Monday, December 9, 2013
Sunday's Taste of the Nation dinner, held this year at Wolfe's Neck Farm, was another big success, in just about every way.
Share Our Strength sold more tickets than ever before, there seemed to be more money raised at the live auction than ever before (with chef dinners going for thousands of dollars, not hundreds), and there were more chefs participating than ever before.
People who went to the VIP reception raved about the atmosphere and the food in the tricked-out barn transformed by CVC Catering. They lingered there so long that, for a while, folks at the main dinner thought that none of them would be joining us because they were already having so much fun.
The food was on a whole new level this year. Dishes were more creative, and even those that were repeats just seemed to taste better.
Thankfully, most of the action took place before a big thunderstorm rolled in.
Here's a look at some of the food, and the people who prepared it:
These crab cones prepared by chef Mitchell Kaldrovitch of Sea Glass are always one of my favorites, not only because they taste good but because they're also easy to handle.
Two words: Fish tacos. James Tranchemontagne of The Frog & Turtle made the fish, rice and beans, chef Brian O'Hea of Academe handed out the corn tortillas, and then you had your choice of all these toppings at the little taco bar:
Mitch Gerow, chef/owner of the East Ender, made this smoked and braised lamb served on rustic pasta with artichokes and dandelion greens. Again, a favorite. (There were lots of "favorites" this year.)
Chef Fred Eliot of Spread brought this Pork Belly Bo Ssam, a Japanese pork belly lettuce wrap with Korean BBQ sauce, sriracha aioli and pickles. Delicious, and deliciously different:
Bill Shore, the founder and CEO of Share Our Strength, came to Maine for the event and got up to say a few words:
Shannon and Tom Bard, co-owners of Zapoteca, share a moment:
One of the dishes they brought to the event was this Red Chile Pork Tamal. They also brought a Spiced Corn Soup with Maine Crab.
There were four signature cocktails made for the evening, each created by a different restaurant. David's Patrick Morang made this 19th-century Spanish rum punch with New England Distilling's 8 Bells Rum, Cointreau, pineapple juice, whipping cream and pink Spanish cava:
The folks from Black Birch in Kittery brought this pulled pork sandwich and smoky baked beans:
I could smell the oysters before I saw them. Thank you, Fore Street, for the Flying Point oyster with horseradish beef tartare (top photo) and the Damariscotta oysters with panna cotta. Not only does Damariscotta panna cotta rhyme, it's a surprisingly tasty combination. Loved the panna cotta oysters:
Here's chef Sam Hayward of Fore Street chatting up one of the guests. As you can tell from the photo, it's starting to get dark:
OK, now here is (really) one of my favorite dishes of the night. (You can tell how good everything was by how many favorite dishes I sampled, right?) It was a different concept for this dinner, the flavors were bright, and the plantain "spoon" adding some crunch. It's Jeff Buerhaus' Hawaiian poke, made wth Laughing Bird shrimp, mango, coconut, and avocado foam. Hmmm, wonder if he's serving this at Walter's?
The White Barn Inn came to the party for the first time this year. Their contribution: Poached Razor Clams on Clam Chowder Panna Cotta and Bacon Vinaigrette.
Grand Relais & Chateau chef Jonathan Cartwright of the White Barn Inn introduced me to the chef who was helping him, Liu Peng Mars, who is chef de cuisine at Grace Beijing, a sister boutique hotel to the White Barn Inn located in the heart of Beijing's 798 Art District. Cartwright said this is Liu's first time out of Beijing, and the two chefs will be joining up to cook a special "East Meets West" dinner Friday and Saturday night at the White Barn Inn.
Chef Larry Matthews of Back Bay Grill once again took a very simple idea and made it into something exquisite. I remember once having some butternut squash soup he made, and it was the best butternut squash soup I've ever had. Well, he did the same kind of thing with this lamb sausage, served over rosemary onions with beer mustard. Could have used a fork to grab all the onions, though - they slid around on the plate:
When people needed a break, they went out from under the tent to check out the view – and the cars from Bill Dodge, one of the sponsors. Doesn't this remind you of one of those car commercials where the cars are out in the middle of nowhere but have no trouble with the rough terrain? In this case, instead of climbing mountains, I half expected the cars to drive out onto the water and float:
Every year, Steve Corry of Five Fifty-Five brings his famous truffled lobster mac-and-cheese. I don't know if it was because he kept it nice and hot all evening, but this year it was particularly good:
Here are Michelle and Steve Corry at the lobstah mac-n-cheese table:
Chef Hayward, from the Corry's other restaurant, Petite Jacqueline, brought crepes:
Chef Harding Lee Smith of "The Rooms" brought several things – something to represent each of his restaurants? - including these lobster rolls:
The folks from When Pigs Fly brought some amazing-looking ribs (sweet and spicy versions), ensuring that the pig is not going to be flying anytime soon:
For dessert, there were cupcakes from East End Cupcakes (red velvet, salt caramel), a selection of gelatos from Gelato Fiasco, and these cute little yellow cupcakes with lime buttercream frosting and edible flowers from the Nonantum Resort:
Believe it or not, there was lots more food. Brian Hill, chef/owner of Francine Bistro and Shepherd's Pie, brought his grilled duck PB&J served with spicy peanut butter and hot pepper jelly. Some chefs brought several items.
After everyone had sampled a lot of the dishes, they started the live auction. There were a lot of donated dinners where local chefs offered to cook dinner for 10 or 12 people either in your home or at their restaurant. Most of them were auctioned off for around $3,000 each this year! Lee Skawinski of Vignola Cinque Terre volunteered to do two dinners and brought in $6,000!
The gods must have been hungry, because then the skies started rumbling. Along came a downpour and lots of lightning, and people started heading home.
See you next year?
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