The Wrap: Maine brands win specialty food awards, Lost Kitchen helps raise $1 million for PFAS relief

This week, four Maine food retailers took home top honors at the National Specialty Food Association’s 50th Annual Sofi Rewards.

The Creme Brulee Bar won both a Gold Award and a New Product Award from the Specialty Food Association this week. Photo credit: Elle Darcy

Rockland’s Bixby Chocolate swept the chocolate, milk and white category, with its Crème Brûlée bar winning both a Gold Award and a New Product Award. Bixby’s Allagash White Beer Brittle also won a New Product Award in the non-chocolate confectionary category. Similarly, Topsham’s Hancock Gourmet Lobster Co. had the entrees, lunch/dinner category, winning a Gold Award for its Mushroom and Lobster Ravioli Meal Kit and a New Product Award for its Makhani Lobster Dinner.

Biddeford-based Ocean’s Balance won a Gold Award in the seasonings and spices category for its Chili Lime Seaweed Seasoning, made with Maine seaweed. Yarmouth’s Watcharee’s won the new product award in the sauces category for its Thai Peanut Sauce.

A panel of specialty food experts selected the three Maine brands from nearly 2,000 entries nationwide. Judging criteria included taste, appearance, texture, aroma, ingredient quality and innovation. A total of 102 Sofi Awards were given to products in 47 categories.

Winners of the 2022 Product of the Year and New Product of the Year awards will be announced at the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York in June.

“We are proud to be Maine’s first bean-to-bar brand to win three Sofi Awards,” Kate McAleer said in a prepared statement. “Our creme brulee bar is gaining popularity as it won another national award earlier this year, and our Allagash White Beer Brittle is a brand new product. Allagash is an excellent partner for the realization of this new product.

Watcharee owner Watcharee Limanon said she had submitted her products for the Sofi award several times in the past, but this is the first year she has won. “It was such a surprise and an honor,” she said.

Lost Kitchen raises big money for PFAS relief

The Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association (MOFGA) announced this week that Lost Kitchen in Freedom has helped raise nearly $1 million for PFAS contamination relief for Maine farmers.

The Lost Kitchen had partnered in the fundraising effort with the association and the Maine Farmland Trust, the two organizations that administer the relief funds. In late March, Lost Kitchen chef-owner Erin French opened the restaurant’s 2022 reservation lottery on her website, encouraging hopeful customers to donate to the fund.

Since then, more than 25,000 people have donated a total of more than $950,000, according to MOFGA. The funds directly help Maine farmers through income replacement, soil testing and mental health support.

According to MOFGA officials, more than 13 Maine farms have discovered concerning levels of PFAS contamination in their water, soil or food products. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is testing more than 700 sites statewide.

“It was such a natural partnership for The Lost Kitchen,” French said. “Many of these impacted farms and farmers are not just our neighbors and colleagues, but our friends.”

“The overwhelming response to The Lost Kitchen’s fundraiser not only helps us provide timely resources to affected Maine farmers, but has also helped raise awareness of the PFAS issue nationally,” said Amy Fisher, President and CEO of the Maine Farmland Trust.

Raw bar will open in Freeport

The Freeport Oyster Bar, housed in a 150-year-old barn behind the local historical society, will open in mid-June, the owners say. Photo credit: Thomas Henninger

The Freeport Oyster Bar, spotlighting Maine seafood with a raw bar, is set to open at 45 Main Street in mid-June, according to co-owner Thomas Henninger.

The Oyster Bar will be housed in a 150-year-old barn behind the Freeport Historical Society’s museum building. Henninger and his partner, Ken Sparta, rent the barn from the historical society.

The approximately 750-square-foot oyster bar will seat about 40 people indoors and an additional 40 bistro-style seats outside near the garden, Henninger said.

Both Henninger and Sparta own oyster farms, operating Madeleine Point Oyster Farm and Spartan Sea Farms respectively. The bar will feature oysters from their own farms, as well as produce from four farms also in the Maine Family Sea Farm Cooperative, which he and Sparta formed.

Henninger said he has hired about six staff members so far, including general manager Allie Sawyer, who previously worked at Luke’s Lobster and Union restaurant at the Press Hotel, both in Portland.

“We plan to sell what we grow,” Henninger said, noting that in addition to oysters, the raw bar will offer scallop crudo and other local fish and shellfish in raw preparations.

“We also plan to lean heavily into charcuterie and cheeses, and offer a strong cocktail and wine program. My wife is worried about the pleasure I will have. And as far as we know, we’re the only farmer-owned raw bass in Maine,” Henninger said.

To that end, he conceded that he and his partner “are oyster farmers, not restaurateurs.” But he said they were “blown away” by the outpouring of support and helpful consultation from the network of Maine chefs who source oysters from their farms.

“All of the chefs we sell have been incredibly helpful and courteous,” he said.

Eat the Kennebunks this week

The fifth annual Eat the Kennebunks week kicked off Monday, celebrating local food and drink at participating venues.

The event runs until Sunday. Fourteen local restaurants are listed as participating, and information about the special menus, dishes and discounts each is offering this week is available on the Go to the Kennebunks website.

Due to the pandemic, Eat the Kennebunks in 2020 was take-out only, while last year’s event was a hybrid of take-out and dine-in. Laura Dolce, executive director of the Kennebunk-Kennebunkport-Arundel Chamber of Commerce, said the week-long event typically includes more than 20 participating restaurants.

“But I know a lot of companies this year are hesitant to take on something so big, especially when they’re still worried about kitchen staff,” Dolce said.

Still, she said event organizers have tried to diversify offerings as much as possible this year beyond special multi-course dinners, to include breakfasts, lunches, drinks and appetizers, for example. . She said that although the opening day of the event was slow as many local restaurants are closed on Mondays, she expects attendance to increase as the week progresses.

“I think people are ready to come out,” she said.

Grape-Nuts helps another Maine woman climb Kilimanjaro

Portland’s Sylvia Guzman is part of a four-woman team planning to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in August. Guzman’s team won $12,500 from Grape-Nuts to pay for the shipping. Courtesy of Sylvia Guzman

A second woman from Maine won a cash prize from Grape-Nuts to fund her ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa in August.

Sylvia Guzman, 27, of Portland, won as part of a four-woman team called Summit Squad 2022, which also includes members from New York, New Jersey and Illinois. Grape-Nuts awarded the team $12,500 in March, Guzman said, surpassing the women’s goal of raising $20,000 in eight weeks to cover the costs of their trip to Kilimanjaro.

Another Maine woman, Tiffany Jones, won a $12,500 prize from Grape-Nuts for her own ascent of Kilimanjaro in July. Grape-Nuts is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year and wanted to commemorate it by giving cash rewards to nine climbers (or groups of climbers, as in the case of Summit Squad 2022) across the country who had created GoFundMe pages to collect funds for their expeditions.

“We were thrilled,” Guzman said of his team’s reaction to the cash prize.

“When we saw the donation arrive, we were really blown away,” said Heidi Jones, who organized the team and helps train them for the climb. She is the founder of the New York-based training tribe, Sweat To Change.

“In addition to the climb, these women will share their stories of overcoming adversity in a powerful documentary that will inspire all who see it.” The team is currently fundraising to pay for the documentary.

“None of us have ever done anything like this before,” Guzman said. To condition herself, she runs and does CrossFit several times a week. “I also hike every weekend,” she said, “and since I live in Maine, it’s not hard to do.”

Jones said she organized the all-female expedition because the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected women. She noted that women participating in Summit Squad 2022 overcame lifelong sexual and emotional abuse, suicidal thoughts and homophobia.

“There are boundaries that are set for women who don’t have to be there,” Guzman said. “It’s up to us to redefine what those boundaries are.”

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