Once again, there’s much to love about this year’s Harvest on the Harbor food and wine festival.

There’s also a little to be annoyed about, and some things that make you go hmmmm.

So, before I dive into the delicious details, here’s what I think they get right this year, and areas I think could be improved upon in the future:

On the plus side, they’ve managed to lure some great chefs into the fold, including some newbies.

There are two chefs from the same restaurant participating in the Maine Lobster Chef of the Year event, which should make for an interesting competition. Even better: None of the lobster chefs have competed in a Harvest on the Harbor competition before, so we have fresh meat.

They’ve kept the Top of the Crop competition, a good thing because the event is a great reflection of this state’s love for farm-to-table fare. It will be worth the price of admission just to see how mild-mannered chef Sam Hayward of Fore Street fares in the hosting job. He’s a nice guy, smart, and arguably the person who knows the most about the farm-to-table movement in Maine, but can he control the crowd? Or will he, like the Arrows chefs in 2011, be forced to admonish the chattering audience to simmer down (“This isn’t TV”) because they were acting like a roomful of restless third-graders?


There are also a couple of good educational sessions on beer and wine scheduled, at the suggestion of last year’s attendees. (More on those below.)

Every year the organizers try to inject something new into the festival by coming up with brand new events. This year, one of the major new evening events is “International Maine: Taste of the World.”

The mix of restaurants at this event is disappointing, and very heavy on Mexican. There’s one sushi station (Portland is not represented by a single one of its many Japanese restaurants), an Irish pub, an Indian restaurant, an Italian place from Lewiston, an importer of Greek products, an Argentinian chef from a non-Argentinian restaurant, and no less than four Mexican restaurants. That’s a lot of tacos.

There’s also a waffle restaurant. (Because waffles are Belgian? Huh?) And there’s a new local pistachio company whose product is great, but wouldn’t it be better placed in the Saturday marketplace to make room for another restaurant?

Bridgton’s Standard Gastropub is in, but I can only guess why. I know they have tacos and other Mexican-influenced fare on the menu (I haven’t been there yet myself), but from what I’ve heard I wouldn’t exactly call it a Mexican restaurant. (If you’re counting, that would make five restaurants serving Mexican-themed fare at this event.)

Seriously, what’s with all the tacos? I asked Barbara Whitten, president of the Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau, about the International event, and she said the original idea was that German, French, Italian, Mexican and all sorts of other ethnic restaurants would sign up and maybe serve a dish focused on local seafood. But when people actually signed up, the list tilted heavily toward Mexican.


“People call us and say they want to participate, and we can’t say no,” Whitten said.

Well, why not?

Some restaurants don’t want to spend the money (or spare the staff) that it takes to participate in Harvest on the Harbor. I get that. But clearly there is demand for the limited number of tables available. So why not have people apply and have an expert panel, like the judging panel for the chefs’ competitions, choose who gets in and who has to try again next year? Inject a little competition, and I’ll bet more restaurants would step up to the plate.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not implying that only high-end restaurants should be allowed to participate — far from it. But there should be more thought given to the mix of high-end versus more casual restaurants, and those that are located in Portland versus outside Portland.

I also asked Whitten once again (I’m sure she’s tired of hearing me talk about it) why there’s no seafood-centric event this year. If you’re a tourist coming to Maine and spending big money on a food festival, you want lobster, clams, oysters and other seafood, not tacos (unless they’re fish tacos).

She quickly and politely put me in my place, reminding me that the two “Seafood Splash” extravaganzas they have held have not sold as well as some of the other events. Part of the problem was that both events were held in the middle of the day, a tougher time to sell tickets. (The first year was a particularly wonderful event, and I couldn’t believe that it wasn’t sold out.) The second year, they focused on serving only sustainable seafood. The food was, once again, terrific, but fewer people showed up.


“By far the best food you could find on the planet, no question,” Whitten said. “But I think the message about sustainable seafood, and would I eat pollock, was a hard thing to sell.”

Guests will get a good helping of seafood at the Grand Tasting this year (see below), but I still think they should try making it the focus of an entire event again next year, and this time hold it in the evening. And promote the hell out of it.

If that doesn’t work, I’ll shut up about it.

Meanwhile, how about a committee to come up with some creative ideas for the new events they add each year? Why not challenge chefs to come up with a gourmet take on classic New England foods, something that would attract both tourists and curious locals? I don’t mean the usual clam chowder and lobster rolls. How about a kicked-up version of tourtiere? Would anyone dare to use Moxie as an ingredient in a sauce? The point is, let’s do something to encourage creativity and give the restaurants a kick in their chef’s whites.

Step away from the crostinis, people!

Now, on to the events:



WHEN: 6 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 23

WHERE: Ocean View Room at Ocean Gateway Pier, Portland


The Grand Tasting only has 18 chef’s stations this year, down from 22. Why? Many of the chefs whom organizers had hoped to lure into the fold did not sign up in time, while the wine folks did a great job of laying claim to 29 out of 49 tables.

“We were full before we even started asking people who we thought should be there,” Whitten said.


The good news is there will still be plenty of talent there, including Kelly Farrin from Primo. Bridging the seafood gap will be the Maine Aquaculture Association, which will turn two tables into a raw bar with lots of Maine oysters. There will also be steamed mussels and True North smoked salmon.


WHEN: Noon to 2:30 p.m. Oct. 24

WHERE: Ocean View Room at Ocean Gateway Pier, Portland


This event sold out before they even announced who the competitors would be, a first for Harvest on the Harbor, so I won’t waste space here describing it. I will be covering the event, so watch for my story announcing the winner online Oct. 24.



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

WHERE: Ocean View Room at Ocean Gateway Pier, Portland


Chef Mitchell Kaldrovich of Sea Glass at the Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth will be making the gnocchi he used to make with his grandmother back in Argentina. He’ll be demonstrating making, rolling and cooking gnocchi from scratch.

In Argentina, apparently, children are served a bowl of gnocchi with a dollar on the bottom of the bowl. If they eat all of it, they get to keep the dollar.



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

WHERE: Ocean View Room at Ocean Gateway Pier, Portland


The chef lineup for this event is good, but a little strange, too, because one of the contestants won the Lobster Chef of the Year competition last year, and another doesn’t even have a restaurant yet. But I bow to the decisions of the judges, who chose the contestants based on the chefs’ recipes and farm-to-table philosophies.

The finalists will be chefs Chad Conley of Gather in Yarmouth, Kerry Altiero of Cafe Miranda in Rockland, Richard Hanson of Cleonice Mediterranean Bistro in Ellsworth, and David Levi, who will open a restaurant called Vinland in Portland in November.



WHEN: 5 to 6:30 p.m. Oct. 25

WHERE: Ocean View Room at Ocean Gateway Pier, Portland


Lyeth Estate, a California winemaker, is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Meritage Alliance by holding a number of wine-blending workshops across the United States. Meritage (rhymes with heritage) wines are blends of two or more Bordeaux-style grape varieties.

In this intimate (for Harvest on the Harbor, anyway) event, 60 guests will be able to blend their own wine using five different red varietals from Lyeth and take a bottle home with them. There will also be a little contest, with one of the amateur blends being crowned the winner.


“It’s this kind of unique and interactive evening where you become the winemaker for the night,” said Melissa Rancourt of Central Distributors, the company that helped bring the event to Portland.

Rancourt said red wine blends, using varietals such as merlot and malbec, are “huge” right now.

“It seems like every winery that we’re dealing with, it’s the new thing,” she said. “A couple of years ago, it was moscato. Everyone was coming out with a moscato. Well, this year everyone is coming out with a red and a white blend. It’s just kind of the in thing right now.”

The workshop will be led by Glenn Augustine, northeast regional manager of Boisset Family Estates.


WHEN: 5:30 to 7 p.m. Oct. 25


WHERE: Oceanside Pavilion at Ocean Gateway Pier, Portland.


This event focuses on the brewers at Oxbow in Newcastle, and — no surprise — it is sold out. Those lucky enough to have a ticket will taste five Oxbow beers, and will get one-on-one time with the brewers. A small amount of food — cheese, oysters — will be served as well.


WHEN: 7 to 10 p.m. Oct. 25

WHERE: Oceanside Pavilion at Ocean Gateway Pier, Portland



If you couldn’t get into the Oxbow event, no worries. There will be plenty of other brewers at this event — and you get barbecue too, from restaurants as varied as the Portland & Rochester Public House, Cafe Stroudwater, Buck’s Naked, the Porthole, Little Tap House, the Pepperclub and more.

Chef Kevin Cunningham will be serving a sandwich off his fall menu: blueberry barbecue pork tenderloin on a grilled baguette with mixed greens and caramelized red onions.

Chef Eric Flynn from the Haraseeket Inn said last week he was considering making BBQ beef short ribs, carrots, chips and fried kale, and pairing it with Freeport Brewing Company’s Chocolate Port Beer. But that could change.

There will even be choices for vegans at this meaty event. Chris McClay of Modern Vegan in Portland said she’ll be making Buffalo cauliflower “wings” with either a bleu cheese or a ranch dressing.



WHEN: Session I noon to 2:30 p.m.; Session II 4 to 6:30 p.m.

WHERE: Oceanside Pavilion at Ocean Gateway Pier, Portland


This, in my opinion, is one of the most fun events of the festival because you always find some new local product you didn’t know existed.

Last year, organizers heard feedback that there wasn’t enough food, so this year they’ve added 15 to 20 more food vendors, bringing the total to more than 60.

Among the new vendors will be Piccolo, the new Portland restaurant; The Maine Table, a new restaurant in South Portland; Vena’s Fizz House; the Gilded Nut Snack Co.; Sushi Maine, a caterer; Choomi Cookies (from Po’ Boys & Pickles); and more.

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:mgoad@pressherald.comTwitter: @MeredithGoad——

Correction: This story was revised at 11:56 a.m., Oct. 9, 2013, to correctly state that The Maine Table is located in South Portland.

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