Chef Trades Toque For Amish Beard, Opens Off-The-Grid Deli In Maine
There's a new deli in rural Maine with a hotshot chef behind the counter. Foodies may know Matthew Secich's name from stints and stars earned at Charlie Trotter's, The Oval Room in Washington, D.C., and The Alpenhof Lodge in Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Recently, Secich joined an Amish community and moved his family and his kitchen off the grid.
His new spot, Charcuterie, is a converted cabin tucked away in a pine forest in Unity, Maine, population 2,000. You have to drive down a long, snowy track to get there, and you can smell the smokehouse before you can see it.
If you've followed your nose this far, inside, you'll see ropes of andouille, kielbasa and sweet beef bologna hanging from hooks above the counter. There are no Slim Jims here, but rather handmade meat sticks, fat as cigars, sitting in a jar by a hand-cranked register.
Mainers are beginning to discover this unique gourmet haven in the woods.
"It's a little of everything; it's handmade," says Mark Warren, who has driven an hour in the snow to buy the sausages, smoked hams and cheeses. "You can't get anything any better. Pretty amazing what he can do from scratch."
That's the kind of review a diner might have given Secich 10 years ago, after forking over $350 for a single meal he cooked at Charlie Trotter's in Chicago.
Secich studied cuisine at Johnson and Wales University and then crossed the pond to learn French techniques. Julia Child herself taught him how to make an omelet at the Inn at Little Washington in Virginia.
"From there it was a wild tale of chasing ... the four-star holy grail of the cuisine world, working for great chefs to someday be great," says Secich, who worked at restaurants all over the country.
But Secich and his family have now chosen to settle in Unity. It has a growing Amish community, where he and his family have joined the church and embraced all that goes with it.
In the corner of the dimly lit room, a wood stove provides the only heat. When the winter light fades in the afternoon, oil lamps will light the shop. A pine plank cold room with 79 tons of hand-hewn ice harvested from a local lake will keep the ingredients chilled. All the meat must be ground by hand. The family has also adopted the simple dress of the Amish, and Secich is now sporting a beard that falls past his chest.
It's a radical departure from the path Secich was on 25 years ago as a military man serving in the Persian Gulf, or even 10 years ago, when he brought that military manner into the kitchen at Charlie Trotter's in Chicago, now closed.
"I thought I was on top of the world and I had the best job that you could have working for one of the best restaurants in the world," says Secich. Back then, he says, he commanded a sizable brigade. "I think we had 35 young people I tortured on a daily basis."
That's an assessment his former sous chef, Sean Fowler, now chef and owner of Mandolin in Raleigh, N.C., agrees with.
"Yeah, berating of waitstaff, berating of fellow cooks. I saw pans thrown and all-out rage-infused temper tantrums," says Fowler, who describes those years cooking with Secich as the "best of times and the worst of times" with an insanely passionate man. "Matthew is half-masochist and half-sadist in equal measure."
Secich is the first to admit that he demanded a perhaps unattainable level of perfection from everyone in the kitchen, including himself. "Yeah, I was kinda crazy."
And he wasn't happy. Something was missing, and Secich says he didn't find what he was looking for until he adopted a traditionalist Christian faith and started to homestead. Happiness now, he says, is living off the grid, Amish.
Everyone in his family has had to adapt. His kids now take a pony to school instead of the bus. His wife, Crystal, stays home to care for the family. And whether Charcuterie thrives as a business remains to be seen.
"We probably only have very small sales these days," says Secich, "but I trust that God's going to provide for us exactly what we need to get by."
But whatever happens, Secich says he won't ever be reaching for the Michelin stars again.
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