Interviewee: Brian Langley

Role:Restaurant Owner

Date of Interview:5/12/04

Collection: Ellsworth High School - Maine

Click on the link below to play the audio clip from the interviewee.

Abstract: Brian Langley is chef-owner of the Union River Lobster Pot, a seasonal seafood restaurant in Ellsworth, Maine. His father was a chef, and he started learning the trade at a young age. Brian tried his hand at construction, but soon realized his true calling was in the kitchen. Brian also teaches culinary arts at the Hancock Regional Technical Center.

Transcript: “Ever since I've been about six I've wanted to be a chef. Born into it, I guess, my dad was a chef and by the time I was eighteen or nineteen I'd already had eight or nine years experience in the kitchen so that's where, really where I've ended up. A long time ago a chef told me a tomato should taste like a tomato, and that's been sort of my motto ever since. Should be able to taste the haddock. If it's nice and fresh it'll stand on its own, and we've made a living with that as our philosophy. What I've realized is not so much is it what you want to sell, but you have to sell what people want to buy. They want lobster, blueberry pie, water view…

Our business is comprised of three groups: the local people, summer people—now summer people are people who have maybe summered in Maine for forty or fifty years, their family has done it for many generations, they have a camp somewhere, a home somewhere—and then there are the traveling tourists that are here for like a week or less. Locals like haddock, locals like fried clams, lobster rolls where we pick the meat out of the meat out of the lobster, toss it with mayonnaise, and crab meat rolls. People from outside of Maine, lobster's the number one thing—fresh out of the ocean, they get it served with butter, steamers, corn. That's what they know is what Maine is so that's what they come here to eat. I'll serve a lot of other fish. I serve salmon, trout, I'll do catfish, swordfish, tuna. I'll buy and try to prepare whatever. The fish people I deal with say they've got something nice and fresh and that's what I look for first is how fresh it is.

I get stuff from almost every possible way to get fish. Mussels, for example, come out of Hancock. Clams, however, I used to buy directly from clam diggers, but because of the liability of somebody going and digging in a polluted area I have to put a layer of protection between myself and any kind of a law suit, so I buy them only from a licensed dealer, which is like Maine Shellfish. Now I pay more money for that, but if something were to happen and those were to come from a polluted flat, they're a little bit more responsible. Fresh crab meat I will try to get locally from someone who picks, fresh fish comes both from Maine Shellfish or there's a couple of local companies that get stuff off the boat. So you really almost have to get some from everywhere.

The fish market is almost a daily market. If you look in the Bangor Daily and you see the fish landings from the Portland Fish Market, you can see what the price went for the day before and that is what the processors would pay for it, then they fillet it, and then they package it up, then they sell it. But on average, last year probably you were looking around $5 a pound wholesale. Swordfish is probably $7.95, tuna can be anywhere $8.95 to $12.95 a pound, crabmeat's $12 a pound, if you were to buy picked lobster meat it would be about $24 a pound. Scallops $6, somewhere, depending on the catch, how it's going, $5 to $7 for scallops, so... There are times when I'd like to find an easier way. What I've done is I've picked a product that is very volatile. And by that I mean supply and pricing. There are days for me when it's a battle to find clams, for example, steamers, in August, when people who dig clams will go off and rake blueberries. A bushel of clams, which is about fifty pounds, goes from $1.25 or $1.30 a pound to $2 to $2.50 a pound, so automatically your product and your price is almost doubled. Same thing happens if it gets fogged in for a while. See I have to watch the weather. If there is more than four inches of rain in a twenty-four hour period, they close all of the clam flats in Maine so the diggers can't go out and dig. So when I see that coming, I'll sock in. I'll call up and I'll order, because I have a thousand-pound lobster tank, I'll order four or five hundred more pounds of lobster, I'll get in a few extra bushels of mussels and clams because I can keep them, and I'll pack those away and I can ride out until the ocean drops back down and the rains have subsided. So that I would probably change if I were going to do it again.”

Photograph by fortes

To read Brian's full transcript, click here.