SCARBOROUGH – Shannon O’Hea, chef at Academe in Kennebunk, gingerly speared a small chocolate chip cookie with a syringe-like skewer filled with ice cold milk.
“Eat the cookie right off the skewer, and then you squirt the milk right into your mouth,” she told the people lined up at her Milk and Cookies table at the Signature Event Sunday night. “We want to bring you right back to your childhood.”
Michelle DuEst of Portland, who was sampling desserts with her husband, Jim, popped the treat into her mouth and then squirted the milk as instructed. She pronounced the dessert “just kind of fun.”
“It’s a kids’ treat but with kind of an adult twist,” she said.
The showroom at the Prime Mercedes-Benz car dealership was transformed into a big party room, complete with lights and music, on Sunday night as some of the state’s best pastry chefs and bartenders competed in the Signature Event, which marks the close of Maine Restaurant Week. Proceeds from the sold-out cocktail and dessert competition will go to United Way of Greater Portland.
About 500 people lined up for samples of imaginative sips and bites developed by restaurants and bakeries around the state, then voted for their favorites by texting. Tara Smith, head pastry chef at Standard Baking Company in Portland, won the dessert contest last year and was back to defend her title with The Lingot d’Or, a rich, six-layered dessert consisting of a chocolate and whiskey souffle on top of almond shortbread. The dessert, dusted with flecks of gold, was inspired by Irish coffee and St. Patrick’s Day, and was one of the entries that brought the most oohs and ahhs.
“It’s a little intimidating” coming back to compete, Smith said. “We thought, ‘Oh boy, we’d really better bring it.’“
Smith said she and her staff started working on the Lingot d’Or before Christmas.
The contest gives bartenders and pastry chefs a chance to really show their stuff and be creative. Chef Christopher Bassett of the Azure Cafe brought a little molecular gastronomy to the mix, making basil-mint “caviar” for his tangerine screwdriver by combining the basil and mint with sodium alginate, then piping it into a calcium lactate bath that turned the herbs into little pearls that floated in the drink.
Adrian Trudeau, top mixologist at Academe, and chef Brian O’Hea sprayed a bite of cherry gelee with a bit of brandy, then speared it onto a little pipette filled with chai maple syrup. The pipette then went into a glass filled with orange sorbet and a Jim Beam cocktail.
“They squeeze the pipette into the drink, eat the gelee and then they whip up the sorbet in the cocktail,” O’Hea explained. “It’s all the makings of an Old-Fashioned, but it’s done in new ways. We’re calling it a Not So Old-Fashioned.”
Walter’s in Portland made a dessert called Panna Buttah & Jelly. It was a cup of Concord grape panna cotta topped with a peanut butter cookie shaped like a spoon. Matt and Jackie Schumacher of Yarmouth had fun trying the dessert, but said their favorite entry was the beignets from David’s Opus Ten.
They weren’t the only ones raving about the beignets. The fried sweet treats, served with peppered strawberry, won the People’s Choice award for desserts for the evening. Chef Bo Byrne of David’s Opus Ten said he was “absolutely floored.”
“I’ve only had the chance to eat a couple of the other bites, but just the idea of there being some bakeries and some places here that, this is what they do, I didn’t think in a million years we would be in the top three,” he said. “We’re blown away. We can’t believe it.”
Byrne said he initially made the dessert as an “experimental snack,” but then his boss, chef David Turin, tried it and decided to add it to the menu during Restaurant Week.
“A lot of people came back for thirds and fourths,” he said. “They must have liked it.”
The People’s Choice award for cocktails went to Zapoteca’s Double Cross Mezcalita.
The Judges’ Choice first runner-up for cocktails went to the Simply Gold from Tom Laslavic, the mixologist at Natalie’s in Camden. First prize went to Entendre from Christina Klein, the bar manager at Sonny’s Restaurant in Portland.
Forrest Butler of Royal Rose Syrups, one of the cocktail judges, said Entendre, a vodka cocktail made with a lavender and rose-hip-infused simple syrup and served over crushed ice, won because it was “well composed, well thought out.”
“The spirit and the modifiers were well balanced,” he said.
Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: