PORTLAND, Maine — If there was any doubt that lobster is good for tourism, Thursday’s Harvest on the Harbor announcement sealed the deal.
The stars of one of the state’s biggest tourism draws aligned on the waterfront to promote the October event that showcases Maine’s best food, beer and lobsters over a four-day moveable feast. From a grand tasting to an international taste of Maine, chefs from across the state bring their best dishes for food and wine aficionados to sample from Oct. 23 to 26 on Ocean Gateway Pier.
The highly-anticipated Oct. 24 lobster chef competition was sold out even before the chefs were announced. Of the four competitors this year, two chefs — Jon Gaboric and Chris Long hail from the same restaurant, Natalie’s at The Camden Harbour Inn. The pair will duke it out against Shanna O’Hea of Academe at The Kennebunk Inn and executive chef Brandon Blethen of Robert’s Maine Grill in Kittery.
Being named Maine lobster chef of the year is an honor said Kerry Altiero, chef/owner of Cafe Miranda in Rockland and reigning lobster champ who cedes the title next month.
“You represent not only a fish but a state,” said Altiero, wearing his lobster chef pin on his lapel. “In the midcoast, lobster is the economic engine.”
Altiero was chosen to compete in another competition at this year’s festival — top of the crop. Maine’s best farm-to-table restaurant will be determined by a team of judges, including a food journalist, a chef and the executive director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. It will be emceed by Sam Hayward of Fore Street restaurant.
Altiero competes against Chad Conley from Gather in Yarmouth, Richard Hanson from Cleonice Mediterranean Bistro in Ellsworth and David Levi from Vinland in Portland.
“I’m thrilled to be in the competition,” said Levi, who opens his Congress Street bistro later this fall.
The winners of these cook-offs, determined by both judges and audience votes, are deemed spokespeople for the industry. Chef Michele Ragussis, a Food Network Star finalist who runs the kitchen at The Pearl in Rockland, will host the crustacean competition.
Put on by Greater Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau, the edible extravaganza is more than a place to schmooze with top chefs. Iit has a significant economic impact on the state.
Barbara Whitten, president of the CVB said 5,000 people from 29 states and five countries, such as Australia and the United Kingdom, will visit the city for the event this year.
“This has done so much for our shoulder season,” said Whitten, who steps down from her position Nov. 1. “It’s one of the highlights that I’m most proud of.”
Whitten said that over the four-day period, Harvest on the Harbor brings in $2 million into the state’s economy.
“People from around the world appreciate lobster, it’s an iconic Maine food that people are having a love affair with now,” she said.