Jim Bailey calls himself The Yankee Chef. His new cookbook, “The Yankee Chef, Feel Good Food for Every Kitchen,” is a compendium of New England foods — and more.
Thirty years ago, Jim Bailey, at 20 years old, leapt, wrists and feet bound, 55 feet from a Skowhegan, Maine, bridge into the Kennebec River. The article in the Lewiston Journal from September 1982 described the young man as a short-order cook and an amateur boxer.
“He took the leap on Wednesday to publicize what, he hopes, is his next profession as a magician and escape artist,” the reporter wrote.
My metaphor may be a reach, but I’d say Bailey is still working as an escape artist, at least allowing his cuisine to escape from the New England liturgy of cornmeal, cranberries and maple syrup. His cookbook covers Northeast recipes from corned goose to plum duff, including excerpts from historical cookbooks in the marginalia, but there are also recipes for Kung Pao Shrimp and Orange Cappucino Cheesecake. Watch those recipes un-tie themselves from “New England,” and get away!
In his signature pink chef’s jacket, Bailey earns his Yankee Chef title if only for his long Maine pedigree and the slow, elegant way his DownEast “r’s” turn into “ah’s.”
“Heatha, it’s a pleasah to meet a nice lady like you,” he told me over the phone.
Does he really talk like that, I wondered. He does. Watch his videos.
Tall, solid, brawny, Bailey’s build reminds us of that amateur boxer he once was.
His biography is studded with tough Maine men in kitchens, struggling with their curious, sensitive souls, and with drinking. Bailey’s grandfather, Sam Bailey, played a fiddle well enough to be accepted into the New England Conservatory of Music; he supported himself by learning to cook. His son, Bailey’s father, followed the same path, playing the same violin, and ultimately owning three restaurants, because a restaurant provides a steadier income than a violin. Bailey describes them all as three generations of violin-playing history buffs from Maine who learned to cook to make a living.