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November 12, 2009

The Belly of the Beast: Conclusion

The young chefs were still cooking when I went to bed. I heard them leave for WCSH TV studio before 6 am. Mac was scheduled to present a plate on the morning show then off to SMCC kitchens to finish up his cooking for the competition. Once at Harvest on the Harbor event center, Mac, Dylan, and James busied themselves setting up for the show. The two chefs who presented before Mac did a superb job. I know how nerve wracking competition can be. You stand up there in front of a hungry audience feeling almost naked.

Let’s face it, “everyone” is a food critic and the average person judges by taste and lacks the understanding of the nuances of texture, mouth feel, underlying flavors. Well basically, the untrained palette is very limited, which means in this type of culinary competition the chef must sell him or herself to the audience as well as their dish.

Finally onto the stage arrives Mac. All 6′4″, lanky and lean with a natural confidence. Described by one reporter as chatty, he mixed joking with the emcee and expounding on his choice of dish to describing the HPP process that is used by Shucks to process lobster. As he threw out “shout outs” to me, his mom, and quickly added the “Oops sorry Dad,” his comic nature won the audience over. Laughter filled the room much more than once. I just put my hand to my head and thought, “Dear God, here we go.”

As the samples of Mac’s dish circulated the room, I watched reactions. Who would not appreciate having half a lobster tail placed in front of them at a lobster competition? Mac brought Dylan and James to the stage and introduced them. Showing off Dylan’s pumpkin carving, he held up a bottle of a California Pinot Noir as a suggested wine to go with his dish, and talked a bit about the plight of the fishermen as well as impressing the audience with the importance of putting Maine lobster on their dinner tables often.

As the three chefs were called to the stage and Dane Somers announced Mac the Maine Lobster Chef of 2009, I did my best not to burst into tears. The urge quickly turned to a laugh as I heard my other son Sam whisper, “It figures, a monster has been created.”

After many interviews and photos, I had a chance to talk with Mac for a minute alone. I reminded him that in this time when the lobstering industry is suffering and the fishermen are at times faced with choosing between making a boat payment or putting food on their family table, do not think of the title of Maine Lobster Chef of the Year as “celebrity.” Instead see yourself as the culinary representative for the fishermen. Promote Maine lobster, develop recipes, do some personal appearances as a volunteer to help the industry.

In a time when such a noble profession as fishing is in trouble, no one is more deserving of “celebrity” than each and every guy or gal who is out there hauling a trap.

Margaret Salt McLellan is the 2008 Maine Lobster Chef of the Year.

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