PORTLAND — Kelly Patrick Farrin of the Azure Cafe in Freeport was named Maine Lobster Chef of the Year at Harvest on the Harbor on Friday, winning over the 200 judges in the audience with his Herb Grilled Maine Lobster Tail on Arugula with Chive Ricota Gnocchi and Corn Milk.
Dane Somers, executive director of the Maine Lobster Promotion Council, handed Farrin a check for $1,000 and told him to “prepare to be famous.”
Farrin immediately thanked the staff of the Azure Cafe, including his boss, Chef Christopher Bassett, who had turned the tables by helping him behind the scenes at the competition.
Farrin appeared both excited and relieved to win, saying said it had been “the longest week of my life.”
“Thank you everyone,” he told the audience at Ocean Gateway. “It’s been a journey, and it’s something I’ll never forget, so cheers to you.”
Chef Sam Hayward of Fore Street and Chef Steve Corry of Five Fifty-Five were among the judges who sifted through the recipes that were entered in the contest this year, choosing three finalists to cook their dishes live in a facility that has no running water for food preparation.
The other two finalists were William Clifford, chef at the Portland Harbor Hotel, who prepared his Rustic Maine Lobster and Butternut Squash Ravioli with Toasted Walnuts, Sage & Maple Bacon; and Clifford Pickett of DiMillo’s Floating Restaurant, who made Steamed Lobster and Sweet Corn Tamale with Creamy Chilis and Leeks.
The audience got to sample each of the contestants’ dishes, paired with wines presented by Big Claw Winery and Moet Hennessy, then voted on the winner.
Comedian Karen Morgan hosted the event, which was filmed for the New England Sports Network. Joining her were Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier of Arrows Restaurant in Ogunquit, who in May were named Best Chefs in the Northeast by the James Beard Foundation.
Morgan kept things rolling between takes and provided a measure of humor, confessing to the Arrow chefs that she’s “not a foodie, so they’re being so nice to let me in a room with you guys. My cooking technique is microwave on high.”
The Arrows chefs asked the competitors about their technique as they prepared their dishes.
Much to their disappointment, Gaier and Frasier didn’t get to sample any of the food. But Gaier said he had a feeling that Farrin was going to win when he watched him grill his lobster.
“It looked beautiful,” Gaier said.
“He was kind of young and more relaxed on stage, more laid back. He just seemed more comfortable with people and the whole thing,” Gaier said. “Not that the others were ill at ease, but he seemed more confident.”
Frasier said he was impressed by how much thought all of the contestants put into their dishes. He liked the fact that Clifford’s dish seemed targeted toward the home cook who needs something special but easy to prepare for the holidays.
“It was very user-friendly,” Frasier said. “Not that it was simple, just really user-friendly, and sometimes chefs don’t think about that.”
Frasier also liked Pickett’s tamale technique and the fact that he tied together Southwestern and Asian flavors seamlessly.
“He’s obviously really thinking about which flavors and ingredients go together,” Frasier said. “There wasn’t confusion.”
Pete McAleney, a lobster dealer in Portland, said he voted for Farrin because of his “great presentation” and the strength of the flavor of his ingredients, from the lobster to the tang of the lemon zest in the gnocchi. But he liked all of the entries.
“Great presentations from all the kids,” McAleney said. “They’ve obviously done their homework. And how they present themselves is half the battle. They’re representing the state, so they have to come through strong, and these kids were.”
Chef Margaret McLellan, who won the contest in 2008, said she voted for Kelly, who is a friend of her son’s.
“The flavors were bold,” she said. “The aroma initially was there. The colors were just absolutely gorgeous.”
McLellan said that, as a spectator, she was impressed with how the event has evolved.
“Since I won in 2008, this competition has risen to a very sophisticated, elegant competition,” she said.
The winning recipe will be posted at www.lobsterfrommaine.com. The competition will air on NESN at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 29.
Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: [email protected]