October 9, 2013

Here’s your fill of tidbits about Harvest on the Harbor

The lobster competition and beer tasting are already sold out, but you can still make your own wine

Once again, there’s much to love about this year’s Harvest on the Harbor food and wine festival.

click image to enlarge

Chef Chad Conley displays a pepperoni with pickled chiles pizza at Gather in Yarmouth.

Photos by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

Think you could blend a winning wine? Give it a try at a wine tasting workshop on Oct. 25 at Harvest on the Harbor.

Courtesy photo

Additional Photos Below

There’s also a little to be annoyed about, and some things that make you go hmmmm.

So, before I dive into the delicious details, here’s what I think they get right this year, and areas I think could be improved upon in the future:

On the plus side, they’ve managed to lure some great chefs into the fold, including some newbies.

There are two chefs from the same restaurant participating in the Maine Lobster Chef of the Year event, which should make for an interesting competition. Even better: None of the lobster chefs have competed in a Harvest on the Harbor competition before, so we have fresh meat.

They’ve kept the Top of the Crop competition, a good thing because the event is a great reflection of this state’s love for farm-to-table fare. It will be worth the price of admission just to see how mild-mannered chef Sam Hayward of Fore Street fares in the hosting job. He’s a nice guy, smart, and arguably the person who knows the most about the farm-to-table movement in Maine, but can he control the crowd? Or will he, like the Arrows chefs in 2011, be forced to admonish the chattering audience to simmer down (“This isn’t TV”) because they were acting like a roomful of restless third-graders?

There are also a couple of good educational sessions on beer and wine scheduled, at the suggestion of last year’s attendees. (More on those below.)

Every year the organizers try to inject something new into the festival by coming up with brand new events. This year, one of the major new evening events is “International Maine: Taste of the World.”

The mix of restaurants at this event is disappointing, and very heavy on Mexican. There’s one sushi station (Portland is not represented by a single one of its many Japanese restaurants), an Irish pub, an Indian restaurant, an Italian place from Lewiston, an importer of Greek products, an Argentinian chef from a non-Argentinian restaurant, and no less than four Mexican restaurants. That’s a lot of tacos.

There’s also a waffle restaurant. (Because waffles are Belgian? Huh?) And there’s a new local pistachio company whose product is great, but wouldn’t it be better placed in the Saturday marketplace to make room for another restaurant?

Bridgton’s Standard Gastropub is in, but I can only guess why. I know they have tacos and other Mexican-influenced fare on the menu (I haven’t been there yet myself), but from what I’ve heard I wouldn’t exactly call it a Mexican restaurant. (If you’re counting, that would make five restaurants serving Mexican-themed fare at this event.)

Seriously, what’s with all the tacos? I asked Barbara Whitten, president of the Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau, about the International event, and she said the original idea was that German, French, Italian, Mexican and all sorts of other ethnic restaurants would sign up and maybe serve a dish focused on local seafood. But when people actually signed up, the list tilted heavily toward Mexican.

“People call us and say they want to participate, and we can’t say no,” Whitten said.

Well, why not?

Some restaurants don’t want to spend the money (or spare the staff) that it takes to participate in Harvest on the Harbor. I get that. But clearly there is demand for the limited number of tables available. So why not have people apply and have an expert panel, like the judging panel for the chefs’ competitions, choose who gets in and who has to try again next year? Inject a little competition, and I’ll bet more restaurants would step up to the plate.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Conley checks on a pie in the oven while a spinach and roasted fennel pizza rests on the counter at Gather. Conley will compete in the Oct. 25 Top of the Crop competition, along with Kerry Altiero of Cafe Miranda in Rockland, Richard Hanson of Cleonice Mediter-ranean Bistro in Ellsworth, and David Levi, who will open a restaurant called Vinland in Portland in November.

click image to enlarge

Chef Chad Conley makes a pepperoni, with pickled chillis pizza at Gather restaurant in Yarmouth.

Photos by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

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