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The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person who is doing it ~ Chinese Proverb

Vinand chef and owner David Levi ~ photo by Philip Gurette

Vinand executive chef and owner David Levi ~ Photo by Philip Guerette

So here’s one of my job descriptions: I hunt. Not the traditional hunter-gatherer kind; my kind of “catch” is interesting content about U.S. cranberries, America’s Original Superfruit™. If the content is also a little edgy (as this story certainly turned out to be), even better.

What initially caught my eye about executive chef and restaurant owner David Levi was of course a mention about his raw beef appetizer (drum roll…) with cranberries featured in a Portland Press Herald article I happened to be reading online.

Raw Beef Appetizer with Cranberries ~ Photo by Philip Gurette

Raw Beef Appetizer with Cranberries ~ Photo by Philip Guerette

Cran-star alignment: I emailed Mary Pols, the reporter who’d written the story, Philip Guerette, the photographer, and David Levi himself to see if any of the three would be interested in sharing more about the cranberry raw beef appetizer recipe. They obliged. With “content” now in hand, I was also starting to realize what a remarkable story was behind David Levi and his Vinland restaurant aspirations.

Enter David Levi — a former high school teacher before deciding that what he really wanted to do was open up an odds-defying restaurant in Portland, Maine. Why odds-defying? To start David had zero prior experience running a restaurant, no initial start-up money, and a pretty bold and edifying food manifesto that in addition to challenging the food production status quo, also promises that everything served in his restaurant will be 100% locally grown and sustainably sourced. This means not only getting through a produce-sparse Maine winter but also doing without what many of us might consider kitchen essentials e.g. olive oil, pepper, lemons, CHOCOLATE…

However none of these hurdles seems to have dissuaded David’s dream in the least: he sharpened his culinary training knives in places like Tuscany, Copenhagen, and Sweden, then crowd funded his restaurant through Kickstarter, the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects. And so far he is silencing the naysayers who said a 100% all-local food restaurant couldn’t be done.

But back to America’s Original Superfruit. Thinly sliced fresh cranberries add a naturally tart kick to David’s raw beef appetizer (also with horseradish, shallots and micro cress). What I would have called “Beef Tartare” but which David likes to un-Frenchify and call Raw Beef (“We’re not a French restaurant,” he said in the article I read) was one of the dishes he served per invitation to the distinguished James Beard House in January 2015.

Cranberries are also used in David’s Vinland kitchen as an ingenious alternative to recipes that call for lemons or other acidic ingredients not indigenous to Maine.

Well yep, we certainly roll with that! I’m looking forward to heading up to Portland soon to experience Maine’s best. I’ll let David do the hunting this time… and here’s wishing David Levi all the best in his pioneering culinary endeavors.


Photo by Philip Guerette

Raw Beef with Cranberries Appetizer

  • 2.5 oz. lean, grass-fed beef, free of connective tissue (sirloin tip, eye of round, etc.)
  • One clove of garlic, finely minced
  • One small shallot, finely sliced and pickled in 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar (preferably infused with some hot pepper)
  • Several large cranberries (or frozen)
  • Horseradish root
  • Fresh arugula, or other spicy greens
  • Sea salt (or, better still, herb salt)
Add vinegar to sliced shallot at least ten minutes before preparing the beef. Finely shave the beef, so it is all extremely tender. Mix in a small amount of minced garlic, maybe a quarter of a clove, or barely more than sticks to a few fingers. Salt both sides. Thinly slice a few large cranberries. Place cranberry rounds atop the beef. Add a thin, partial layer of the spicy, pickled shallot on top. Shave some fresh, raw horseradish, preferably with a microplane. Top with fresh arugula, cress, or other spicy greens. Serve immediately.
* Adults that we are, we must remember that consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish, or eggs may increase risk of food borne illness.

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