Spice of Life
Mumbai native Cherie Scott brings the flavors and energy of her homeland to Maine’s food scene
On a snowy winter’s evening in 2015, Cherie Scott’s kitchen shimmered with the scent of coriander and cardamom as she topped a platter of Indian street snacks, sev puri chaat, with spicy cilantro-mint chutney and yogurt. The chaat—chickpea crackers with tumeric-cumin mashed potatoes and whole chickpeas, were one of several starters for an Indian feast that continued with Scott’s mother’s traditional lamb biryani and finished with kulfi, a luscious ice cream flavored with saffron and cardamom and studded with almonds and salted pistachios. “It was the first truly authentic Indian dinner made from start to finish in my kitchen in Maine,” says Scott. The evening also launched a blog, Mumbai to Maine, a brand that now includes a local TV series, a podcast, and a line of sauces that she plans to roll out in 2021—all while working in hospitality marketing and raising two young children in Boothbay.
Scott was born in Mumbai, India, where she lived until her family moved to Canada when she was 16. Her evocative, often humorous blog posts are peppered with culinary recollections from her homeland: brewing chai with whole spices for her father when he came home from work, learning to make the vinegary, Goan-style pork vindaloo from her mother’s home state. “In true Rachael Ray fashion, I grabbed every ingredient in both hands and kicked the fridge door shut with my left stiletto, my pearls dangling in between the yogurt and the cilantro,” she writes in a blog post about racing home on her lunch break to prepare butter chicken, which her daughter, Sophia, had requested for dinner. Many Indian recipes are complex and cannot be done on the fly (the butter chicken usually marinates overnight, for example), but Scott aims to make them more accessible. With the blog, she found her voice. “I felt like it had opened a faucet that became a firehose,” she says.
As impassioned as she is about her Indian roots, Scott is equally devoted to Maine and its food culture. On another snowy night, in December 2018, a sold-out crowd packed the Harbor Theater in Boothbay Harbor for the screening of Mumbai to Maine’s pilot episode. Scott had imagined the show late one night while folding laundry when pregnant with her now three-year-old son, Justus. “I had an idea for a TV series that would tell my story and focus on Maine’s tastemakers through my global lens as an immigrant,” Scott says. At the farmhouse table in the center of her kitchen, she drafted six episodes and sent them to director Ryan Leighton and filmmaker Cody Mitchell of Boothbay Region Television, who quickly signed on to work with her. The pilot, with an original score by her husband, Guy Scott (the couple met while working in New York City), is a love note to the Boothbay region. It features Kim Martin, co-owner of Eventide Specialties in Boothbay Harbor, at her shop and cooking in Scott’s kitchen, and the episode concludes with a feast around the farmhouse table. In the audience that night was Melissa Kelly, the two-time James Beard Award–winning chef of Primo in Rockland, who showed up because she wanted to hear Scott’s story. “I had no idea she would recognize me,” Kelly says. “We instantly became friends.”
As serendipity would have it, Crystal Theall of Blue Tin Farm in Edgecomb was also at the screening. Scott had already identified her as one of the female food entrepreneurs she wanted to feature in a future episode of the series, but she didn’t yet know about Theall’s admiration for Kelly. Theall goes to dinner at Primo every year on her birthday, but she had never met the chef. After the screening, Scott approached Theall about filming at the farm, and Theall offered to gift one of her Gloucestershire Old Spot heritage pigs for a pig roast in the episode. “We wanted to honor the life of this pig, and I asked Crystal who she wanted to do it,” says Scott. “We both said the name at the same time: Melissa Kelly.” A phone call to Kelly sealed the deal. “I told her, ‘I didn’t start Mumbai to Maine to spotlight the stars, but as fate would have it, you have been brought into this triangle; would you be willing to harvest this pig and cook it at Primo?’” Not only was Kelly enthused about the plan, the filming would take place in 2019, the twentieth anniversary of Primo, which also happened to be the Chinese Year of the Pig.
On June 18, Scott’s 40th birthday, the chef, the farmer, and the woman who brought them all together gathered in the barn at Primo for an epic feast. Kelly’s staff came to work on their usual day off, so although Kelly raises pigs herself, she purchased half of Theall’s pig for her staff and their families to enjoy. “The love that Crystal poured into raising that animal—she was so excited about the celebration,” says Kelly. Scott decorated the barn with Indian fabrics, and she and Kelly cooked together, Scott showing the chef how to make lentil dal, a staple of Indian cuisine. “We connected on the level of peasant food, talking about lentils, her grandfather Primo Magnani, and how her family cooked with beans and low-cost cuts of pork,” Scott says.
Recalling the evening, all three women note the organic way everything seemed to come together. “It was really sort of surreal. I was there and I took it all in, but it was like a dream,” says Theall. There was a definite first mover, however. “Cherie is relentless, which I appreciate,” says Kelly. “You never stop learning in the kitchen, especially when you work with someone new. Setting the table and how we presented everything and sharing that with my team and these two spectacular women—I was very proud and honored that they wanted to do it at Primo.”
While the episode with the dinner is still being edited and as the producers look for sponsors to help with costs, Scott has since launched a podcast, created in a state-of-the-art recording studio her husband built above the garage and featuring a wide range of guests, including Kelly, Kate McAleer from Bixby and Company, and Bryce and Sarah Hach from Maine Food for Thought Tours. Last fall she hosted a series, Talking Food in Maine, with a star lineup of Maine food personalities, at the Lincoln Theater in Damariscotta, and was also accepted into the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs’ 2020 Top Gun class, hoping to land the $25,000 prize to produce a gourmet line of Indian sauces. She admits she doesn’t get much sleep.
In the pilot episode of Mumbai to Maine, Scott narrates a montage of life in India’s largest city that shows its famously frenzied pace. She says she’s grateful for the slower rhythms of Maine. But as Scott sips her early-morning chai—a daily ritual—her mind still runs like the rickshaws that zip through Mumbai’s crowded streets, spiced with ideas and sweetened with love for her family and her home in Maine.