ROCKLAND — The scent of melting butter, peeled garlic and squeezed lemons wafted through the air. An appreciative crowd chatted as they watched the contestants mince, chop and dig cooked lobster out of the shell.
The five amateur cooks competing in the 65th annual Maine Lobster Festival Lobster Cooking Contest were up to their elbows in the ingredients of their specialty dishes featuring Maine’s favorite crustacean.
When it came down to individual taste buds, the judges found irresistible the Seafood Hash with Lobster Hollandaise Sauce prepared by Tyrell Hunter of Brunswick. Her dish was a blend of lobster, sweet and red potatoes, sea scallops and herbs.
“It’s similar to corned beef hash except with lobster,” she said. “I was going for the more traditional comfort food. I thought it might be too simple.”
For her culinary effort she was awarded $200.
Allison Stratis of Scarborough took the second spot with her Maine Lobster and Shrimp Summer Rolls, an appetizer with an Asian flair.
“I competed in the cooking contest at the lobster festival when I was 17,” she said, not disclosing how long ago that was. Basil had a starring role in her recipe this year, and she received $175.
Rockland’s poet laureate, Carol Bachofner, who had composed a poem for the occasion, came in third with her Red, White and Blue Lobster Lasagna which featured locally sourced cheeses and produce. She left with a $150 prize. Bachofner was a return contestant, coming in third last year.
Sheila Veronessa of Brooklyn, N.Y., who with her partner, David Krell, came up with the Lobster Yorkshire Pudding with Corn Sauce, placed fourth.
“We had to bring everything — pots, pans, equipment and ingredients,” Krell said.
“But we bought the lobsters here,” Veronessa added.
Jodi Willey of Owls Head came in fifth with her Lobster Jalapeno Hush Puppies with Avocado Dipping Sauce.
“I love to cook,” she said. “Preparing food is how I show my friends and family that I care.”
The cooks had two hours in which to prepare their recipes, which they plated and served to judges Signe Gardiner of Rockland, festival parade marshall and 1949 festival Sea Goddess; Cmdr. Neil Koprowski of the USS San Antonio, berthed at Rockland during the festival; and Michele Ragussis, chef at The Pearl in Rockland, who recently was a finalist on “Food Network Star.” Each dish was judged primarily on presentation, ease of preparation and taste.
Koprowski said the simplicity and bold taste of Hunter’s hash was one of the things that sold him on the dish.
“I’d serve this on the ship,” he said.
Contest sponsors were Bangor Daily News, Cabot Cheese, Capt’n Eli’s Soda and Kelsey’s Appliance Village, which furnished stoves for the contest.