Two Portland chefs and a chef from Freeport were named finalists in the Maine Lobster Chef of the Year contest today.

Chef Bill Clifford, the new executive chef at the Portland Harbor Hotel, will compete for the title alongside Chef Clifford Pickett, who is a banquet chef at Dimillo’s, and Chef Kelly Patrick Farrin, who works at Azure Cafe in Freeport.

The three chefs will cook their lobster dishes live Oct. 22, in front of a crowd of 200 people during the Harvest on the Harbor food and wine festival.

Farrin, 27, said he developed several different dishes for the contest before settling on his Herb Grilled Maine Lobster Tail on Arugula with Chive Ricotta Gnocchi & Corn Milk.

“It was my only entry,” said Farrin, who lives in South Freeport and is a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont. “My heart was set on it. I know you could enter as many (recipes) as you want, but…”

Farrin said he tried to stick with an Italian theme since that’s the cuisine served at Azure Cafe.

“I’ve always liked doing gnocchis,” he said. “I think the texture is perfect for lobster. You need that kind of starchy complement.”

Farrin began cooking at 18 in a small kitchen in Boothbay Harbor. He has worked at an oceanside resort in Key West, and was sous chef at the Rocktide Inn  in Boothbay Harbor. He now works at Azure Cafe, and plans to bring along Executive Chef Christopher Bassett and the rest of the cafe’s staff to help him execute his dish on Oct. 22.

Chef Pickett will be going with a Southwestern theme, preparing a Steamed Maine Lobster & Sweet Corn Tamale with Creamy Chilis and Leeks.

Pickett, also 27, was born and raised in Tuscon. He worked at a chef-owned bar and grill during high school, then graduated from the Scottsdale Culinary Institute Le Codon Bleu in 2003.

Pickett moved to Maine in 2007 with his wife Kaitlin and daughter Lilla.

“I’m used to eating a lot of Mexican food,” Pickett said. “You don’t see it as much around here, so I started making it at home a lot. Around that time I was making tamales, so I sort of put it together and it kind of worked. It’s not necessarily a traditional tamale. It’s made with corn meal and ground fresh corn. And obviously there’s usually a filling in a tamale, and this (filling) is going to be on top of it. It’s kind of a variation on the traditional.”

Last year, Pickett helped his colleague, Chef Melissa Bouchard, compete in the Maine Lobster Chef of the Year contest, “and she’s going to come with me this year and help me.”

Chef Clifford, 42, graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 1993. After working in Miami and Denver, he opened a restaurant called 93 Townsend in Boothbay Harbor and worked there until this summer, when he accepted the executive chef position at the Portland Harbor Hotel.

Clifford’s lobster risotto won him the title of Maine Lobster Chef of the Year in 2003-2004, but the contest this time around is “much, much higher profile,” he said.

“I was a winner years and years ago,” Clifford said. “It was very small, and it was in the governor’s mansion and the Baldaccis were in residence, so it was actually like cooking in their house. There were eight of us that day, and their families were there and their dogs were there.”

Still, winning the title had an “unbelievable” impact on his restaurant.

“I had a little tiny restaurant in Boothbay Harbor, then I won this little contest, and people came in the next day asking for the dish by name,” Clifford said, “and it really didn’t slow down for almost three years. The impact was overwhelmingly positive.”

A panel of four judges chose the finalists after reviewing their recipes. At the Oct. 22 cook-off at Ocean Gateway, the public will taste the chef’s dishes and then vote on their favorite.

The contest will be taped for airing on the New England Sports Network (NESN).

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