SCARBOROUGH – You could say the competition was heated, if by heated you’re referring to succulent lobster tail poached slowly in butter, or handmade lobster sausages sauteed in a hot pan and served over champagne kraut.

The intimate atmosphere at the Shucks Maine Lobster Chef “World Series” Wednesday was hushed at critical moments, except for occasional exclamations of gastronomic delight from a handful of hungry onlookers.

“Oh, yes!” groaned judge Luke Holden in a “When Harry Met Sally” moment, watching a chef spoon a rich, buttery, lobster-infused sauce over a finished dish.

In the end, it was chef Chris Gould, the U.S. champion, who edged out chefs from Germany, Hong Kong and Maine to win the $5,000 prize and Shucks’ “Golden Buoy” trophy, which was presented by Portland Mayor Michael Brennan at City Hall.

Gould is a native of Bethel, but until last week he worked for renowned chef Ken Oringer at Uni Sashimi Bar in Boston. He said he plans to open his own restaurant in Portland next spring that will feature “internationally inspired small plates.”

Gould’s winning dish was a butter-poached lobster with ragout of sauteed lobster knuckles, roasted fingerling potatoes, cinnamon-roasted carrots, roasted corn and sweet miso puree, and piquillo pepper.

It was not the same dish he made to get into the finals. Gould likes “playing around” in the kitchen and rarely repeats himself, even when he’s working in a restaurant.

“I don’t like to do the same thing — ever,” he told the judges. “I get bored very quickly.”

The competition — which by delicious coincidence fell on Julia Child’s 100th birthday — was a year in the making.

The sponsor of the contest, Shucks Maine Lobster, is a seafood processor in Richmond that uses high pressure to loosen raw lobster meat from its shell. Chefs like raw lobster because it doesn’t overcook and they don’t have to deal with the shipping issues that come with live lobsters.

Caitlin Hathaway of Shucks Maine held preliminary competitions to find lobster chef champions in Europe and Asia, then brought all of the finalists to Maine so they could learn more about the lobster industry and the Shucks Maine product. The chefs spent Monday and Tuesday hauling traps on a lobster boat in Stonington and touring the Shucks facility. Tuesday night, they had oysters at J’s and ate dinner at Fore Street.

“I tell you, the Maine lobster is incredible,” said German chef Gerd Kastenmeier of Kastenmeier Restaurant in Dresden.

He said he’s been using Shucks’ raw lobster to make the same dish in his restaurant that he competed with on Wednesday: A Maine lobster trio of lobster tartare topped with a fried quail egg, Maine lobster tail sausage over champagne kraut, and scrambled egg with lobster knuckles topped with caviar.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “People go crazy.”

Kastenmeier, who also has a catering company and his own line of all-natural soups and sauces in German supermarkets, fell in love with Maine oysters, too, while he was here. He said he plans to try to import them when he returns to Germany.

Patrick Goubier, a French chef from Chez Patrick in Hong Kong, said he didn’t realize until he was flying over the ocean and islands on his way to Stonington how beautiful Maine is. “I was surprised by the nature,” Goubier said. “I think I will come back here for my holiday.”

Goubier’s dish featured lobster, goat cheese, red beet soup and Chinese black beans.

“I believe fresh goat cheese goes so well with lobster,” Goubier said.

Wednesday’s cooking championship was held at the Scarborough home of Steve and Michelle Corry, the owners of Five Fifty-Five and Petite Jacqueline in Portland.

In addition to hosting the contest, Corry competed as a representative of Maine. He said he wanted to make an “ultra-local dish,” so he spent the past week fishing and foraging around his home, which overlooks Scarborough marsh.

Corry caught a striped bass about a quarter-mile from his home Sunday night, and served it over sea beans gathered by his two young sons in the marsh. He foraged in nearby woods for chicken of the woods and lobster (of course) mushrooms. He fried Casco Bay kelp to make a bed for lobster tail. The lobster, which came from Stonington, traveled the farthest to Corry’s plate.

“I’m going to show these guys what we have here,” Corry said.

Throughout the day, the chefs took the opportunity to show off some of their techniques in the kitchen. Corry fused two lobster tails together using the enzyme transglutaminase, or “meat glue,” a product used in fast-food chicken nuggets that is now finding more fine dining applications. He cooked the bound tails at precisely 142 degrees Fahrenheit in an immersion circulator filled with water.

Gould picked tall grass from the edge of Corry’s lawn and put it in a pan with some cinnamon sticks and carrots. Then, just off the deck, he lit the grass on fire with a torch so it burned the cinnamon and smoked the carrots in the pan. Then he covered the pan and put it in the oven at 375 until the carrots were tender.

The day also included some humorous moments.

When Kastenmeier repeatedly had trouble getting his lobster sausage into lamb casing he’d brought with him from Germany, he quipped: “So now the problem starts. My sous chef wanted to come, but I told him to stay with the restaurant.”

Corry was cheered on by his 5-year-old son Seamus, who stood on a chair at the edge of the kitchen holding a poster board decorated with dozens of stickers and an encouraging message: “Good Luck Daddy!!”

Choosing a winner was tough for the judges. Luke Holden of Luke’s Lobster in New York and Washington, D.C., called it “intimidating.”

“These guys are all extremely experienced chefs,” he said. “It’s a humbling, fun experience to be a part of this.”

Holden said developing “smarter products” like Shucks lobster is the way Maine can distinguish its product from Canadian lobster.

“That’s how we’re going to raise the boat price,” he said.

Caitlin Hathaway said there will be more World Series competitions in years to come.

As Julia might say, “Bon appetit!”

 

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

Twitter: MeredithGoad