PORTLAND — The guy in the kitchen at 88 Middle St. is officially the top chef in the Northeast.
Rob Evans of Hugo’s was awarded the James Beard Foundation’s best chef award Monday night at a ceremony in New York City. The northeast region includes New England and upstate New York.
Evans topped Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier of Arrows in Ogunquit; Michael Leviton of Lumiere in West Newton, Mass; Tony Maws of Craigie on Main in Cambridge, Mass., and Marc Orfaly of Pigalle in Boston.
“As much as you hope they’re going to call your name, when it happens its (a shock),” Evans said Tuesday. “Then you have to get up and speak in front of 4,000 people.”
He said it was quite an experience to walk around with the medal on, shaking hands with well-known chefs and other food people.
“It was like I joined a club,” he said.
This is the third time Evans has been nominated for the Beard award. In 2004, Evans was named Best New Chef by Food and Wine magazine.
“It’s huge to be recognized at all and up here in Portland even more so,” Evans, 45, said.
Evans bought Hugo’s in 2000 with his wife, Nancy Pugh. He is known for innovative and sophisticated dishes, as well as using local produce and seafood.
A couple years ago Hugo’s dropped its fixed-price menu in favor of a prices that are in line with other Portland restaurants. Evans said he hopes this latest recognition will bring people in the door who still think of Hugo’s as only a “special occasion” place.
“Obviously we hope it brings in more business,” he said . “It will bring in a specific type of customer, but I also hope Portlanders will come in and check us out.”
The restaurant has a bar menu, too, and often participates in special-event dinners with other local chefs and food providers.
Portland, Evans said, is making a mark for itself as a dining destination, with great restaurants opening up “all the time.”
One of those restaurants, Fore Street, owned by chef Sam Hayward, Victor Leon and Dana Street, was one of five restaurants nominated for best restaurant in the country. The winner was Jean Georges in New York City.