Chef Kerry Altiero, owner of Cafe Miranda in Rockland, won the farm-to-table competition at the Harvest on the Harbor food and wine festival Friday, beating out three other local chefs with a pork belly, clam and sour apple dish he called “Farm, Ocean, Tree.”
Altiero won over the crowd with his easy humor and clear presentation, but he also gained respect from the judges for his pork belly, which one judge said cut “like butter.”
This was not Altiero’s first big win at Harvest on the Harbor.
“Up until yesterday, I was the reigning Maine Lobster Chef of the Year,” he told the sold-out crowd of 200 in Portland. “I won last year. Now don’t be prejudiced against (me), like, âDoes this guy really need another award?’ You bet I do.”
The audience burst into laughter and applause, and Altiero went on to describe his dish, which from a farm-to-table perspective was no joke.
Altiero’s pork belly came from Terra Optima Farm in Rockland, and it was braised in cider from Sewall Orchard in Lincolnville, the oldest organic orchard in Maine. His apples, lacinato kale, onions and garlic came from Headacre Farm in Owls Head. Even the butter, from Casco Bay Butter, was local.
Altiero competed against David Levi, who will soon be opening a 100 percent local restaurant in Portland called Vinland; Rich Hanson, chef/owner of Cleonice Mediterranean Bistro in Ellsworth; and Chad Conley, chef at Gather restaurant in Yarmouth.
Sam Hayward, chef/owner of Fore Street in Portland, emceed the event. Before the cooking began, Hayward spoke a little about the importance of the farm-to-table philosophy in Maine.
He noted that in the 2013 Locavore Index produced by the locavore advocacy group Strolling of the Heifers, Maine ranks No. 2 among the states in commitment to producing and having access to local foods.
Vermont is No. 1.
“At its simplest level, it’s because we think food tastes best eaten, prepared, served closest to its source,” Hayward said. “But in a broader sense, we mean more than just farms when we talk about the farm-to-table movement because, in fairness, we’re also using the produce brought to us by foragers of wild foods, by Maine’s fishing community and by artisan food producers like cheese makers and millers and bakers who are contributing so much to us and make it exciting to work every day.”
Hayward said using local foods is also important because it strengthens Maine communities by “producing, serving and eating food in ways that are fair to the growers, fair to the restaurants, and we hope fair to the environment as well.”
Altiero served his dish to the three judges on special plates he had made by Fireside Pottery in Warren.
The chef will be selling several of the plates, which come with lunch at Cafe Miranda, on the restaurant’s Facebook page and the proceeds will be donated to a local farm participating in community supported agriculture for “disadvantaged families who really need to get this good food in their hands.”
The judges were Eric Flynn, chef at the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport; Ted Quaday, the new executive director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association; and Susan Axelrod of the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday.com.
The audience also got to vote on their favorites. Jeeyun Kim and Manoj Muzumdar from Ellicott City, Md., both voted for Altiero to win the competition. Kim said she thought his dish had “just simple, strong flavors, well prepared.”
Steve and Jessica Floyd, a general contractor and social worker from Washington, D.C., also said they voted for Altiero.
“I thought it was creative, and I liked the fact that he used all local ingredients,” Jessica Floyd said. “I liked his marketing, too. He sold it.”
The couple said they would also like to visit Levi’s new restaurant the next time they visit Portland.
Chef Flynn said he thought the audience got it right.
“One thing about Kerry, everything he put on his plate was from the farm,” he said.
Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:[email protected]