Chef Cynthia Finnemore Simonds, of Newcastle, is hitting the big time, certainly by Maine standards. Her new cooking show "Fresh to Flavorful" premieres on the Maine Public Broadcasting Network (MPBN), public television on Sat., Feb. 13 at noon. The journey for Simonds to this life altering achievement has been lengthy.
Author of three published Down East Books cookbooks, "Fresh Maine Salads," "Superb Maine Soups," and "Delicious Maine Desserts," Simonds is slowly, but surely, realizing a lifelong dream, as she uses the freshest Maine and regionally produced ingredients as inspiration for her books and now the show.
"Fresh to Flavorful" features Simonds serving as host, guide, and chef throughout 13 episodes. Shot on location in Maine and New England, Simonds will guide viewers on adventures to visit and learn about real foods from the producers themselves - the farmers, fishermen, and specialty food producers.
It is intriguing to learn that Simonds describes "Fresh to Flavorful" as a combination of "Mr. Rogers and Julia Child." That being, Simonds since childhood, has been fascinated by where food comes from.
"Our show is the best combination of Mr. Rogers and Julia Child, with the most humble intentions," she said. "It's about how food gets to our plates. I really want to encourage people to get back into the kitchen."
She met her producer Jai Bradford on Feb. 14, 2009 and, from the start, the pair knew the story of utilizing Maine food producers' ingredients in healthy and flavorful dishes, "was a story that needed telling," Simonds said. "We just had the faith it would work."
Together they formed a production company, Frim Fram Media, and it's been no easy task getting a show like "Fresh to Flavorful" before a television audience. If an idea gets the go-ahead, MPBN requires their shows be essentially, 'camera ready,' that is, a completely stand-alone production ready for airing.
Frim Fram Media is responsible for writing and planning each episode, filming all the footage locations and interviews, scheduling (and finding) location kitchens from which to shoot the cooking segments, and securing sponsorships to pay for the whole thing.
So, when considering pitching a show to MPBN, Simonds didn't have to research producers, she has been building that foundation and network for years.
Through writing her cookbooks, Simonds saved all the information on "extraordinary people" in Maine - the farmers, fishermen, coffee roasters, maple syrup producers, chocolatiers and other food producers. "They are all making their living creating and growing, making beautiful things to eat," said Simonds.
Consequently, way back in early 2009, with a show as their goal, Simonds and Bradford started filming.
Simonds remembers first filming at Goranson's farm in Dresden on Maple Sugar Sunday in March. Over the next months they visited numerous other locations and, "we slowly collected footage. We filmed frequently and we were able to tell these stories," Simonds said.
The challenges were many, foremost coordinating schedules with Bradford, herself, and a videographer. "It was a challenge, but we would just make it happen," she explains, "and we've done the whole show out of our own pockets. I have to give kudos to the team including marketer Linda Maynard and Holly Brown for all their hard work. Also, another very important person on this project is Alan Lowe, a videographer from Waldoboro. He's been working literally for peanuts."
The team brainstorms and intertwines their ideas seeking to create something "more than just a cooking show," Simonds said, "and more than just 'where does your food come from?'...and more than a travel show. It is a combination. It is the back story and the behind the scenes sharing with the audience."
Once MPBN gave Frim Fram Media and "Fresh to Flavorful" the nod in October, more challenges faced the team with a deadline of a February air-date looming. Where to cook?
Enter friend, Kim Latour, a real estate broker with Legacy Properties Sotheby's International Realty.
She has been front and center helping Simonds find a place to cook, and, thanks to Latour, the first episode was filmed in the beautiful kitchen of the restored and renovated Hall/Ross House in Westport Island.
A house well known to the region, it was dismantled in 2000 to make room for the Skidompha Library on Main Street in Damariscotta to expand, and moved to Westport Island. Simonds was thrilled with the find.
Latour remembers recognizing Simonds had "great promise" while attending her Locavore cooking workshops at Morris Farm in Wiscasset last summer.
"I have it [the Ross House] listed for sale and when Cynthia asked briefly if I knew of any homeowners who would allow her to use their kitchen, and though I didn't think it was initially possible, but now we have a backlog of kitchens lined up for her for April and May segments," Latour said.
Latour explained most of the houses are for sale, but some people in the company are actually volunteering their own homes. According to Latour, homesellers are surprisingly "tickled" to have their homes featured on television. "We [Legacy Properties Sotheby's International Realty] are very excited to be as supportive as we can."
"The Ross House is wonderful. It has the original beehive oven, and though the kitchen is modernized, it has beams and ovens that adds to Cynthia's quest of being from Maine and [with the] history there - I thought it went nicely," Latour said.
An example of an upcoming episode in just such a kitchen, will feature Simonds introducing a highlighted ingredient and guiding viewers to three different farms growing and selling the same ingredient. Back in the kitchen, Simonds then demonstrates a meal or dish with the ingredient fresh from the farm.
Excitement is easily heard in Simonds' voice when she said, "So much right now is this whole new surge toward buying local."
She's convinced people really want to buy local and though they know to go to a farmer's market, they don't necessarily know who the farmers are. "I really believe if we know who is growing our food, we are much more likely to go to them directly and buy it."
That's the real crux of Simonds' vision: She'll take the audience on the journey from the farmer's pasture and grass, to the cow, to the milk, to the cheese, to preparing a dish taken to the table, to be eaten by appreciative consumers.
Simonds is no stranger to Maine television audiences. She's appeared multiple times on WCSH-6's Maine show, "207," and is on a rotation, cooking every three months before the highly-rated NBC affiliate's audience. "They call me a regular," she said.
It has been a wonderful way for her to "get her feet wet" before the cameras. Since June of 2006, she has had 14 cooking segments on "207." "They are so generous and really to allow me to have fun in the kitchen and on camera...it has given me a great first step into what I'm doing right now."
It's the final few days before the premier screening, and Simonds has spent a day hell-bent-for-leather filming non-stop. "I'm absolutely exhausted," she said, "but so very happy."
The screening premier party of MPBN's "Fresh to Flavorful" with host Cynthia Finnemore Simonds happens on Sat., Feb. 13 at noon in the theater at Frontier Café at Fort Andross Mill, 13 Maine St., Brunswick. Following the airing, Simonds will sign copies of her cookbooks. For more information call Frontier Café at 725-5222.
For more information, email FrimFramMedia@gmail.com.
For more information on Legacy Properties Sotherby's International Realty, contact real estate broker Kim Latour at 729-2820 in Brunswick.