The menu is set for “From Maine With Love,” a five-course dinner contrived by two Camden chefs, who jointly will prepare it on Feb. 9 at the prestigious James Beard House, a New York venue for select chefs from around the world to showcase their talents and regional cuisine.
Geoffroy Deconinck, chef at the Camden Harbour Inn, has teamed up with Michael Salmon, chef and owner of the Hartstone Inn, for the culinary event. The inns are the only four-star properties in Camden, and both chefs specialize in creating an intimate fine-dining experience with local produce and meat. The dinner will highlight Maine’s seafood and seasonal ingredients, paired with French wines and wine from Maine’s Cellardoor Winery.
“We’re both inspired by what we find in Maine,” said Deconinck.
Deconinck and Salmon will serve dishes that include seared sea scallop, savory peeky toe crab cheesecake, house-smoked salmon and, of course, Maine lobster.
“There’s an abundance of fresh seafood around,” said Salmon. “It’s the freshest there is when the fisherman is knocking on your door.”
It’s not all about Maine seafood. Deconinck is using local goat cheese and Maine-raised lamb. Poached local pear and maple ice cream will be included in the dessert.
Maine farmers and fishermen who have provided the chefs with their ingredients have been asked to send information about their business to accompany the meal in New York.
“It’s a beautiful vocation for them to represent themselves,” said Deconinck.
The James Beard Foundation, based in New York City, offers workshops, classes, conferences, readings and other educational experiences that help people learn about and engage with food. They also provide scholarships to culinary students, and invite chefs to participate in events at the James Beard House and at events abroad to allow people to experience the country’s dynamic cuisine.
Each year, the organization administers the annual James Beard Foundation Awards, which recognize and honor excellence among chefs, cookbook authors, food journalists, restaurant designers, and others working in the food and beverage industry.
“It’s definitely an honor for a cook to be cooking [at the James Beard House], physically showing your skills,” Deconinck said. “Most people there are in the food business, journalists, and many good things come from that for the restaurant you work for and you personally.”
Deconinck, a Belgium native, moved to Maine in September from New York, where he was a chef for seven years. He’s a graduate with high honors from CERIA Culinary Academy in Brussels and has worked at some of the world’s top restaurants, including Restaurant Alain Ducasse, Plaza Athenee in Paris, France. He’s most recently held leading and executive roles in New York City’s Cafe Boulud, Restaurant Daniel and Bouley Restaurant.
Deconinck asked Salmon to join him in representing Maine at the Beard House. They both had worked together at the Cellardoor Winery VinFest 2010.
“We planned this menu in October. We were sitting here in Camden, talking about what we’re doing, describing our ideas,” Deconinck.
A couple days before the big dinner, they’ll do a lot of the prep-work at their Camden kitchens. Salmon plans to arrive in New York the night before the event. He and Deconinck will get to work at the Beard House kitchen at 8 the next morning.
This isn’t the first time either of them has cooked in the James Beard House kitchen. In 2003, Deconinck cooked there for a New York restaurant, but at the time, he didn’t know the significance of the event.
“I remember the maps on the kitchen walls. All of those details, I can remember,” he said.
Salmon cooked a lobster-themed meal at the James Beard House in 2007.
“It was an all lobster menu, and it turned out to be four lobsters per person. It was crazy,” said Salmon. “I had five hors d’oeuvre of lobster and every course of lobster. It was a lot of fun, but just me. This will be a little nicer having another chef there to take some of that burden off.”
The meals raise funds for the James Beard Foundation, and it’s expensive for the restaurants and inns that participate. The inns will provide the product, the wine and even the centerpieces. But it’s also a great promotional opportunity and acknowledgement of their top-quality cuisine.
“It’s a great charity that does a lot of great things for promoting food,” Salmon said. “But it’s not something I’d want to do very often. It takes you away from your restaurant.”
Salmon is especially excited to share the experience with his sous-chef, Zeph Belanger, who hasn’t yet cooked at the James Beard House.
“This was a great opportunity for me,” said Deconinck.
“The winter is usually pretty slow; the farmers markets are closed. I didn’t really have time to meet all of these [Maine farmers]. Because of this, I meet them outside the season.
“The person coming in to this place not only comes for the view and restaurant itself, but to taste the meat they can find 10 miles away.”
Deconinck and his wife spent their honeymoon in Bar Harbor, so they’ve had Maine in the back of their minds for a few years. This year, they decided that they didn’t want to continue to raise their 2-year-old son in New York City and they moved to Maine in September.
“I wanted to give him what I had as a kid, to be closer to nature,” said Deconick, who bikes to work every day and enjoys returning to his “cabin in the woods” after his day in the kitchen.
Salmon has had a longer Maine experience. Hartstone Inn was built in 1835 and was a 10-bedroom inn when Salmon bought it in 1998. Since then, he has expanded it to have 21 bedrooms and offers five-course meals and cooking classes. Last month, the inn received AAA four-star status.
Both chefs are planning to serve some of the plates from the five-course “From Maine With Love” meal in their Maine dining rooms. They haven’t ironed out the details, but they will advertise the dates of the special meals on their websites: www.camdenharbourinn.com or www.hartstoneinn.com.
If you go …
The evening begins with a reception at 7 p.m.; dinner begins at 8 p.m. The James Beard House dinners are limited to 80 guests, and anyone interested in attending the dinner should contact either the Camden Harbour Inn or Hartstone Inn for details and member pricing to the dinner; the dinner is $170 per person for nonmembers and $130 per person for members. The Camden Harbour Inn can be reached at 800-236-4266; Hartstone Inn can be reached at 800-788-4823.
“From Maine With Love”
— Pemaquid oyster shooter with a Maine-apple mignonette
— House-smoked salmon and pickled red onion panini (Salmon)
— Mini lobster buns, fines herbes, lemon seasoning, red oak leaf
— Local goat cheese in a Parmesan basket
–Duck terrine on grilled sourdough bread (Deconinck)
The five-course dinner
— Savory peeky toe crab cheesecake with a lemon-walnut crust (Salmon)
— Seared sea scallop, braised endives, speck ham, black truffle sauce (Deconinck)
— Maine lobster and butternut squash charlotte with a rosemary-vermouth cream (Salmon)
— Lamb duo: braised belly, roasted loin, parsnip puree, winter vegetables (Deconinck)
— Dessert: Chocolate and hazelnut ganache with caramel corn (Salmon) & poached local pear, maple ice cream, gingerbread croutons and crushed walnut (Deconinck)