Catch of the Day: The Kennebunk Inn and Shanna O’Hea
It is the sweet and tangy smell of the fresh catch of the day. It is the open air, and the chance for a little adventure. It is warm and inviting, with the feeling of a rich history unfolding itself before you.
Welcome to the Kennebunk Inn.
Located in the heart of Kennebunk village in the state of Maine, the Kennebunk Inn was built in 1799 and has since served for both personal and private purposes. Now a full service lodge and restaurant, Kennebunk Inn is run by Shanna and Brian O’Hea, a food-loving couple who serve as both the innkeepers as well as head chefs to the inn’s remarkable restaurant, Academe.
Serving a wide variety of mouthwatering masterpieces and crustacean cuisine, Shanna and Brian’s feel for food has brought them celebrity status outside of Maine’s borders. Academe’s signature dish, ‘Lobster Pot Pie’ has been featured on The Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate”, and the Travel Channel’s “Food Paradise”, while their ‘Lobster White Pizza with Truffle Oil Drizzle’, is a colorful menu item which was featured in the “O” List in Oprah Winfrey’s “O” Magazine.
Tech and Burgers is thrilled to have the opportunity to learn more about Shanna’s culinary journey and what the future holds for the Kennebunk Inn.
You studied art and marketing in school, but did you always know that food was your true passion?
No; I always loved to eat and go out to restaurants, but it was not until I graduated from college that I realized I could make culinary my career path. What I loved about my art major was the creating and working with my hands part. When I started cooking, I realized it was very artistic- but using food as your medium.
You recently competed on the show ‘Beat Bobby Flay’. I really thought you had him with the croquet-monsieur! Do you think that it is better to stick with tradition when dealing with classic meals? Or do you find that changing up the recipe is an important part of culinary growth?
Thank you – I was very proud of what I put on the plate, and I cooked the dish very well that day so I have no regrets. I totally believe in respecting the classics and absolutely they should be the standard of learning when becoming a chef. It is so important to start with a strong base, especially French because the technique can take you into so many other cuisines. But for me, it would have been more heartbreaking to hear “You did not make it your own,” or “This is boring.” In the end I may have taken it too far, but the inspiration was very much about the Croquet Monsieur and my early French training.
Do you ever think about what dish you would try to beat Bobby Flay with, had you another chance to go up against him?
I still believe my dish was a winner, but the judges were very classical so in the end my dish did not have a chance in their minds. Although I am a chef, I have a huge passion for desserts and some very strong pastry skills. Bobby does not do dessert – I think I could totally beat him with my Soufflé.
You’ve also competed in ‘Chopped’, and ‘Rewrapped’. It’s not every day you have a full audience and cameras following you around in the kitchen! What was it like trying to focus on your dishes with everything going on around you?
The scariest part on both shows is your “entrance.” It’s the first thing you tape, and your nerves are already running high; they want you to have all this energy and confidence. You totally feel awkward and have no idea how it is going to come across until you’re sitting watching the show with everyone else. In ‘Rewrapped’ I threw a punch, which my niece and nephews totally make me fun of me for, its become my signature move! Once you start cooking and the camera rolls that’s when you get into your comfort zone – but the clock is fast, it is crazy how quickly 20 minutes goes! And then when you’re done, you of course replay everything in your head of the should-haves and could-haves.
Congratulations on the big win on your episode of ‘Rewrapped!’ You wowed with a delicious spice cake that had to incorporate Chef Boyardee’s Beef Ravioli; it is so impressive how you were able to make a dinner staple into a dessert! Do you think it is possible to marry any two ingredients with a successful result?
Thank you so much – I felt very confident with my spice cake. I know it sounds awful on paper, but it really is delicious. Why it worked was because the raviolis actually very much mimicked the applesauce I traditionally put in this cake. If I did not have my culinary base of knowledge, I would not understand the science behind the baking; I also thought the molasses would be a great camouflage for the beef taste. But no I do not think you can marry any two ingredients together – trust me, I have had plenty of failures but that is how you learn.
Academe has an impressive list of seafood delicacies; Lobster Lo’ Maine, Citrus Crab Ravioli and Lobster White Pizza with Truffle Oil Drizzle (Yum!) to name a few. Do you have any quick tips for home cooks who want to become more comfortable with combining their everyday meals with seafood?
I think the use of citrus and zest in particular really make seafood shine. Whenever you are juicing citrus, always take the zest off with a microplane – just the rind, not the white. You can use it fresh or put it on a sheet pan, dry it out and store it in an air-tight container for weeks. The zest is great to add to chowders to bring out the seasoning, incorporate in pasta doughs for different flavors or infuse in oil for the perfect drizzle on salads or pizza.
You have been taught by some very prestigious chefs, including Madeleine Kamman and Michael Boulard. As you have learned from other culinary greats, has there been any piece of advice about being a chef that you have kept with you on your journey?
I was working as a private chef when I met Madeleine and she really encouraged me to get out of the “home” and work in a restaurant. Although I really enjoyed my time as a private chef, it was good advice because it really challenged me; I have grown so much feeding the public versus just a single family. Michael taught me such a high level of quality that I will forever hold with me, and that some things are just worth the time and effort. This is why I continue to make the very time-consuming, seven hour long Puff Pastry from scratch. It is hand rolled for our Lobster Pot Pie, and I have trained many international interns through our restaurant the same skills. I feel very proud thinking this old-school tradition is being passed on in Spain, India, the Philippines and here in the United States.
What does the future hold for Academe and The Kennebunk Inn?
We will continue to learn and grow which is what Academe means, and are always adding another Lobster dish to our menu, because it is Maine’s star ingredient and such a versatile & delicious protein to work with.
You’re going out for a well-deserved meal, and it’s your turn to choose the cuisine. What is the dish of choice, and who is preparing it?
This is the hardest question because I LOVE food and all cuisines – it’s kind of like fashion. Things go in and go out, and you go through stages as we mature. But if I am thinking of a meal recently it would have to be the Roast Chicken for two at NoMad in NYC – it’s like Thanksgiving on steroids, which happens to be my favorite holiday. All the chefs that I know love a good roast chicken – so if I can’t get to NYC, I am very lucky to have my husband, Brian, my co-Chef prepare it for us.