2013-10-04 / People

After slight delay, Wayfarer has its chef

Cape Porpoise restaurant lures chef from South Carolina’s award-winning Oak Steakhouse
By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer


The Wayfarer reopened its doors in mid-September after new owners Deirdre and Scott Lewis gutted the interior and hired a new chef, Brendan Levin, who recently moved to Kennebunkport from South Carolina. Levin crafted a menu that combines traditional dishes with southern influence. 
(Alex Acquisto photo) The Wayfarer reopened its doors in mid-September after new owners Deirdre and Scott Lewis gutted the interior and hired a new chef, Brendan Levin, who recently moved to Kennebunkport from South Carolina. Levin crafted a menu that combines traditional dishes with southern influence. (Alex Acquisto photo) CAPE PORPOISE – Judging by his baseball cap and shy demeanor, one could easily mistake Brendan Levin, the new head chef at The Wayfarer, for a 20-something culinary school student.

“Doesn’t he look like he’s about 25?” joked co-owner Deirdre Lewis who, along with her husband, Scott Lewis, re-opened the iconic Maine restaurant in early September.

Levin, 35, was hired after the initial choice for head chef fell through, pushing the restaurant’s July opening date back even further. Yet, despite the delay, it seems The Wayfarer got the better end of the deal with Levin.

Levin left his position as chef de cuisine at the nationally known Oak Steakhouse in Charleston, S.C. – nominated for two James Beard awards and voted Best Steakhouse in America by Travel + Leisure in 2013 – just before transplanting to Kennebunkport with his wife, Taya, and their 1-year-old son.


Brendan Levin Brendan Levin “We had been looking to move back up here for awhile,” said Levin, who has also lived in New Hampshire and Vermont.

Before Oak Steakhouse, Levin was the sous chef for five years at High Cotton, another highly praised restaurant among Charleston’s swath of fine dining establishments. But the life of a chef has not always been Levin’s career pursuit.

He earned his undergraduate degree in economics and Spanish from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

It wasn’t until later that he decided to enroll in the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vt.

“Food had always been central to my family’s social life,” Levin said of his realization that his passion lay in preparing food. “And I had worked in a lot of restaurants growing up so I was pretty familiar with commercial kitchens.”

At both Oak Steakhouse and High Cotton, he was given a lot of leeway in helping create the respective menus, which paved the way for his effort to write The Wayfarer’s new menu.

By Levin’s second draft, his menu was pretty much established.

“I think we all shared the same vision from the beginning about the food we wanted to serve,” said Deirdre Lewis before turning to Levin, who was seated beside her at a table in the restaurant. Levin nodded in assent.

Weaving in classically southern dishes with traditional Maine ingredients, Levin has created an inventive and accessible menu for the foodie and non-foodie alike, with dishes such as the bourbon-glazed pork chop or the castiron skillet-prepared 16-ounce ribeye steak with sweet corn, served alongside more traditional New England dishes such as the blackened haddock sandwich and the pan-seared lobster cake.

“We already have repeat customers who have started to dine with us two to three times a week,” Lewis said. “The BYOB aspect is really a hit,” she said in reference to the restaurant’s new bringyour own-beverage policy for dinner.

Another major draw for all patrons, said Lewis, is the familiarity of the interior.

When designing the interior, Lewis wanted The Wayfarer to evoke nostalgia, to wear its history on its sleeve. To do this, Lewis conferred with Tom Bradbury, executive director of the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust and, together, the two uncovered old pictures of the restaurant’s facade over the years.

“We want to have old pictures on the walls so people can see how the restaurant used to be,” Lewis said in July, before The Wayfarer opened. “We need to stick with its history because it’s such a historical landmark,” Lewis said.

Today, these pictures dot the walls above the pickled pine-topped tables and booths alongside other traditional fishing-village paraphernalia such as a bust painting of someone who looks similar to Captain Ahab, a wooden sperm whale and sailboats.

The renovated interior seats approximately 60 people. And, even in its third week of operation, people are already busting down the doors, said Lewis.

“At breakfast, people are willing to sit on each other’s laps,” said Levin.

Levin insists on maintaining a relaxed kitchen and kitchen staff.

“We’re all very respectful and comfortable with one another. I want the staff to have input on what we serve,” Levin said.

For example, with dessert, Levin said that instead of operating with a static menu, Levin prefers his staff to cook on a whim because it allows for more passion and creativity.

“We have some budding pastry chefs back there,” Levin said with a smile.

In addition to the new menu, Levin is trying out something called the loyalty program.

“People who dine with us regularly will earn points they can keep track of on a loyalty card that we provide them with,” said Levin.

Once the customer accrues so many points, they are eligible for rewards, such as a free lobster dinner.

The Wayfarer will also begin a roast every Monday evening, when Levin will showcase revolving roasted dishes,.

Now that the opening jitters have calmed, Lewis said their next concern is re-establishing their strong, seven-daya week presence in the community.

That means, said Levin, “making sure people are aware that they can always come in and eat here.”

The Wayfarer is open all week from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m. for breakfast and lunch, and from 5 to 9 p.m. for supper.

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