PORTLAND – Jessie Grearson has a couple of distinctive palates to please in her Falmouth home.

“I try to keep it crispy for my daughters and spicy for my husband,” who is Indian, Grearson said, explaining how she came up with the recipe for her “Bombay-style Crunchy Fish Tostada Bites with Srirachi-Lime Sour Cream,” which is as much of a mouthful to say as it is to eat.

And it was also quite a hit Saturday, when it won the appetizer/side dish category of the Hood New England Dairy Cook-Off at the Ocean Gateway terminal in Portland.

Hood runs the event as an intra-New England competition, with amateur cooks from each of the six states pitted against each other, with a $10,000 grand prize at stake. Professional chefs take part in a competition of their own, vying for bragging rights only.

The amateurs submitted recipes — more than a thousand were received this year — which were then reviewed by students and faculty at Southern New Hampshire University’s culinary arts program. The criteria was that the recipe fit one of the categories — breakfast/brunch; soups and chowders; appetizers and side dishes; lunch or dinner entrees; and dessert — can be cooked in 45 minutes or less and contains at least one Hood product.

Finalists in each category from each New England state were picked and told to show up in Portland for a throw-down.

Grearson cheerfully admitted that her recipe wasn’t exactly a Maine classic, especially with its Indian accents.

“It’s called ‘the cultural world is flat’ recipe,” she said.

For the most part, Grearson — a writer and writing teacher when not indulging her hobby around a stove — was serenely assembling her creation, with a base of flatbread, topped with lettuce, tomatoes, the fish, a few spices and the lime-sour cream-buttermilk topping. The only time she seemed a bit intense was as she fried the fish pieces, making sure they turned a nice rich brown color but were taken off the heat before they went too far.

Judge Stefan Ryll of SNHU said Grearson did a great job at that part, describing the fish as “perfectly fried.”

Ryll also pronounced Grearson’s presentation “professional,” said the sour cream topping was an inspired cool and smooth antithesis of the spices and crunchy fish, and said the portions were perfect for an appetizer.

Waiting in the wings as the judges assessed the appetizers and side dishes was Danica Schroth of Freeport, who would be trying to uphold the state’s honor in the entree category with her Kickin’ White Bean Chicken Chili.

Her task seemed relatively straightforward: She said all she had to do was put all the ingredients in a pot and let it simmer for about a half hour before putting a bowl before the judges. A dollop of sour cream on top would satisfy the sponsor’s requirement, she said.

Schroth said she decided to enter the contest for the same reasons that probably drew most of the other cooks, including a fascination with foodstuffs. “I fell in love with Hungarian wax peppers this summer and built the recipe around that,” she said.

For her part, Grearson smiled through some photos and said she’d love to take a nap before returning for the Saturday evening finals — she had been up at 3 a.m. due to nerves — but had a few tasks to tend to first.

“I have to get home and cut up some more tomatoes,” she said.


Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: [email protected]