Head Cook Anna Ashby (right) and Summer Manager Lindsay Clarke (left) have lunch with their children.

Experienced Chefs Expand Pine Islanders’ Palates

by Sumner Ford

It was a huge relief when Anna Ashby contacted me to inquire about working as the Head Cook at Pine Island last summer. Anna had previously been an outstanding counselor, and she had added experience in the kitchens of Michelin Star restaurants to her resume since working at Pine Island in college. When we spoke about the job, a couple of concerns popped into my head. Anna, her husband Pedro, and their baby daughter Clara would need to travel from their native Brazil. They would leave behind the farm they were starting. It seemed incredible that Anna would be willing to take such a giant leap. But she quickly brought up the possibility of cooking traditional Brazilian fare and providing boys with fun, nutritious food, and my concerns faded. I knew Anna cared deeply for both Pine Island and the culinary arts.

I still wondered, how would Anna find ingredients in central Maine that matched her Brazilian recipes, how would campers respond to strange new foods, and how in the world would Anna keep up the pace, preparing these highly involved meals day after day, meal after meal?

After a staff week filled with delicious food, those worries also evaporated. Anna was joined by longtime camper Irving Baldwin as her Assistant Head Cook. Irving was a sponge, drawing on years of experience at his father’s esteemed New York City restaurant, Houseman, and picking up new tips and tricks from Anna.

Anna and Irving prepared many Pine Island classics — stuffed peppers, Emily Swan’s Mac n’ Cheese, and Pizza Bagels. But they also added many novel tastes to Pine Islanders’ palettes. We dined on classic Brazilian dishes like Feijoada, a stew with sausage, veggies, and black beans with Anna’s unique twist (a couple of orange slices), and Brigadeiro, often solidified and known as Brazil’s chocolate truffle. Anna adapted the dessert to be in a pudding form, and campers could not get enough of the sweet combination of cocoa powder, condensed milk, and chocolate sprinkles. Anna and Irving also went to lengths to prepare food from campers’ home countries. To take just one example, they cooked up an Austrian sausage mac-and-cheese dish to the delight of many campers—especially Louis, who lives in Vienna.

I’m amongst the many 2023 Pine Islanders who have added Brazil to their travel bucket list. And while I’m eager to eat Brazilian Fricassee when I get there, I know it won’t be—couldn’t be—quite as tasty as when Anna prepared it in the Pine Island kitchen.

Editor’s Note: While campers and counselors alike will miss the culinary concoctions of Anna Ashby, who is not returning for 2024, Pine Island is excited to welcome a local chef to the PIC kitchen: Sandy Holland. Sandy is a professional baker and cook from Bath, Maine, who has been in the Pine Island family for years as a camp mom of three former campers and counselors (including our new Incoming Director, Alex!). She has volunteered for camp and cooked in the Whitehead and Pine Island kitchens already, and we can’t wait to eat her delicious creations all summer! Sandy loves both the traditional New England palate and world cuisines and will surely bring some amazing dishes to Pine Islanders’ tables this summer.