Matt McPherson has come a long way since his first job in a restaurant kitchen at the age of 15. Back then, he was just a kid in the right place at the right time to get behind the line.
Now, McPherson is in charge of one of Bar Harbor’s top dining destinations. Years of cooking and traveling have provided for him an education on par with any formal training, and his skills shine through at the Looking Glass Restaurant. He took over as executive chef this year.
McPherson has worked in kitchens across the United States, in places as far flung as Alaska and the Florida Keys. For many summers, he’s been here in Bar Harbor, and several years ago decided to make the area his year-round home.
Over the years, he’s picked up techniques and styles that he has made all his own. He favors layered flavors and French techniques, but his menu is decidedly American — full of dishes that synthesize years on the road and an eye for local ingredients.
“The menu speaks along the lines of my travels and the things that I’ve done and what I know that works,” McPherson said recently from the Looking Glass’s dining room, a beautiful environment of clean lines and natural wooden tones, boasting what might be the best view in all of Bar Harbor.
McPherson’s eye for what’s local is driving a renaissance at the Looking Glass, which this year has an all-new menu and all-new crew. He and co-owner Jim Ash are following a vision to fill diners’ plates with locally caught seafood, Maine cheeses, meats raised nearby and in sustainable ways and fresh, local vegetables — many from a big garden just outside the restaurant’s window.
Their philosophy provides for incredibly fresh, clean ingredients while also contributing to a more sustainable food system, McPherson said.
“I think the local movement is one of the most important things with food right now, where people are so disconnected with where they’re getting everything from,” McPherson said. “People are used to the whole mass-quantity perfection, and that’s not really what food is. I think if we can get into the localized cooking and what food is supposed to be and kind of push that slowly, that’s the wave of the future. That’s what food should be, and that’s what’s going to save our planet ultimately.”
The Looking Glass’s menu features classic dishes and novel twists. Pan-seared local scallops are served over a Fava bean sauté with smoked bacon, fennel, grilled corn and other vegetables. Truffled lobster mac & cheese sits in a sauce of smoked Gouda, Cheddar and Parmesan cheeses. Pork tenderloin is marinated in miso broth, glazed with maple mustard and served with baby Brussels sprouts.
McPherson said the menu is simple in many ways, but the preparation that goes into each hand-made ingredient brings the food to a whole new level of sophistication and delight.
“Our filet is just a filet with chive-whipped potatoes and grilled asparagus. But I’m cleaning the whole meat myself, and the sauce that we make, I’m actually roasting bones for days and making my own demi-glace. It’s so good, we call it liquid gold,” he said. “It’s a very painstaking process, but going through it and staying on top of it, that makes the steak. You can definitely tell the difference.”
For those looking for a bit of a lighter meal, the Looking Glass now offers a pub menu, with grass-fed beef burgers, lobster fritters and crab cake sandwiches. Visitors to the outdoor deck tend to favor the pub menu. The deck boasts a cozy fire pit and one of the only pet-friendly dining environments available in the area.