Friday, December 6, 2013
The Kennebunkport Festival got underway last night with the first of the private dinners in the "Art of Dining" series.
These dinners feature some of the area's best-known chefs - Lee Skawinski, Rob Evans, Bryan Dame - preparing multi-course culinary spectacles in intimate settings, mostly private homes.
Last night I had the privilege of attending an Art of Dining dinner hosted by Brad and Donna Maushart in their 1779 Greek Revival residence and photographic gallery, f-8, on Spring Street. Lining beams near the ceiling of the rustic gallery was a collection of cameras that Brad told me visitors have given to him over the years. There were no photographs on the walls, however; they were covered with Maushart's paintings, all of them nudes.
Thus the theme for the evening: Dinner in the Nude. Leslie Oster of Aurora Provisions in Portland carried the concept throughout the night, serving five courses of creatively prepared raw foods.
The first thing guests noticed when they walked in the door was the stunning table built especially for this event by Brett Johnson of Maine Street Design Co. in Portland. The plexiglass table and chairs reflected the evening's theme, and a row of floating candles ran down the center of the table.
We began the evening with house-cured gravlax and a glass of sparkling wine while we got to know our fellow diners.
It was an interesting group that included Michelle Winner, vice president of the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association and Wendy Franklin, a transplanted New Yorker who now lives on Portland's West End. I was lucky enought to be seated between two lively, interesting men who offered fun and fascinating conversation for the evening. To my left was Myron Beasley, associate professor of African American/American cultural studies at Bates College. Beasley writes about food for Gastronomica and other publications and is a fan of Portugese water dogs. To my right was Dr. Joe Maynard, a Kennebunkport veterinarian who, I discovered, used to live in the same Colorado town that I did years ago. We talked tea and chihuahuas (he owns one).
Here's Leslie with one of our hosts, Brad Maushart:
Our first course was Damariscotta River oysters with wild horseradish granita and Solomon's seal buds. Leslie Oster came out between courses to discuss the preparation and sourcing of each plate, accompanied at times by her sous chef for the evening, Salvatore Talarico. Oster also told us that all of the proceeds from this dinner were being donated to Share Our Strength in the name of her good friend Bob Smith, a local chef who passed away in 2010.
The second course was a tribute to Chicago chef Charlie Trotter, featuring a cucumber soup from his book "Raw." The soup was garnished with raw goats milk chevre from Maine's own Ten Apple Farm, amaranth sprouts and a carrot crisp. The soup was paired with Chateau Musar Blanc 2004.
The third course was my favorite, and judging by the raves around the table, one of the most popular dishes of the night. It consisted of three beautiful dayboat scallops sweetened a touch with raw honey from Oster's friend Karla, and served with chanterelle dust made from mushrooms that had been dried and pulverized. Oster served the scallops with Terredora Fiano 2009, a terrific wine with notes of honey. It was a perfect pairing, and the scallops practically melted in your mouth.
For the fourth course, we were served a beef carpaccio with a raw, truffled quail egg perched on top. Colorful slices of beets adorned the plate. There was a sprinkling of mustard seed dust in one corner, and a mixture of capers and chive oil in another. Oster suggested we mix it all together. My new friend Joe seemed a little nervous about the raw egg at first, but gamely mixed it into the beef and found that, in his opinion, the chive oil and capers made it all work. (For me, it was the mustard seed dust.) The beef dish was paired with Steinberger Sparkling Cabernet Sekt Austria 2009.
The fifth course was yellowfin tuna sashimi topped with a frozen foie gras granita and a little lemon and salt. It was served with a red organic Greek wine, Tetramythos Mavrokalavryta 2010, made from a thought-to-be-extinct grape that's grown on an acre of land at the southern tip of the Peloponnese peninsula.
In addition to the tuna on our plates, there were also fish swimming in the centerpiece!
Dessert was strawberries with Vin Santo, yogurt, cheese and hazelnuts, paired with another Greek wine.
Dinner was supposed to be over at 10 p.m., but we lingered and talked until 11. All in all, a delightful experience.
If you're interested in checking out the Kennebunkport Festival this week, I'm told most of it is sold out, but there are still tickets left for the Grand Tasting ($55) and Brews & Tunes ($10) events on Saturday. And there are, as of Wednesday morning, literally 10 tickets left for Pop the Kennebunks ($90), which promises to be quite a party. Bettina Doulton, owner of Cellardoor Winery in Lincolnville, which is sponsoring the event, is known for putting on elaborate and jaw-dropping affairs. For tickets, go to the festival's website.
Meredith Goad has harvested oysters on the Chesapeake Bay, eaten reindeer in Finland and sipped hot chai in the Himalayas. She writes the weekly Soup to Nuts column and enjoys a good cocktail.
Susan Axelrod's food writing career began in the kitchen; she owned a restaurant and catering business before turning to journalism more than a decade ago. To relax, she bakes, gardens and hikes with her husband and their two dogs. A newcomer to Portland, she is an online content producer for the Press Herald.
Susan can be contacted at 791-6310 or saxelrod [at] pressherald.com.
On Twitter: @susansaxelrod