Three chefs, one prize. The second annual Maine Chef Challenge, held Friday night at Eastern Maine Community College, pitted three Maine culinary competitors against one another to see whose cuisine reigns supreme.
The contestants were Todd Chasteen of Flik Dining Services at Eastern Maine Community College with sous chefs Russ Flewelling and Christopher Rose, Brandon Haney of Husson University Dining Services with sous chefs Evan Beaudry and Ken Grover, and Zachary Maccarone of Cleonice Mediterranean Bistro with sous chefs Jennifer Holt and Eric Osier.
The chefs battled their way through three courses but, in the end, it was Todd Chasteen who took home top honors.
“My team did a great job. We’re really happy with what we did… I’m really proud of these guys,” said Chasteen, referring to his sous chefs. “App, entree, dessert. That’s how we wanted to do it. It’s a logical progression. We didn’t really have a plan B. I guess our our plan B was cook like crazy, which was also our plan A.”
The panel of judges included Jim Bailey, who writes the Yankee Chef column for the Bangor Daily News, 2012 Maine Chef Challenge winner Megan Woodbury and Maine Lobster Chef of the Year Kerry Altiero of Cafe Miranda in Rockland. A fourth judge slot was awarded to Mary Dysart Hartt, owner of Dysart’s Restaurant in Hermon, who successfully bid when that position was auctioned off. A sellout crowd of 480 packed Johnston Gym to snack on appetizers created by EMCC culinary students and watch as the competition heated up.
The first course was an appetizer dish, with Haney putting up a Maine surf and turf complete with the secret ingredient of the night, W.A. Bean’s Red Hot Sausage; Chasteen served a cornmeal pancake with seared halibut and sauteed brussels sprouts in a lemon and dill sauce; and Maccarone offered a cream of onion soup with basil and seared red hot sausage, topped with beer foam and extra virgin olive oil.
For the entree course, Chasteen made an Italian cioppino (a seafood stew) with the red hot sausage, scallops, shrimp, mussels, clams and cod with grilled bread and orange pepper; Maccarone served up sweet seared scallops in a corn and jalapeno succotash with a side of asparagus and Haney whipped together a pan-seared duck breast with a fresh herb spaetzle with dried cherries and mushrooms.
In between courses, the chefs were asked questions by the audience, including one question asking all three chefs what made them want to be a chef in the first place.
“When I was little, I wanted to be a chef because my Dad was, and then when I was a teenager I definitely didn’t want to be,” Maccarone said. “But then I worked as a dishwasher, and I saw how much fun the chef had, so that’s what I decided to do.”
They were also asked for words of advice for aspiring young chefs.
“If you decide to do this you’ve got to be really sure you want to do it,” Haney said. “It takes a lot of work and it takes a lot of heart.”
For the third course, Chasteen and Haney opted to make a dessert, with Haney offering three Danish aebleskivers in a white wine sauce, each filled with a caramel apple, maple vanilla sauce and berries; Chasteen made an architectural-looking brown sugar pound cake with tomato strawberry marmalade and a ricotta and apple wine ice cream made on the fly with liquid nitrogen. Maccarone decided to make a third savory dish, creating chevre gnocchi with roasted butternut squash, shaved walnuts and seared sweetbreads.
“There’s definitely some pressure when your former pastry arts teacher is on another team. I knew they were gonna bring the liquid nitrogen. But I think we did OK,” Haney said, referring to Black Team sous chef Flewelling, who teaches in the culinary arts program at EMCC.
“I’m just glad my dessert stayed upright,” Chasteen said.
Disclosure: BDN Maine was a presenting sponsor of the 2013 Maine Chef’s Challenge.