Nibbles and bites: Foodie news from Maine

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Winter blues have you salivating for some fun events? Hungering for a good meal at a great price? Want to help push a Maine chef to the top of the Best New Chefs column? Well, it’s time to eat, drink, and make merry in Maine.

MAINE RESTAURANT WEEK

If you haven’t been checking the updates for Maine Restaurant Week , here’s the scoop: This twice-yearly event is taking place March 1-12, 2011, and more than 80 restaurants, from Kittery to Searsport along the coast, and inland to Auburn/Lewiston, Hallowell, and Greater Bangor, are participating (although the greatest concentration is in Greater Portland). Participants will be serving three-course meals priced at $20, $30, 0r $40. Menus are online, and those with food issues have sorting functions for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free. A number of accommodations are providing special pricing, so be sure to check the lodging links.

THE SIGNATURE EVENT/ART OF DESSERT

Kick off for Maine Restaurant Week is The Signature Event, a cocktail and dessert competition/party on Monday, Feb. 28. The five finalists for the Art of Dessert, a juried competition, have been chosen. At the competition, a winner will be named, based on taste, presentation, and creativity, by a judging panel comprising: Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram food writer Meredith Goad, Down East Magazine Food Editor Kathleen Fleury, cookbook author and Maine hospitality specialist Dana Moos, cookbook author Kathy Gunst, and former “Top Chef: Just Desserts” competitor and Maine native Zac Young. Finalists are: Bevin McNulty, Bam Bam Bakery; Kristin Fuhrmann Simmons; Geoffroy Deconinck, Natalie’s at the Camden Harbour Inn; Patrick Tubbs, Salt Exchange; Karen Turn, Sea Glass at the Inn by the Sea (bios at end).

In addition, guests will be able to vote for “the People’s Choice: How Sweet it Is” from 14 competitors. You also get to vote on the cocktail portion of the event, featuring 13 mixologists, who can create their special drinks using any ingredients they choose. Both full event and dessert only tix are available online. The event is a fundraiser for Maine Harvest Lunch.

MAINE BARTENDERS BASH

Facing off against The Signature Event is the Maine Bartenders Bash (sigh, was it really necessary to have both events on the same night? Winters are looonnnggg in Maine, a bit of space would have made everyone much happier. Maine is too small a state, and Portland too small a city for such petty bickering; end rant). This is a repeat of last year’s event. Same sponsor, Cold River Vodka, but it’s not officially part of Maine Restaurant Week. All cocktails featured at this event will be made with Cold River vodkas or gin. Fifteen bar-meisters are competing for first, second, third, and people’s choice awards.

VOTE NOW: Maine chef in running for Best New Chef award

A tip of the toque to Chef Geoffroy Deconinck, of Natalie’s at the Camden Harbour Inn, in Camden, who has been named a contender for the title of 2011 People’s Best New Chef, a new national award from Food & Wine magazine in partnership with CNN’s Eatocracy. Voting is online now.

The background boilerplate: A native of Belgium, Chef Deconinck was selected to participate in this prestigious competition because of his innovative approach to traditional French cuisine, honoring the principles of local and seasonal availability. He graduated with high honors from CERIA Culinary Academy in Brussels, and has worked in highly-regarded kitchens such as Restaurant Alain Ducasse in Paris, and Café Boulud, Restaurant Daniel, and Bouley Restaurant in New York City. Chef Deconinck joined Natalie’s last fall.

FYI: The Camden Harbour Inn has a nice package for Maine Restaurant Week, but space is limited, so you might want to act quickly. Rate is $198 (plus tax and grat), and includes overnight, welcome Prosecco, three-course Maine Restaurant Week menu dinner, turndown with chocolates, champagne breakfast, and room upgrade, if available, upon check-in. Details, call 207-236-4200.

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Art of Dessert bios (provided by event organizer):

•   Bam Bam Bakery, Bevin McNulty. McNulty graduated from The Natural Gourmet Institute in 2008 and began baking immediately. By early 2009 Bam Bam Bam Bakery was born offering Portland delicious gluten-free treats. Everything is made from scratch and special attention is given to accommodating allergies and dietary needs.  Bam Bam Bakery is now offering a wide variety of products including breads, cookies, custom cakes, pies and more. Bam Bam Bakery is in Portland, Maine.

•   Kristin Fuhrmann Simmons, owner of her own self- named custom cake and pastry business. Fuhrmann, a pastry chef, handcrafts desserts for special occasions using local, natural and organic ingredients. Over the past 14 years, Simmons has worked in her home state of Maryland as a baker and pastry chef and has travelled world-wide, living in both Puebla and DF in Mexico, as well as in Florence, Italy studying linguistics, art, and culinary traditions.  She and her family settled in Maine in 2003, opening their own business in 2008. She writes as a columnist for Seacoast newspapers and chronicles the food scene of Southern Maine. Simmons is based in Kennebunkport, Maine.

•   Natalie’s, Geoffroy Deconinck. A native of Belgium, Deconinck is known for his innovative approach to traditional French cuisine, honoring the principles of local and seasonal availability. He graduated with high honors from CERIA Culinary Academy in Brussels, and has worked in highly-regarded kitchens such as Restaurant Alain Ducasse in Paris, and Café Boulud, Restaurant Daniel, and Bouley Restaurant in New York City. Chef Deconinck joined Natalie’s last fall. Natalie’s is located in the Camden Harbour Inn, Camden, Maine.

•   Salt Exchange, Patrick Tubbs. Born and raised in South Portland, Tubbs  studied classic French culinary arts at the French Culinary Institute in New York City. After traveling south to Charleston SC to broaden his regional knowledge, he returned home to pursue his culinary dreams. The Salt Exchange is located in Portland, Maine.

•   Sea Glass, Inn by the Sea, Karen Turner. Turner has been employed as the pastry-chef at the Inn by the Sea’s restaurant Sea Glass for the last three years.  Prior to that, she owned a wholesale bakery serving many greater Portland area restaurants and caterers. Sea Glass is located in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

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