Hanging on with both hands while trying to stay upright on a speeding fishing boat off the coast of Maine, Gordon Ramsay laughs in between splashes of saltwater. But his humor stops when he’s put to work as a lobsterman—pulling up lobster pots, replacing the bait, and measuring lobsters—all with lightning speed to get as much of the beloved Maine ingredient as possible. “All this cursing and yelling from the boss makes me miss my own kitchen,” he says. “This is an insane business and very protective. I’ve always said that when you go to the extreme to get something, it’s very rare that it doesn’t live up to your expectations.”
Known worldwide for its rocky coastline and inland waterways, Maine is home to some of the most famed seafood in the world. The state’s identity is not only tied to the abundance of the ocean, but also to a wealth of land-based fresh ingredients, no matter the season. “Mainers are hardcore, salt of the earth,” says two-time James Beard award-winning Chef Melissa Kelly, proprietor and executive chef of Primo, in Rockland, Maine. She tells Ramsay that if he wants to be considered a Mainer, he’s got work to do. “There’s 3,500 miles of coastline here,” she says. “This week, I’m going to make it your job to find out what we have on this beautiful coast, and what we can do with it.”
The ocean-to-table movement is the foundation of coastal communities everywhere, especially in Maine, where lobster is a way of life. Maine holds the title of Lobster Capital of the World because the crustaceans love the cold, clean waters off the coastline, and gather in numbers so plentiful that the state’s waters account for 80 percent of United States lobster. Residents have had many years of practice incorporating lobster into all manner of dishes, from bisque to roll to thermidor.
Long fingers of land on the state’s coast form tidal coves that are ideal for oysters and clams. These shellfish are longtime Mainers, as evidenced by their presence in prehistoric middens dotting some of the region’s riverbanks. Even filmy, glistening kelp is part of the marine harvest. Mineral-rich seaweed like dulse, bladderwrack, and Irish moss produce a briny umami flavor optimal for fish and shellfish dishes. On land, hundreds of thousands of acres of open farmland and small woodlands in the fresh air are prime grazing areas for dairy cows, producing milk for delicious butter, cream, yogurt, and cheese. It’s helpful to have a lot of butter on hand for all the delicious lobster.
Whether or not he’s considered an honorary Mainer, Ramsay revels in the rich choices for the final cook at the end of the week. “Maine has been incredible,” he says. “Scouring these amazing waters, catching some of the best seafood anywhere in the world, and learning some new skills along the way. I’ve been truly blessed to understand why Maine is one of the best seafood destinations anywhere on the planet.”
This article was produced by National Geographic Channel in promotion of the series Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted.