There are too many bad puns that can be made in regard to chefs getting hot under the collar in the kitchen. See? Made one right there. Can’t help it. In all seriousness, however, it’s bound to get a little fiery when chef Josh Heikkinen of Bar Harbor restaurant Fathom takes on his next challenger in Fathom’s winter/spring Chef Series, which pits Heikkinen against a series of Mount Desert Island-area chefs for whom he has worked in the past.
“It’s a chance to do things I don’t normally get to do and get really creative,” said Heikkinen, an Old Town native who, with co-owner Tracy Hallett, opened Fathom two years ago. “And it’s a chance to work with the people I used to work with, who I never get to see anymore.”
Thus far, Heikkinen has challenged Michael Anderson of August Moon Catering in Bar Harbor in a January dinner, and James Lindquist of Red Sky Restaurant in Southwest Harbor in a dinner offered on Feb. 27. Next it’s Derek Wilbur of Fiddler’s Green, also in Southwest Harbor, with a dinner set for Wednesday, March 14, and there will be one more set for April before Fathom closes for a week to ready for the summer season.
Heikkinen worked with all three chefs in the years before he started his own restaurant; he wasn’t formally trained, so he learned the craft from people including Anderson, Lindquist and Wilbur. He has developed his own style — new American, as he calls it, with a variety of Asian and European influences — but he’s always ready to point out who and what taught him the tricks of the trade.
“People always ask you where you learned how to cook, so this is my chance to do that,” said Heikkinen.
It’s a friendly competition, but a competition nonetheless — which chef will wow the crowd more? For the first dinner, Anderson and Heikkinen went dish for dish with different ingredients. A scallop course meant Heikkinen tried scallops with coconut sauce and chilis; Anderson went for grilled scallops on the shell with cognac herb butter. For the rabbit category, Heikkinen prepared rabbit timbal (cooked in a baking dish) with potatoes anna; Anderson made rabbit confit and morel mushrooms on a truffled potato cake.
For last week’s dinner, Lindquist and Heikkinen each created three dishes; more collaboration, less competition. Lindquist offered up soba noodles and vegetables served in a homemade goose stock, braised pork belly with apples, fennel and arugula and a grilled lamb chop with jalapeno mango chutney. Heikkinen, with his trademark sense of humor, planned beet root and vodka-cured salmon, a “deconstructed wiggle” featuring pan-fried trout, green onion kugel and pea puree, and to finish, a lemon olive oil cake with ginger mint sorbet.
“These are collaborative menus, and they’re a lot of fun,” said Heikkinen. “Though next month, with Derek Wilbur, we kind of have a competitive nature, so we’re going to go full on, no holds barred, gloves off in the kitchen.”
In keeping with his approach to food, Heikkinen is a big fan of “deconstructing” classic dishes, be it a spicy tuna roll or, in his battle with Lindquist, the tuna wiggle dish.
“I love tuna wiggle, or tuna noodle casserole, or whatever you want to call it,” said Heikkinen. “That’s what my mom makes. I still love it. So that’s my little tribute to it, just with trout instead of tuna, and a kugel instead of noodles. I could eat stuff like that all the time and never get sick of it. We’re just kind of elevating it.”
The Fathom Chef Series dinners are all $50, not including wine; for reservations, call 288-9664. Both Fathom and Red Sky Restaurant are open for dinner Thursday through Saturday in the winter; Fathom also is open for Sunday brunch.