Fierce competitor Adam Marcus of Owls Head takes the top prize for his New Orleans-inspired take on eggs Benedict. With Maine lobster, of course.
The crowd listens to event organizer Celia Crie Knight, far right, explain the judging process.
The contestants at their cooking stations
Lobster claws ready to be added to Adam Marcus' bloody Mary
Tyrrell Hunter at her station, with her homemade lobster pasta on the table.
Edith Khurana at her cooking station
Edith Khurana serves the judges her Lobster Fried Rice
Edith Khurana's Lobster Fried Rice
The cucumber-tomato salad and jalapeno relish that accompanied Edith Khurana's Lobster Fried Rice
Maynard Stanley takes his lobster biscuits out of the oven
Maynard Stanley gets ready to present his dish to the judges
Maynard Stanley's Lobster Jambalaya and lobster biscuit
Tyrrell Hunter explains her dish to the judges
Tyrrell Hunter's Lobster Pasta with Seafood Trio
Adam Marcus surprises the judges with the addition of a Lobster Bloody Mary
Adam Marcus making his Lobster Bloody Mary
Adam Marcus' Lobster Bloody Mary
Adam Marcus talks to the judges and the crowd about his dish.
The winning dish: Adam Marcus' Lobster Bonart
Andrew Hohns explains his dish: Philadelphia Lobster Cheesesteak
Three versions of Andrew Hohns Philadelphia Lobster Cheesesteak
From left: Tyrrell Hunter, third place; sponsor Pat O'Brien, owner of Fiore Artisan Olive Oils & Vinegars; Maynard Stanley, second place; WINNER Adam Marcus; Andrew Hohns, finalist; Edith Khurana, finalist; Celia Crie Knight, event organizer
All photos by Susan Axelrod
The second time was a charm for Adam Marcus of Owl’s Head, who came back after winning second place in last year’s Maine Lobster Festival Cooking Contest to take the big prize in Friday’s competition. Marcus’ dish, called Lobster Bonart, featured chunks of Maine lobster sauteed in olive oil (from Fiore, the event sponsor), served over an artichoke bottom, topped with a poached egg and hollandaise sauce.
As a brunch dish, this was somewhat of a departure from the usual entrees created by contest contestants, but as a first-time judge, it won me over, as the the accompanying lobster bloody Mary, garnished with a whole, chilled lobster claw. My fellow judges, Elizabeth Watkinson, owner of Owls Head Lobster Co. and ChazDougherty, chef at Rockland’s Trackside Station, agreed.
Marcus, a native of New Orleans who brings that background to his cooking, had some tough competition this year. The first dish we tasted was Lobster Fried Rice, made in the classic Chinese style by Edith Khurana of Chicago, with a side dish of cucumber-tomato salad in blueberry-balsamic vinaigrette and a jalapeno relish we could add for more heat. It was tasty, but not out-of-the-box enough to stand up to the dishes that followed it.
Next up was Maynard Stanley, Jr. of Owls Head, who says he loves to cook southern food. His “dry” seafood jambalaya (in other words, not the soupy-style) included perfectly cooked lobster, scallops and Maine shrimp, with diced Andouille sausage, onions, garlic and peppers. Biscuits in the shape of lobsters and creamy, “Maine-style” coleslaw were served on the side. Stanley said he kept the spicing tame to not overpower the seafood, and although the judges thought the dish could have handled a bit more kick, he won second place.
Tyrrell Hunter of Brunswick is a cooking contest veteran and won this competition in 2012 and 2013. She pulled out all the stops with homemade pasta, with lobster in the dough and a “seafood trio” of lobster, scallops and mussels in a light, creamy sauce flecked with tarragon. A microgreens salad, sliced of garlic bread and chilled glass of rose were served with the pasta, which was delicious. Unfortunately, all the seafood was overcooked, bumping the former champion into third place.
After Marcus’ Lobster Bonart, the last dish we tasted was a bold choice: Philadelphia Lobster Cheesesteak. This was the creation of Andrew Hohns, a Philly resident who summers next door to Marcus in Owls Head. Hohns gave us three versions: lobster with American cheese and spicy ketchup for a version of the classic cheesesteak; lobster with Gruyere cheese and red peppers for a “Rockport” version and lobster with spicy long green peppers and broccoli rabe for a “South End” version. It was ambitious and fun, but except for the classic, the combinations didn’t quite work with lobster.
“As happy as I am to win, I’m even happier to beat him,” said Marcus, referring to his neighbor and good friend, Hohns. “I came in second last year and had all year to live with that. This year, I wanted what I made to be a bit riskier but I knew if it worked, it could be a bigger payoff.”
For his successful risk-taking, Marcus won $200 and a gift certificate to Fiore Olive Oils. Stanley won $175 and Hunter won $150. All five contestants also received a copy of Eating in Maine, by Malcolm and Jillian Bedell of the From Away blog.
Here’s the winning recipe:
By Adam Marcus, Owls Head
The cooked meat of 4 1¼-1½ pound lobsters, chopped
4 artichoke hearts, cooked and cleaned
4 eggs+4 yolks
1 Tablespoon lemon
½ cup butter
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ tablespoon capers, chopped
2 tablespoons chives, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Pinch of cayenne
Start a pot of water to boil for poaching eggs. At the same time, sauté the crushed garlic in olive oil. Just before the garlic turns brown, remove from the pan and discard.
Put the chopped lobster, artichoke hearts and chopped capers in the pan of olive oil on low heat and sauté.
Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks, lemon juice, salt, black pepper, cayenne, and a Tablespoon of water together. Place mixture over the pot of boiling water and whisk in the melted butter. Stir constantly until Hollandaise just starts to thicken. When it reaches a sauce consistency, place the bowl in a cold, liquid bath. A separate double boiler is better for this procedure if you own one.
Poach the eggs for two minutes in the boiling water.
To assemble Lobster Bonart:
Place the artichoke heart in the middle of a warm plate. Surround the heart with the sautéed lobster meat.
Place the poached egg on the artichoke heart. Pour the sauce over the egg and sprinkle with the chopped chives over the lobster meat and place two whole capers on the egg. Place two uncut chive stems on the side of the plate and serve.
There are two more jam-packed days of the Maine Lobster Festival to enjoy.
Saturday, Aug. 1 — Festival opens with a pancake breakfast at 7 a.m., the big parade starts at 10 a.m. and the lobster tent opens for serving at 11 a.m. At 7:30 p.m., the Rock N’ Blues Fest, which was supposed to feature Johnny Winter, is now a tribute to the late bluesman. Tickets to the concert are $30, in addition to $8 festival admission.
Sunday, Aug. 2 — Admission to the festival is FREE. Events include a 10K and 5K race plus fun run, crate race and children’s cod carry. The festival closes at 6 p.m.
Check out mainelobsterfestival.com for the full schedule.