If you like food shows on television, odds are you’ve watched “Top Chef,” “Iron Chef” or “Master Chef” and wondered what it would be like to be one of the people tasting the dishes that the contestants create under the watchful eyes of judges like Tom Colicchio and Gordon Ramsay.

Well, here’s your chance.

There’s going to be a new event at Harvest on the Harbor this year that will feature such well-known Maine restaurants as Cleonice, Miyake, Earth and Five Fifty-Five, and you will have the opportunity to become a “citizen judge.”

“Top of the Crop: Best Farm to Table Chef” will give Maine chefs who have shown a commitment to using locally grown and produced foods a chance to illustrate how they put together the best farm-to-table experience at their restaurants.

The competition, sponsored by MaineToday Media, owners of The Portland Press Herald, will be held 6 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 21 at Ocean Gateway in Portland.

The panel of judges for “Top of the Crop” will include Mark Tarbell, winner of season five of “Iron Chef America” and chef/owner of the renowned Tarbell’s Restaurant in Phoenix. Tarbell has been nominated for Best Chef: Southwest by the James Beard Foundation, and has appeared on numerous Food Network shows, including “Cooking Live with Sara Moulton” and “Iron Chef America.”


The hosts for the event will be the chefs who brought the farm-to-table experience to Maine: Clarke Frasier and Mark Gaier of Arrows Restaurant in Ogunquit.

Here’s how it works: Restaurants were nominated by a group of farmers, farm distributors and food writers, and that list was narrowed down to 14 establishments. Each restaurant has written a short essay on its farm-to-table philosophy that will be posted this Friday at pressherald.com/harvest.

During the next month, a panel of judges will narrow the list down to three finalists. A fourth finalist will be chosen by you.

Consider your own experiences at these restaurants, read about them on the website, and then vote for your favorite by Sept. 12. The “People’s Choice” finalist, along with the three finalists chosen by the judges, will be announced in mid-September.

Among the restaurants and chefs from which you will be able to choose are Portland-area establishments such as Jeff Landry’s The Farmer’s Table, Steve Corry’s Five-Fifty Five and Harding Smith’s three “Room” restaurants.

But this competition will draw chefs from outside Portland as well.


You’ll learn that John Hikade of Arborvine in Blue Hill sources its greens and tomatoes in the winter from Eliot Coleman’s Four Seasons Farm. Boston-area chef Ken Oringer will also be in the mix, showcasing his two organic gardens at Earth, the new addition to the Kennebunkport food scene. And you’ll discover where Rich Hanson, chef/owner of Cleonice in Ellsworth, sources his cheeses, heritage pork and grass-fed beef.

“When people ask why our BLT is so good in August, we can honestly (and proudly) say that the tomato and lettuce was picked this morning, the bacon is from our own pigs, the focaccia was made in-house, and the eggs and tarragon to make the mayonnaise were from our own farm,” Hanson’s essay reads. “It’s from a farm, not a factory. And when it’s all said and done, that’s what makes the food good.”

The judges for the contest, in addition to Tarbell, include Martha Putnam of Farm Fresh Connection, a marketer and distributor of farm products; Lisa Turner of Laughing Stock Farm in Freeport, author of “The Eat Local Cookbook;” John Golden, food blogger for Down East magazine; and myself.

Want to join us at the judges’ table? Get creative.

During the next month, anyone who would like to throw their hat into the ring to become a “citizen’s judge” can apply by submitting a one-minute video telling us why you think farm-to-table restaurants are important. Have fun with it. A winner will be selected in mid-September, at the same time the People’s Choice finalist is announced. Instructions for uploading your videos will be on pressherald.com/harvest.

During the “Top of the Crop” event, the four finalists will create a dish using the local products they serve at their restaurants. The dish will be centered around one common, seasonal ingredient, “Iron Chef”-style. Tasting samples of the dish and wine pairings will be served to an audience of 200.


So get out your video cameras. Visit the website and vote for your favorite restaurant.

Then join us on Oct. 21 to sample some amazing food and find out which Maine restaurant is “Top of the Crop.”


Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: [email protected]


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