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Maine lobster chef of the year goes to Camden cook

Posted Oct. 24, 2013, at 4:26 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 25, 2013, at 7:45 a.m.

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Winner of the Harvest on the Harbor lobster cooking contest Chef Chris Long, of Natalie's at the Camden Harbour Inn, prepares butter poached lobster with grilled local mushrooms, corn, parsnip ragout and thyme butter while host Michele Ragussis looks on Thursday in Portland.
Winner of the Harvest on the Harbor lobster cooking contest Chef Chris Long, of Natalie's at the Camden Harbour Inn, prepares butter poached lobster with grilled local mushrooms, corn, parsnip ragout and thyme butter while host Michele Ragussis looks on Thursday in Portland. Buy Photo
An audience of diners looks on at the Harvest on the Harbor lobster cooking contest Thursday in Portland.
An audience of diners looks on at the Harvest on the Harbor lobster cooking contest Thursday in Portland. Buy Photo
Harvest on the Harbor lobster cooking contest dish No. 1 by Chef Shanna O'Hea of Academe at the Kennebunk Inn: lobster lo'Maine with fresh noodles, cilantro, scallions, sesame seeds topped with white miso dressing.
Harvest on the Harbor lobster cooking contest dish No. 1 by Chef Shanna O'Hea of Academe at the Kennebunk Inn: lobster lo'Maine with fresh noodles, cilantro, scallions, sesame seeds topped with white miso dressing. Buy Photo
Harvest on the Harbor lobster cooking contest dish No. 2 by Executive Chef Jon Gaboric of Natalie's at the Camden Harbour Inn: butter poached lobster with corn miso puree, shaved radish salad, geoduck dressing, crispy quinoa and yuzu foam.
Harvest on the Harbor lobster cooking contest dish No. 2 by Executive Chef Jon Gaboric of Natalie's at the Camden Harbour Inn: butter poached lobster with corn miso puree, shaved radish salad, geoduck dressing, crispy quinoa and yuzu foam. Buy Photo
Harvest on the Harbor lobster cooking contest dish No. 3 by Executive Chef Brandon Blethen of Robert's Maine Grill: lobster fried in light beer batter with smoked orange tomato and lobster reduction over Yukon mashed potatoes with Swiss chard and micro greens.
Harvest on the Harbor lobster cooking contest dish No. 3 by Executive Chef Brandon Blethen of Robert's Maine Grill: lobster fried in light beer batter with smoked orange tomato and lobster reduction over Yukon mashed potatoes with Swiss chard and micro greens. Buy Photo
Winner and Harvest on the Harbor lobster cooking contest dish No. 4 by Chef Chris Long of Natalie's at the Camden Harbour Inn: butter poached lobster with grilled local mushrooms, corn, parsnip ragout and thyme butter.
Winner and Harvest on the Harbor lobster cooking contest dish No. 4 by Chef Chris Long of Natalie's at the Camden Harbour Inn: butter poached lobster with grilled local mushrooms, corn, parsnip ragout and thyme butter. Buy Photo
Competing for Maine lobster chef of the year at Harvest on the Harbor this year are Jon Gaboric (from left) of Natalie's at The Camden Harbour Inn, Shanna O'Hea of Academe at The Kennebunk Inn, Brandon Blethen of Robert's Maine Grill in Kittery and Chris Long of Natalie's at The Camden Harbour Inn.
Competing for Maine lobster chef of the year at Harvest on the Harbor this year are Jon Gaboric (from left) of Natalie's at The Camden Harbour Inn, Shanna O'Hea of Academe at The Kennebunk Inn, Brandon Blethen of Robert's Maine Grill in Kittery and Chris Long of Natalie's at The Camden Harbour Inn. Buy Photo

PORTLAND — Four chefs from Maine, one crustacean, 200 guests, three judges. The Maine lobster chef of the year competition, held Thursday at Harvest on the Harbor, was a claw to the finish.

After a two-hour cook-off, Chris Long of Natalie’s at The Camden Harbour Inn was crowned Maine’s lobster king. His dish, butter-poached lobster with grilled local mushrooms, corn and parsnips ragout and thyme butter was the creation that won judges and hungry foodies over.

In an unusual twist, Long bested his boss, Natalie’s executive chef Jon Gaboric. Also competing for Maine’s lobster chef of the year was Shanna O’Hea of Academe at The Kennebunk Inn and Chef Brandon Blethen of Robert’s Maine Grill in Kittery.

“It was horrible,” said judge Abby Freethy of Northwoods Gourmet Girl in Greenville. “It was a difficult decision.”

But in the end, the audience, some coming from as far as Glasgow to dine on Maine’s signature dish, chose Long’s balanced and flavorful entree. The title, which comes with a $1,000 check, a chef coat and a new pair of shoes, is considered an honor in the state’s burgeoning food world.

Long, a Georgia native, did not grow up around lobster, but has fond memories of lobster bakes on Cape Cod. His cousin was a lobsterman.

“My cooking style is let the natural ingredients shine. I’m getting beautiful mushrooms and parsnips, and corn is really juicy and sweet right now. If you use good ingredients you don’t have to do much,” he said.

The loss was hard for Gaboric, who glumly said “I am disappointed,” moments after Long was crowned. “Obviously I’m very happy for Chris.”

The Inn’s owner Raymond Brunyanszki said both lobster dishes debuted at the contest will be on Natalie’s menu by Monday. No word on whether Long will get a promotion. “He did a sensational dish and was able to capture lobster and Maine,” said Brunyanszki. “I’m proud of him.”

Long has been in Maine for a year and a half. He started in Portland, helping to open Spread restaurant on Commercial Street. Before that, he cooked in kitchens in Colorado and San Francisco. He lives in Lincolnville.

On a busy night at Natalie’s he’ll shuck 50 lobsters in a day and offered these tips to find the best meat: “You want to blanch it first so the meat doesn’t stick to the shell.” For the tail, “put a towel in your hand, crack the back and pop it out. With the claw, use the back of a knife, where the muscle is, stick it in a quarter inch and give it a counter clockwise twist to crack the tendon. Pop the knuckle, crack the shell and the meat comes out.”

When he isn’t cracking open claws, he’s eating Twix Ice Cream Bars, his guilty pleasure.

Looking surprised by the win, Long, 34, said “It feels good. I like a competition. I’m grateful to be here.”

For the next year Long will represent the lobster industry as an ambassador. All chefs competing in the event said the publicity over the last few weeks have boosted sales.

Said Greater Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau president Barbara Whitten: “These chefs raised the bar. There wasn’t a weak link.”

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