If you just can’t get enough of Harvest on the Harbor, Portland’s big fall food and wine festival, you’re in luck.

The festival, now in its fifth year, has been expanded to four days, and there are two new events designed to keep the menu of activities fresh.

The Grand Tasting has been moved to Wednesday evening, and the Maine Lobster Chef of the Year contest, normally on Friday, has been moved to Thursday.

There’s a couple of different reasons for the addition of a day. First, every event sold out last year, so there’s clearly demand out there. Second is Barbara Whitten’s desire to have the Oct. 24-27 festival at least break even and not lose money this year.

The festival’s budget is about $400,000, a figure that includes in-kind services from local businesses, according to Whitten, president of the Greater Portland Convention & Visitors Bureau, organizer of the festival. The advertising budget takes the biggest bite, with a budget of more than $300,000. The huge tent that covers the Saturday marketplace costs $25,000. Then there’s rent for Ocean Gateway, and the hiring of electricians and security.

“I think there’s a misunderstanding of people thinking, wow, where does all that ticket money go?” Whitten said. “It costs a lot of money to put this event on, and we’re not about making money on this event, we’re about promoting the chefs, promoting the food scene, promoting Maine as a culinary travel destination, and bringing our next generation of chefs to life. If we can do that and not have it cost me a lot of money, that would be my goal for this year — that we can break even.”

In addition to the $400,000, the chefs who participate donate their food, their time and their staff’s time. Vendors at the marketplace do the same, with many donating all products in addition to paying an exhibitor’s fee so that they can get their products in front of a targeted audience.

Whitten says the investment has paid off, because the festival now brings in an estimated $2 million to the local economy. Sixty percent of festival visitors spend at least one night here, and most spend two nights, she said.

“Seventy percent of the people dine out in restaurants while they’re here, and 80 percent or more shop in our area or attend area attractions,” she said.

So, what’s on tap for this year’s festival? Here’s what’s happening, beginning with the two new events. (For tickets to events, go to harvestontheharbor.com.)

CUTTING EDGE: CULINARY COLLEGE COMPETITION

WHEN: Noon to 2:30 p.m. Oct. 26

WHERE: Ocean View Room, Ocean Gateway, 14 Ocean Gateway Pier, Commercial Street

HOW MUCH: $65

WHAT ELSE: In addition to an appetizer and entree, this seated event will also include breads from Standard Baking Co., cheeses from Cabot Creamery Cooperative, dipping oils from Lakonia Greek Products, wines from USA Wine West, a dessert demonstration and tasting from Rosemont Market & Bakery and coffee from Coffee By Design.

It’s not hard to predict who will win this competition for culinary scholarships.

It will be (putting on my Carnac the Magnificent hat)the team from Southern Maine Community College.

How do I know this? The organizers apparently asked all the other culinary schools in Maine to participate, and SMCC is the only one that stepped up to the plate for the main competition. So the school will be sending three teams of four students each to create an entree with salmon as the star ingredient.

“Yes, the bases are loaded,” joked chef instructor Geoffrey Boardman, chair of the SMMC culinary department.

Boardman said each team has to come up with an appetizer and entree. They develop the recipes, and he will review them to help them refine their entries. “Obviously, I cannot play favorites and have to coach them all,” Boardman said.

Whitten said the seed was planted for the student competition last year, after a conversation she had with an exhausted student volunteer, who had been working behind the scenes at the festival from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.

“He’s just sitting there with this little twinkle in his eye,” Whitten recalled. “And he said, ‘You know what? It won’t be long before I’m going to be up there on that stage.’

“And I thought, why not bring them up on stage now?”

Michele Ragussis, chef at The Pearl in Rockland and a finalist on the reality TV show “Food Network Star,” will host the event.

“I’m excited that they’re students, and that I can be behind them and maybe give them a push,” Ragussis said. “Just like being with Bobby Flay, he made me want to do better. So I’m hoping I can just inspire them. You know, it’s tough. This business is not easy.”

Asked if she had any tips for the young chefs, she said don’t worry about being nervous, and listen to your gut.

“Nerves, I think, are good, so if you’re not nervous, there’s a problem,” Ragussis said. “And go with your gut. I’m a go-with-your-gut kind of girl, so if they’re doubting themselves, go with your first instinct. It’s always right.”

BBQ, BREWS & BLUES

WHEN: 6 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 26

WHERE: Ocean View Room, Ocean Gateway, 14 Ocean Gateway Pier, Commercial Street

HOW MUCH: $65

WHAT ELSE: Desserts will be provided by Two Fat Cats Bakery in Portland. Live music from the Boston-based indie-blues band Ballroom Thieves.

The annual seafood-centric event has apparently sailed out to sea, much to my disappointment.

There’s a good argument to be made that since we live on the ocean, we ought to be highlighting more local seafood than just lobster in a food and wine festival that’s showcasing local chefs and restaurants. But if we have to replace it with something, barbecue paired with local craft brews isn’t a bad choice.

Whitten said that, in thinking about what’s trendy, she sensed a lot of interest in casual comfort foods and craft beers this year. Guests at this event will be able to sample all kinds of barbecued and smoked meats paired with savory side dishes and craft beers, wines and spirits.

Among the pitmasters at BBQ, Brews & Blues will be Dennis Sherman of Maine’s own Denny Mike’s, purveyor of rubs and sauces; Sean and Clarissa MacDonald of MacDaddy’s Rollin’ Smoke BBQ in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire; and Smokin’ Good BBQ from Bethel.

Portlanders may have particular interest in trying the ‘cue from Alex and Wendyll Caisse, owners of Buck’s Naked BBQ in Freeport and Windham. The couple will be opening a third restaurant in Portland in late November, in the old Havana South space at the corner of Wharf and Union streets.

Alex Caisse agrees the timing of Harvest on the Harbor is “great” for him, “but anytime I have the opportunity to promote barbecue in new England I seize that opportunity.”

“We have a lot of fun doing what we do, cooking the barbecue and explaining it to people and showing them how we do our version of barbecue,” he said. “It’s an exciting time for us with the new location in Portland, and we want to introduce ourselves. I’m sure there’s a lot of the crowd down there that knows us already, but some of the people that haven’t experienced what we do, it will be a good opportunity for them to see what we’re all about.”

Caisse said that in addition to traditional American barbecue, he’ll probably prepare some of the food from the “Global Wandering” section of his restaurants’ menu, which includes items such as grilled Korean beef short ribs and grilled lamb shish kebob.

“We’ll have some of our straight-up barbecue, down home style,” he said, “and some flavors from around the globe, whether it be Korean barbecue or Chinese barbecue, Brazilian-style barbecue.”

GRAND TASTING

WHEN: 6 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 24

WHERE: Ocean View Room, Ocean Gateway, 14 Ocean Gateway Pier, Commercial Street

HOW MUCH: $75

WHAT ELSE: Music from DJ Jon of Bubba’s Sulky Lounge. Chocolates from Sweet Marguerites. Coffee from Coffee by Design.

If you can’t go to anything else during Harvest on the Harbor, the Grand Tasting is a good way to sample the food of many restaurants in one evening. The food will be accompanied by 2-ounce pours of craft beers, wines and spirits.

This year, the event has been moved from Thursday to Wednesday. Participating chefs and restaurants this year include Portland’s own Zapoteca, SeaGrass in Yarmouth, Fish Bones American Grill in Lewiston, Eve’s at the Garden in Portland, the Harraseeket Inn and the Azure Cafe in Freeport, The Good Table and Sea Glass from Cape Elizabeth, Spread in Portland, Diamond’s Edge Restaurant from Great Diamond Island, The Farmers Table in Portland, the Inn at Brunswick Station, DiMillo’s on the Waterfront in Portland and Cabot Creamery Cooperative.

MAINE LOBSTER CHEF OF THE YEAR

WHEN: Noon to 2:30 p.m. Oct. 25

WHERE: Ocean View Room, Ocean Gateway, 14 Ocean Gateway Pier, Commercial Street

HOW MUCH: $65

WHAT ELSE: This seated event begins with a cup of lobster bisque and ends with a blueberry dessert demonstration and tasting from Captain Sam’s Ice Cream. Wines from Constellation Brands and coffee from Coffee By Design.

This is one of the most popular events of Harvest on the Harbor and always sells out quickly. This year, it has been moved from Friday to Thursday and will be an “All-Star” competition featuring chefs who have competed in previous contests.

The three finalists, announced last week, are Kerry Altiero of Cafe Miranda in Rockland; Mackenzie Arrington of The Dutch in New York City; and Melissa Bouchard and Cliff Pickett, who will be cooking as a team, representing DiMillo’s on the Waterfront in Portland.

Pickett said he thinks the second time around in the competition — he competed in 2010 with a steamed Maine lobster and sweet corn tamale — will be easier because he and Bouchard have more confidence. (They also represented Maine in this year’s Great American Seafood Cook-Off in New Orleans.)

“We’re both comfortable now,” he said. “We’ve both done it, and it’s not as nerve-wracking, I’d say, this time around.”

Typically, the audience of 200, which gets to sample all the chefs’ dishes, votes on the winner, but this year there will also be a judges’ choice. The judges will be Steve Corry, chef/owner of Five-Fifty Five and Petite Jacqueline in Portland; Kathleen Fleury, managing editor of Down East magazine; and Sharon Rose of WCSH-TV.

The winner or winners will receive $1,000 and publicity for their restaurant.

“The creative ways that they use Maine lobster is absolutely amazing, and we’re always pleased and surprised sometimes by what they come up with,” said Dane Somers, executive director of the Maine Lobster Promotion Council, which sponsors the event.

TOP OF THE CROP: MAINE’S BEST FARM TO TABLE RESTAURANT

WHEN: 6 to 8:30 Oct. 25

WHERE: Ocean View Room, Ocean Gateway, 14 Ocean Gateway Pier, Commercial Street

HOW MUCH: $75

WHAT ELSE: Wine pairings from South Portland Wine Company. Bread from Standard Baking Co. Cheeses from Cabot Creamery Cooperative. Dessert from Two Fat Cats and coffee from Coffee by Design.

This seated event, now in its second year, features chefs from restaurants known for their way with locally sourced, farm-fresh foods.

This year’s finalists are Shannon Bard from Zapoteca in Portland, Eric Flynn of Freeport’s Harraseeket Inn, Jeff Landry of The Farmer’s Table in Portland and Kevin Walsh of Earth at Hidden Pond in Kennebunk.

The chefs demonstrate their dish on stage and talk about their farm-to-table philosophies while audience members taste what the chefs are making.

The host for this year’s event will be chef Elliott Prag from the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York.

SAVORY SAMPLINGS AT THE MARKETPLACE

WHEN: Oct. 27. Choose between Session 1 from 2 to 2:30 p.m. or Session 2 from 4 to 6:30 p.m.

WHERE: Oceanside Pavilion, Ocean Gateway, 14 Ocean Gateway Pier, Commercial Street

HOW MUCH: $50

WHAT ELSE: There’s a tent, but it’s still a good idea to bring an umbrella.

This event is a cornucopia of all things Maine. More than 160 purveyors of food, wine, beer, spirits and other Maine-made products fill the tent with samples, and are eager to talk about their artisanal creations.

This year the food will range from gourmet pizza and craft beer to seafood selections paired with wine. There will also be a coffee cafe.

Food demonstrations and wine education workshops are held at several different stages around the venue. You’ll also get to meet local cookbook authors, including Alison Pray and Tara Smith of Standard Baking Co., who have just published their first baking book.

For a complete list of who’s pouring and presenting, go to harvestontheharbor.com.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: MeredithGoad

 


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