Two Boothbay Harbor chefs sweep Lobster Chef of the Year awards
Two Boothbay Harbor chefs were the big winners at the 2017 Lobster Chef of the Year competition in Portland on Oct. 20. Nathaniel Adam, executive sous chef of the Boothbay Harbor Country Club, was named Maine Lobster Chef of the Year, Judge’s Choice; and Regional Executive Chef Stephen Richards of Lafayette Hotels brought home the People’s Choice Lobster Chef of the Year Award.
The two competed against six other Maine chefs at the Harvest on the Harbor festival at O’Maine Studios on Danforth Street. With 200 attendees, each chef’s creation was served for all to sample, while the judges tasted their samples and spoke about each one.
Richards described his entree as a smoky-flavored lobster dish reminiscent of the lobster bakes he had as a child. An attractively presented tempura zucchini blossom was stuffed with a smoked lobster mascarpone and paired with a saffron corn fondue, a sticky cranberry pumpkin seed granola and black trumpet mushroom powder.
The huge zucchini blossoms were shipped in from California. “They’re the best zucchini blossoms I’ve ever seen,” Richards said.
Adam called his entree Lobster in Foliage – a concoction of caramelized shallot and lobster mousseline stuffed agnolotti, described as a pillow pasta, with lobster Newburg sauce and lobster glass – a thin lobster and onion flavored crisp – with a hazelnut brown butter.
This was Richards’ second win at the event, having taken home the title of Lobster Chef of the Year in 2014. He was runner-up in 2015 and was also a People’s Choice winner at Boothbay’s 2014 Annual Claw Down competition.
Adam, who recently turned 22, took the Judges Award at Boothbay’s annual Claw Down competition last month with his combination of butter poached lobster with sweet corn and candied thyme brown butter emulsion, a crispy sea salt tuile, and a puff of vanilla tarragon seafoam with a sprinkling of red tobiko.
Judges for the Oct. 20 event were Karen Watterson, food editor of Maine Magazine; Susan Povich, owner of Red Hook Lobster Co.; Christopher Pagagni, consultant for Maine Foodie Tours, Maine Grains and Portland Phoenix; and Erin Ovalle, executive producer of MaineLife.
After the winners were announced, Pagagni, who was also a judge at Claw Down, spoke of Adam in glowing terms. “I have butterflies. He’s a boy wonder. He intuitively knows how to create beautiful food, and that’s a gift. He’s self-taught. You don’t learn that in a cooking school – it comes from inside. It’s like being a concert pianist or a great sculptor. Everyone recognizes his talent.”
"I'm so incredibly happy for him and proud of him, as are all of us at the country club,” Boothbay Harbor Country Club Public and Member Relations Manager Michelle Amero said. “He's a very gifted chef with so much raw talent and creativity. He takes a lot of pride in his work and it shows. As one of the judges commented yesterday, ‘Chef Nathaniel Adam is a name that we will be hearing a lot about in the culinary world for a long time to come.’”
“This feels super great,” Adam, originally from Michigan, said of his win. “We’ve been swamped at the country club for the past two weeks. We really didn’t have much time, so we made this all happen in the last few days. I couldn’t have done it without these guys (indicating his sous chefs, brother, Eric Jones and Aaron Nurse).
“A couple of Michiganders came to Maine and won a lobster cook-off.”
Richards didn’t stick around after claiming his award, for a selfless reason. “I took off right after the event,” he said in a phone interview. “I really wanted Nathaniel to be in the spotlight. I’ve been there, and I remember how awesome it was, how I felt, the first time I won. I really just wanted him to have the glory.
“The first time I won I was on top of the world. I was almost crazy numb. This time it’s a different feeling. I’m not as excited but I feel like I now know I’m not a flash in the pan. I can do this ... Without Cherie Scott (past Claw Down event organizer), and what she did for me, Harvest on the Harbor wouldn't know my name. I dedicate my win to her."
Said Scott, “I'll never forget the day in 2012 I sat down in Fisherman's Wharf and looked Stephen Richards in the eye and asked him to compete in the first ever Claw Down at the Opera House. It didn't take him a nanosecond to say, ‘Hell, yeah, finally something is happening in Boothbay Harbor.’"
Despite Richards' determination to win, he lost that year at Claw Down. But in 2014 he took both the People's Choice and the Judges' Choice awards. "He was a humbled warrior, " Scott said. "He came back and won those, and the Lobster Chef of the Year award at Harvest on the Harbor that year."
For this year, the two winning chefs’ work in Boothbay Harbor is done. Adam will be heading to his winter gig as a private chef in Southwest Florida, and Richards will be heading – well – somewhere. “I keep the winter open,” he said. “I’m not married and I don’t have kids. I don’t make plans, and it always leads to a great winter. Sometimes I land in Utah, sometimes I land at Sugarloaf … I never know.”
Other chefs competing were Melissa Bouchard of Dimillo’s on the Water, Bo Byrne of Tiqa, Baxter Key and Andy Gerry of Highroller Lobster Co., Isaac Aldrich of Sebasco Harbor Resort, Avery Richter of The Black Tie Co. and David Squillante of Shipyard Brewing Co.