PORTLAND, MAINE — A bacchanalia of the best kind (no orgy, just the right amount of wine) celebrated this town’s ever-rising status as a premiere U.S. foodie capital over the last weekend of October, with the fifth annual Harvest on the Harbor celebrating food and wine through a series of seven different tasting events.
The two newest parts of the fest, a competition of culinary college chefs and a “BBQ, Brews & Blues,” proved as popular as the standard favorites of the five-year-old food festival, with the Friday night barbecue dinner a sold-out affair featuring top grill masters showing their favorite sauces and Maine brewmasters offering their best beers, accompanied by live music.
People from 43 states and four countries came to this food party at Portland’s Ocean Gateway building along the waterfornt, a two-hour drive from Boston.
The college chef competition on Friday noon featured three teams of chefs from Southern Maine Community College in South Portland competing for top honors with three different main courses, and an appetizer made by four chefs from Washington County Community College. All dishes used Atlantic salmon of Maine and Canada from True North Salmon Company (www.truenorthsalmon.com) of Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick, and the winners of the competition — Toan Nguyen, Megan Monseau, Adam Robichaud and Nate Davies, won first prize with their delicate Leek and Chard Stuffed Salmon with a Dill and Cream Cheese Sauce over an arugula and beet salad. The salad, derived by Nguyen, used roasted beets (from Maine, of course) chopped into tiny chunks that made the salad crunchy and moist at the same time.
True North awarded each of the first prize winners $1000 scholarships each, and donated a total of $6000 in scholarships for the event.
Chefs are known by the scars on their hands, it is said, and in an ironic twist during the college competition, which was called “Cutting Edge,” 19-year-old Galina Niemy, a student at Washington County Community College, in the process of preparing the smoked salmon chowder, which was wonderful, her knife slipped and she nicked her finger, which was immediately bandaged backstage. She soon returned to the display kitchen in front of 200 people, smiling and obviously no worse for wear.
The young culinary students, unlike their older, professional peers, many who are award winning chefs from top Maine restaurants, are refreshingly honest and humble about their abilities in the kitchen. One of the young chefs, when asked by the mc, Michelle Ragussis, executive chef at The Pearl in Rockland and a finalist on the reality tv show “Food Network,” why they chose to cook a chowder, told her that “chowder’s the only thing we can cook.”
But the young talents cooked, and demonstrated, four delivious tastings for the crowd and the judges, as did the chefs at the popular Maine Lobster Chef of the Year lunch and the Top of the Crop: Best Farm to Table Restaurant competition on Thursday night.
The four-day event, sponsored by the Greater Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau, draws 5000 people and includes an opening night gala Grand Tasting of epicurean specialties from some of Maine’s most notable chefs, the lobster competition and farm to table event, and a huge Savory Samplings buffet of food and beverages from 160 different Maine wineries, breweries, and restaurants/purveyors.