, with the exception of Portland Pier, are temporarily closed, and our team is a fraction of what it was when we entered 2020. The purpose of our brand—to be the world’s most respected seafood brand—and how to do this now, has dominated my thoughts these past few weeks.
On a personal level, I’ve had more time at home with my wife Laisee and my two daughters, Poppy and Banks. Poppy, newly turned two, makes cameo appearances on our bi-weekly employee Zoom calls—often sporting her brand-new bright-yellow bike helmet—and always brings a smile to the team. This rich time at home, despite the challenges it brings to my work schedule, has meant more meals and time together in the kitchen. All of this against a backdrop of building Luke’s for the new world we’ve had to embark upon. The launch of our e-commerce site, expansion into new products, including day boat scallops, halibut when the season comes, and oysters, are all considerations as we redefine our business.
Luke’s employees have turned their home kitchens into test kitchens. We’ve all become home chefs, making videos and sharing, virtually, with our guests how to enjoy these new-to-Luke’s seafood offerings. There’s my brother Bryan and his girlfriend, Nina, making salsa verde scallops (cooked on a wood stove in their seventeenth-century Biddeford farmhouse); Poppy and me making pan seared scallops with butter and Ritz crackers (my favorite); and our culinary director Lauren Gibson cooking up lobster cauliflower pasta. I am not a culinary expert, but I know good seafood, and my primary job when preparing good seafood is not to ruin it. I leave it to the world’s kitchen Picassos to aim higher. Like our simply prepared lobster roll, as we explore other seafood offerings the key will always be to let the flavor of fresh, caught-by-a-fisherman-I-know seafood be the star.
May will bring us warmer days (hopefully), no snow (also hopefully), and halibut season. Along with scallops, halibut is one of my favorite seafoods, and not just because I’ve had the good fortune of landing several of these large, flat fish myself with Port Clyde-fisherman Gerry Cushman. Grilled with butter and just a little salt and pepper, it is one of the easiest-to-prepare and tastiest fish we land here in Maine. And because the season is short (May 18 to June 13 this year), getting fresh-from-the-boat halibut is always a thrill.
Maine turned 200 in March, and there’s little doubt that this is one of the most uncertain times in our state’s history. But we have 200 years of catching and landing some of the world’s best seafood, and that will never change. Even in this challenging era, fresh seafood prepared simply is an enduring joy.
Luke Holden is the founder and CEO of Luke’s Lobster.