Saturday, April 19, 2014
Chef Michael Ruoss has enjoyed watching Portland's reputation as a food town grow ever since he toiled in the student kitchens at Southern Maine Community College.
Chefs participating in the Grand Tasting on the Harbor gathered for a group photo last week on the Portland waterfront. Left to right are Al Hynes of the Black Point Inn, Jay Villani of Sonny's, Jeff Buerhaus of Walters, Justin Rowe of the Chebeague Island Inn, Alan Cook of Twenty Milk Street, Charles White of Cinque Terre, Melissa Bouchard of Dimillo's, Tony Lavelle of Solo Bistro, Eric Simeon of Grace, Christopher Bassett of Azure Cafe, Dan Crook of the Blue Wave Grill at the Wyndham Hotel, Jonathan Cartwright of the White Barn Inn, Harding Lee Smith of the Rooms, Jeff Landry of the Farmers Table, Joe Boudreau of Havana South and Mitchell Kaldrovich of Seaglass at the Inn by the Sea. Not pictured: Theda Lyden of the Harraseeket Inn.
Photos by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer
Chefs William Clifford of the Portland Harbor Hotel, Kelly Patrick Farrin of Azure Cafe in Freeport and Clifford Pickett of Dimillo's in Portland are the three finalists in the Maine Lobster Chef of the Year competition.
GRAND TASTING ON THE HARBOR
WHEN: 6 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 21
WHERE: Ocean View Room at Ocean Gateway
HOW MUCH: $65
THERE ARE THREE CERTAINTIES in autumn in Maine: the leaves will change color, the days will get shorter, and the Grand Tasting at Harvest on the Harbor will sell out.
THE GRAND TASTING is a chance to sample the cuisine of numerous Maine chefs in a fun atmosphere with live music. Some of the chefs take the opportunity to try something a little different that's not normally on their menus.
IT'S GOOD EXPOSURE for the restaurants at a time when the summer crowds have gone back home and they need to start filling seats with locals again. It's also as much of a good time for the chefs – there are 17 participating this year – as it is for the people sampling their food.
"FOR ME, IT'S REALLY a good opportunity to talk to people that go out to eat a lot," said Eric Simeon, the chef at Grace in Portland. "And it's a good chance to co-mingle with other chefs and restaurant people."
CHEF CHRISTOPHER BASSETT of Azure Cafe in Freeport said it's a great way to expose several hundred people to his food in a single night. "You have to have a dish that definitely gives them a taste of your restaurant," he said, "but also makes a lasting memory really quick so they walk away from your table thinking about you. I like that opportunity."
CHEF JONATHAN CARTWRIGHT of the White Barn Inn calls the tasting and Harvest on the Harbor "a great event with a great following, and it gets bigger and bigger and better every year."
HERE'S A LOOK at what the 17 chefs will be serving at the Grand Tasting:
Chef Jeff Buerhaus, Walter's, Portland: Sake Kasu Tuna
Chef Eric Simeon, Grace, Portland: Seafood Sausage made with Maine shrimp and lobster
Chef Melissa Bouchard, DiMillo's, Portland: Seared Diver Scallop with Pumpkin Bisque and Bacon Jam
Chef Harding Lee Smith, The Rooms, Portland:
The Corner Room: Lamb Polpettine (Meatballs) with Porcini Mushroom-Goat Cheese Fondita; Chicken Liver Crostini
The Grill Room: Beef Tartare with Truffle Aioli
The Front Room: Cheddar Apple Bacon Grilled Cheese on Brioche
Chef Dan Crook, The Blue Wave Grille, The Wyndham Hotel, South Portland: Roasted CornAhiAvocadoTower with Caper-Lime Essence
Chef Alan Cook, Twenty Milk Street, Portland: Crostini with Herbed Goat Cheese and Forest Mushroom Confit
Chef Christopher Bassett, Azure Cafe, Freeport: Saffron Poached Potato and Roasted Garlic Balsamic Glazed Lobster with Red Amaranth Microgreens
Chef Jeff Landry, The Farmer's Table, Portland: Housemade charcuterie, including Bresaola and some chicken- or pork-based pate. Also serving fall pickles, including basalmic pickled beets, onion, and carrots or squash
Chef Al Hynes, Black Point Inn, Prouts Neck: Lamb Chops Peperonata and Cream Puffs
Chef Charles White, Cinque Terre, Portland: Duck Consomme and Duck Confit with Apricot Mostarda
Chef Tony Lavelle, Solo Bistro, Bath: Cured Halibut with a Ginger Beet Glaze and a Pickled Onion Relish
Chef Justin Rowe, Chebeague Island Inn: Devils on Horseback – Great Hill blue cheese-stuffed date wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon
Chef Jay Villani, Sonny's, Portland: Seasonal ceviche
Chef Jonathan Cartwright, The White Barn Inn, Kennebunk: Yellowfin Tuna with a Coconut-Cucumber Marinade
Chef Mitchell Kaldrovich, Sea Glass at Inn by the Sea, CapeElizabeth: Cured Salmon Tartare on Cones
Chef Theda Lyden, Harraseeket Inn, Freeport: Whipped Triple Creme on Tender Pastries with House-Dried Tomatoes and Thai Basil; Petite Lobster Mousse Eclairs
Chef Joe Boudreau, Havana South, Portland: Spice Rubbed Seared Rare Sushi Grade Yellowfin Tuna on a Flour Tortilla Chip with a Charred Local Fennel and Tomato Salsa; Roasted Lamb Tenderloin on Roasted Jalapeno, Corn and Potato Cake
Ruoss worked at the Seaman's Club and the Snow Squall just across the bridge, then went on to make a name for himself in New Orleans.
He worked his way up to chef de cuisine at Emeril Lagasse's flagship restaurant, NOLA, and now works on developing new restaurants with a restaurant group called 3 of a Kind.
"(Portland chefs are) really putting their footprint on the national scene as far as quality restaurants go and getting as good attention as they deserve," Ruoss said. "When I was there, the nicest restaurant was the Haraseeket Inn. Back when I was a student, that was the nice, fancy place to go to. And now you really can't pick one, there's so many."
Ruoss, who grew up in Old Orchard Beach, will be one of two "celebrity chefs" who are coming home to Maine this month to participate in the third annual Harvest on the Harbor food and wine festival Oct. 21-23 at Ocean Gateway on Portland's waterfront.
The other celebrity chef is Zac Young, a former Mainer, current executive pastry chef at Flex Mussels in New York City, and a contestant on the Bravo TV series "Top Chef Just Desserts," which will still be airing during Harvest on the Harbor.
According to Barbara Whitten, president of the Greater Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau, this year Harvest on the Harbor is expected to draw 5,000 people – with 38 percent coming from out of state – and generate more than $2 million in direct spending.
Patricia Eltman, director of the Maine Office of Tourism, said the event "has successfully lengthened our fall travel season, motivating travelers to be here after foliage season."
"Our research shows an increasingly significant number of travelers say that food is the key aspect of their travel experience," Eltman said. "They believe experiencing a region's food is essential to understanding its culture."
Michael Ruoss finds some similarities in the food cultures of Maine and Louisiana.
"Both places, you cook out of your backyard," he said. "It's not like you're landlocked in Las Vegas, having to order all your stuff in the middle of the desert. You cook local produce and local seafood. It's very regional cooking, both in Maine and Louisiana."
Ruoss will be participating in the "Ultimate Seafood Splash," a two-hour orgy of seafood that will kick off this year's festival on Thursday, Oct. 21, in place of the Grand Tasting, which will still be a major part of the festival but takes place later that evening.
It's one of several changes that have been made to Harvest on the Harbor this year. The number of wines served will more than double and include better-quality wines recommended by local chefs.
More than 400 wines will be available, from the Turina family's Italian wines made from Gropello and Marzemina grapes, to Veuve Clicquot Champagne Rose. (For a complete list, click on "Experience Harvest" then "Who's Pouring" at HarvestOnTheHarbor.com).
There will be no showy evening events this year – no high-end dinners with top chefs, no fancy parties. While last year's Saturday soiree at the Landing at Pine Point was a lot of fun (who doesn't still dream about that huge oyster bar?), this year organizers are encouraging people to get out and sample local restaurants.
Another big change is designed to improve the Marketplace experience, where 160 to 170 vendors will be offering samples of their products. Last year the vendors were great, but overcrowding so dampened the experience (along with the steady rains that forced everyone under the tents) that people were openly complaining about it.
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Amy Bouchard of Wicked Whoopies will be preparing a signature Harvest whoopie pie for the Maine Lobster Chef of the Year competition on Oct. 22 at Ocean Gateway. These Whoop-de-Doos are her classic Wicked Whoopie dipped in chocolate.
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This apple and crab salad, made with local McIntosh apples, lightly dressed and served on endive, was prepared by Chef Mitchell Kaldrovich of Cape Elizabeth's Inn by the Sea for a preview of Harvest on the Harbor. Kaldrovich is one of 17 chefs who will be cooking for the Grand Tasting on the Harbor Oct. 21 at Ocean Gateway.
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Michael Ruoss will prepare his seafood gumbo for the Ultimate Seafood Splash.
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Zac Young will host the Sweet Stage on Oct. 23.