Boothbay Harbor Inn hosted the third annual Crab Cake Cook-Off June 28 for the long awaited and revived Windjammer Days Festival. Forty first-come, first-served donors toward WJD were treated to VIP seating for their participation in the tasting. Chefs were Kelly Patrick Farrin from Carriage House, Ralph Smith from Boat House Bistro and Mine Oyster, Rick Koplau from Craft Kitchen and Tavern, and Mike Nguyen from Water's Edge. Judges were News Center Maine’s Sharon Rose, Your Maine Concierge owner Vanessa Santarelli and Harborfest Director Lori Reynolds.
The Cook-Off also marked a renewed collaboration between Friends of Windjammer Days and Boothbay Harbor Region Chamber of Commerce. Executive Director Lisa Walby emceed and BHRCC board of directors members Doug Goldhirsch, Jason Denby, Joanna Breen and Julie Roberts bused tables until Rose revealed Farrin was the judges’ choice for Best Crab Cake.
Said Rose, “What it all came down to was a 0.5 difference in the score. (It was) an extremely elegant presentation, the flavors were bright and fresh, the crab flavor really came through, it was well balanced. The way the other ingredients were plated and presented gave the eater lots of options how they wanted to add flavor to their crab cake.”
Walby announced Koplau as the peoples’ choice winner with 19 votes out of 40. “Most mouth watering crab cake – that's what we're going for,” said Walby.
Each chef gave insight to their dish. Koplau said his “simple recipe” consisted of carmelized shallots, bacon crumbs, the “usual culprits” for the cake to keep the creamy consistency most prefer, topped with pickled fiddleheads and ramps, tomato jam and a little blistered pepper aioli.
Nguyen said his crabmeat was also sourced locally, seared with red pepper, celery and a lot of lemon zest and was accompanied with a tomato vinaigrette and marinated cucumbers. The secret ingredient? Philadelphia Cream Cheese. Said Nguyen, “Hey, I'm from Pennsylvania, so I had to put a little something from there.”
Smith said he took a rare departure for an Asian inspired crabcake akin to the classic crab imperial inside rice paper with a panko crunch. “I'm from the Chesapeake area, Delaware. So, crab cake, crab cake, crab cake, crab cake, crab cake. I decided to do something as far outside the box as possible and stay away from the traditional crab cakes I'm used to.”
Farrin also professed a simple recipe consisting of celery, onion, Old Bay Seasoning and fresh-picked crab brought in the same morning. “We put a little chipotle aioli on there, some crispy thyme … paprika, chive oil and a lot of love.”
Said Rose, “We always joke when we do events like this that it's such a tough job, but honest to god – it's such a tough job. I think the real winner is Boothbay Harbor when your town has this for talent … They were all so beautifully presented, all so tasty and we were getting so full because we wanted to eat all of it.”