Four Maine food retailers this week won honors in the national Specialty Food Association’s 50th annual Sofi Awards.

The Creme Brulee Bar won both a Gold Award and a New Product Award from the Specialty Food Association this week. Photo credit: Elle Darcy

Bixby Chocolate of Rockland swept the category of chocolate, milk and white, as its Crème Brûlée Bar won both a Gold Award and a New Product Award. Bixby’s Allagash White Beer Brittle also won a New Product Award in the non-chocolate confectionery category. Similarly, Hancock Gourmet Lobster Co. of Topsham owned the entrees, lunch/dinner category, winning a Gold Award for its Lobster Mushroom Ravioli Meal Kit and a New Product Award for its Makhani Lobster Dinner.

Biddeford-based Ocean’s Balance won a Gold Award in the seasonings and spice category for its Chili Lime Seaweed Seasoning, made with Maine seaweed. Watcharee’s of Yarmouth took the New Product Award in the sauces category for its Thai Peanut Sauce.

A panel of specialty foods experts selected the three Maine brands from almost 2,000 entrants nationwide. Judging criteria included taste, appearance, texture, aroma, ingredient quality and innovation. Overall, 102 Sofi Awards went to products in 47 categories.

Winners of the 2022 product of the year and new product of the year awards will be announced at the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City in June.

“We’re proud to be the first bean-to-bar brand in Maine to win three Sofi awards,” Kate McAleer said in a prepared statement. “Our Crème Brûlée Bar is gaining widespread popularity as it won another national award earlier this year, and our Allagash White Beer Brittle is a brand new product. Allagash is a great partner in making this new product happen.”

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Watcharee’s owner, Watcharee Limanon, said she has submitted her products for Sofi Award consideration several times in the past, but this is the first year she’s won. “It was such a surprise and an honor,” she said.

Lost Kitchen raises big bucks for PFAS relief

The Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association (MOFGA) announced this week that the Lost Kitchen in Freedom has helped raise nearly $1 million for PFAS contamination relief for Maine farmers.

The Lost Kitchen had partnered in the fundraising effort with the association and the Maine Farmland Trust, the two organizations that administer the relief funds. At the end of March, Lost Kitchen chef-owner Erin French opened the restaurant’s 2022 reservation lottery on its website, encouraging hopeful customers to donate to the fund.

Since then, more than 25,000 people have donated a total of over $950,000, according to MOFGA. The funds directly help Maine farmers through income replacement, soil testing and mental health support.

Over 13 farms in Maine have discovered concerning levels of PFAS contamination in their water, soil or food products, according to MOFGA officials. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is testing more than 700 sites throughout the state.

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“This was such a natural partnership for The Lost Kitchen,” French said. “So many of these impacted farms and farmers are not only our neighbors and colleagues, but our friends.”

“The overwhelming response to The Lost Kitchen’s fundraiser not only helps us deliver timely resources to impacted Maine farmers, but has helped raise the profile of the PFAS issue nationally,” said Amy Fisher, president and CEO of the Maine Farmland Trust.

Raw bar to open in Freeport

The Freeport Oyster Bar, housed in a 150-year-old barn behind the local historical society, will open for business in mid June, according to owners. Photo credit: Thomas Henninger

The Freeport Oyster Bar, spotlighting Maine seafood with a raw bar, is expected to open at 45 Main Street in mid-June, according to co-owner Thomas Henninger.

The oyster bar will be housed inside a 150-year-old barn behind the Freeport Historical Society museum building. Henninger and his partner, Ken Sparta, are leasing the barn from the historical society.

The roughly 750-square-foot oyster bar will have seating for about 40 inside, and an additional 40 bistro-style seats outside by the garden, Henninger said.

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Henninger and Sparta are both oyster farm owners, running Madeleine Point Oyster Farm and Spartan Sea Farms, respectively. The bar will feature oysters from their own farms, as well as the products of four farms also in the Maine Family Sea Farm Cooperative, which he and Sparta formed.

Henninger said they’ve hired about six staffers so far, including general manager Allie Sawyer, who previously worked at Luke’s Lobster and Union restaurant at the Press Hotel, both in Portland.

“We plan to sell what we grow,” Henninger said, noting that in addition to oysters, the raw bar will offer scallops crudo and other local fish and shellfish in raw preparations.

“We also plan to lean hard into charcuterie and cheeses, and feature a robust cocktail and wine program. My wife is worried about how much fun I’m going to have. And as far as we know, we’re the only farmer-owned raw bar in Maine,” Henninger said.

To that end, he conceded that he and his partner “are oystermen, not restaurateurs.” But he said they’ve been “blown away” by the outpouring of support and helpful consults from the network of Maine chefs who buy oysters from their farms.

“All the chefs we sell to have been incredibly helpful and gracious,” he said.

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Eat the Kennebunks this week

The fifth annual Eat the Kennebunks Week kicked off Monday, celebrating local food and drink at participating venues.

The event runs through Sunday. Fourteen local restaurants are listed as participants, and information on the special menus, dishes and discounts each is offering this week is available at the Go Kennebunks website.

Because of the pandemic, Eat the Kennebunks in 2020 was takeout only, while last year’s event was a hybrid of takeout and in-house dining. Laura Dolce, executive director of the Kennebunk-Kennebunkport-Arundel Chamber of Commerce, said the weeklong event usually features more than 20 participating restaurants.

“But I know a lot of businesses this year are reluctant to take on something big like this, especially when they’re still worried about kitchen staffing,” Dolce said.

Still, she said event organizers tried to diversify offerings as much as possible this year beyond special multi-course dinners, to include breakfasts, lunches, drinks and appetizers, for instance. She said while the opening day of the event was slow because many local restaurants are closed on Mondays, she expects turnout to increase as the week goes on.

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“I think people are ready to get back out,” she said.

Grape-Nuts helps another Maine woman climb Kilimanjaro

Sylvia Guzman of Portland is part of a four-woman team planning to scale Mount Kilimanjaro in August. Guzman’s team won $12,500 from Grape-Nuts to pay for the expedition. Courtesy of Sylvia Guzman

A second Maine woman has won a cash award from Grape-Nuts to fund her climb Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro this August.

Sylvia Guzman, 27, of Portland, won as part of a four-woman team called Summit Squad 2022, which also includes members from New York, New Jersey and Illinois. Grape-Nuts awarded the squad $12,500 this March, Guzman said, exceeding the women’s goal of raising $20,000 in eight weeks to cover costs for their Kilimanjaro trip.

Another Maine woman, Tiffany Jones, won a $12,500 award from Grape-Nuts for her own Kilimanjaro climb in July. Grape-Nuts celebrates its 125th anniversary this year, and wanted to commemorate it by giving cash awards to nine women climbers (or groups of climbers, as in the case of Summit Squad 2022) around the country who had set up GoFundMe pages to raise money for their expeditions.

“We were overjoyed,” Guzman said of her squad’s reaction to the cash award.

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“When we saw the donation come in, we were truly blown away,” said Heidi Jones, who organized the squad and is helping train them for the climb. She is founder of the New York City-based workout tribe, Sweat To Change.

“In addition to the climb, these women are going to share their stories of overcoming adversity in a powerful documentary that will inspire everyone who sees it.” The squad is now raising money to pay for the documentary.

“None of us have ever done anything like this before,” Guzman said. To condition herself, she runs and does CrossFit several times a week. “I’m also hiking every weekend,” she said, “and since I live in Maine, it’s not hard to do.”

Jones said she organized the all-female expedition because the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionally affected women. She noted that the women participating in Summit Squad 2022 have overcome sexual and life-long emotional abuse, suicidal thought and homophobia.

“There are limits that are set for women that don’t have to be there,” Guzman said. “It’s up to us to redefine what those limits are.”


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