Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Another great festival of Harvest on the Harbor is behind us as the final festivities ended on Saturday. But the highlight for me was the Top of the Crop competition where four finalists vied for best farm-to-table cooking in a restaurant.
Chef extraordinaire and co-owner Sam Hayward of Fore Street emceed the proceedings
The crew was formidable. It included David Levi of the yet to be opened Vinland in Portland; Chad Conley of the highly regarded Gather in Yarmouth; Rich Hanson from long-running Cleonice in Ellsworth; and Kerry Altiero, whose Cafe Miranda is virtually a dining landmark in Rockland.
Kerry Altiero won the competition. His dish of cider braised pork belly with sour apples, garlic, lacinato kale and little neck clams had tremendous depth of flavor and was a true standout in all respects including his use of local ingredients.
Chef Altiero's first-prize winning dish of cider braised pork belly with sour apples and clams
However, Levi, who came up to the stage first, might have been the frontrunner had he chosen a more substantial dish to prepre. His presentation and cooking demonstration was, however, lively and great fun to watch and listen to. He’s well spoken (and a talker), amusing and very motivational about his philosophy on food and cooking. He broached the topic of his upcoming restaurant, and his credo of cooking only with local ingredients. That means no lemons or olive oil and other ingredients that we take for granted.
David Levi giving his very motivational talk while preparing his dish
His dish was a beet chip (dehydrated) fried in ghee (clarified butter) topped with strained yogurt Hollandaise and a julienne of cucumber, chives and sea salt. At first bite—and it only took one—it let loose with such bursts of flavor that lingered on for many minutes more. This would have been a first prize dish had it been more ample.
Chef Levi's beet chip and accoutrements had walloping flavor
The other two entrants were somewhat disappointing. Chad Conley of Gather prepared a rather lackluster rendition of braised pork belly with a stew of Jacob’s Cattle beans. The stew was murky and the pork was very bland, though the presentatioin was attractive.
Chad Conley of Gather
Chef Conley's colorful rendition of pork and beans with pickled mustard seeds and celery
Rich Hanson prepared a nice dish of sausage with tomato sauce and polenta, but not noteworthy in any way.
^The affable Chef Hanson of Cleonice
Hanson's dish of roasted pork sausage ragu with polenta
Altiero’s winning dish had all the right elements. I’ve been to his restaurant, Café Miranda, and have not been that impressed with it. Still, his dish had tremendous flavor, a good combination of local ingredients and it all was very well prepared. He was a hands-done winner with the judges.
Chef Altiero gave a garrulous, often animated talk as he prepared his prize-winning dish
John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.
In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.