September 27, 2013

Competition heats up for Maine Lobster Chef of the Year contest

Harvest on the Harbor also announces finalists in the Maine's Best Farm to Table contest.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Chefs Jon Gaboric and Chris Long work side by side at Natalie's, the restaurant at the Camden Harbour Inn, so they've always had a little friendly competition.

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click image to enlarge

Maine Lobster Chef of the Year finalists, from left: Jon Gaboric from Natalie's in Camden; Shanna O'Hea from the Kennebunk Inn; Brandon Blethen from Robert's Maine Grill in Kittery; and Chris Long from Natalie's in Camden.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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Maine's Best Farm to Table Restaurant finalists, from left: chefs David Levi from Vinland in Portland; Kerry Altiero from Cafe Miranda in Rockland; and Chad Conley from Gather in Yarmouth. Chef Richard Hanson from Cleonice Mediterranean Bistro in Ellsworth, also a finalist, was absent.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

In October, they will go head-to-head in the Maine Lobster Chef of the Year contest at Harvest on the Harbor, Portland's annual food and wine festival.

This time, the competition may not be so friendly.

"He's been threatening to take the rubber bands off my lobsters before I can get to them," Long said Thursday at the press conference announcing details of this year's festival.

Nearly 5,000 people came to Portland last year to sample local foods and sip wines at Harvest on the Harbor, which will be held this year Oct. 23-26.

Ticket sales so far show that visitors will be coming from five countries and 29 states.

The Portland Convention and Visitors' Bureau estimates that the festival pumps more than $2 million into the local economy.

"It's important that we do this event after the busy summer tourist season, and after our fall foliage season, so we can encourage visitors to continue to come into our state and to visit our restaurants, to shop in our stores and to attend the many wonderful galleries and attractions that we have," said Barbara Whitten, president of the bureau.

The Maine Lobster Chef of the Year competition is one of the festival's most popular events. This year, for the first time, it sold out even before the competitors were announced.

This is also the first time two chefs from the same restaurant have competed against each other.

"He did his dish, and I was like, 'I can do that better,' and here we both are," said Long, a line chef at Natalie's.

Gaboric, the executive chef at Natalie's, said he'll make butter-poached lobster with pickled radishes, corn miso puree and geoduck dressing. (A geoduck is a large saltwater clam.)

Long's dish will be butter-poached lobster with a parsnip and squash ragout.

In addition to Gaboric and Long, chef Shanna O'Hea of the restaurant Academe at the Kennebunk Inn will compete, with her take on lobster lo mein -- with a seared piece of pork belly on top.

"I think competition is always fun," O'Hea said. "It's great to get outside of your comfort zone. I'm always in the kitchen and on the line, so it's nice to get out in the public. And the title itself is kind of insane, so why not try to go for something like that?"

Chef Brandon Blethen of Robert's Maine Grill in Kittery said he wanted to keep his dish secret, but all of the recipes were posted Thursday at harvestontheharbor.com.

According to the website, Blethen's dish will be Maine lobster fried in a light Allagash beer batter with smoked orange tomato and lobster reduction over Maine mashed potatoes, Swiss chard and micro greens.

"We source things really super local, from farms that are less than a mile and a half away from the restaurant and from local fishermen that are close," Blethen said.

The event will be emceed by chef Michele Ragussis, a Food Network Star finalist who cooks seasonally at the Pearl Seafood Restaurant and Raw Bar in Rockland.

The festival will have some new events this year.

"International Maine: Taste the World" will focus on tastings and demonstrations of ethnic cuisine in Maine, including food and drink from restaurants such as El Camino Cantina in Brunswick and Tandoor, an Indian restaurant in Portland.

Wine lovers will be able to make their own wines in a wine-blending seminar with the vintners of Lyeth Winery in Sonoma County, Calif.

Fans of craft brews can attend a tasting featuring Oxbow Brewery beers paired with oysters and cheese, Whitten said, and "learn about their unconventional approach to crafting contemporary, American farmhouse ales which they tout as loud beers from a quiet place."

That event is almost sold out already.

The competitors for another returning event, "Top of the Crop: Maine's Best Farm to Table Restaurant," were also announced Thursday.

The finalists will be chefs Chad Conley of Gather in Yarmouth, Kerry Altiero of Caf?iranda in Rockland, Richard Hanson of Cleonice Mediterranean Bistro in Ellsworth, and David Levi, who will open a restaurant called Vinland in Portland in November.

Chef Sam Hayward of Portland's Fore Street restaurant, a longtime advocate of farm-to-table fare, will be the emcee.

Chefs for the Top of the Crop and the Maine Lobster Chef of the Year competitions were chosen by a committee of four local chefs who reviewed competitors' bios, read about their farm-to-table philosophy and reviewed their submitted recipes.

Altiero, who won Maine Lobster Chef of the Year last year, said today's farm-to-table movement is actually just a return to Maine's culinary roots.

"My Italian grandmother would say, 'Kerry, this is nothing new. It's just the way it used to be,' " he said.

Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

mgoad@pressherald.com

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