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Ipanema employee wins Maine Chef Challenge

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BANGOR - Ingredients were flying, dishes were clanging and the clock never stopped ticking as three area chefs competed in the first-ever Maine Chef Challenge recently held at Eastern Maine Community College. This Iron-chef style cooking competition was made up of all former EMCC alums, including Laurie Turner, resident chef of Pairings at Winterport Winery; Jason Payne of Jeanie Marshal Foods and an in-flight chef and caterer for private & corporate flights; and Meghan Woodbury, executive chef of Ipanema Bar & Grill and The Reverend Noble Pub in Bangor.

Each chef was allowed to bring along two assistants to help them whip together three courses from a pantry of food provided by the college. Just moments before the competition began, the chefs were informed they all must find a way to use the secret ingredient, Moxie, in at least one of their dishes.

"I think we were the only group rather excited about that being our surprise ingredient because time ran out before I could grab alcohol to make sauces, so my sous chef and I were elated that we had something," explained Woodbury.

Her group, known as the red team, used Maine's famous soft drink for Woodbury's grilled beef tenderloin dish as well as her dessert.

"I made a Maine blueberry tart. I took fresh blueberries and mixed it with sugar, lemon zest, mint and vanilla bean and put that on top of the lemon curd and had a floating meringue. The remaining blueberries we mixed with Moxie, reduced it down to a sauce and added fresh cracked pepper," she explained.

This 21-year-old EMCC graduate admits her team tried more than once during the competition to try and get a feel for whether or not the judges were enjoying the food in front of them.

"Some of my other cooks tried to peek at the judges table to see their reactions but you were so focused on what you were doing," Woodbury said. "My only indication [that they liked it] was if they cleared the plate or not."

And they did clear their plates. They liked her dishes so much that at the end of the night, Woodbury was crowned the top chef.

"It's quite an honor, and it's nice to have won over people who have more years of experience than I have years of life," she said, "It just confirms I'm doing what I should be doing."

Thanks to Woodbury, Turner and Payne, thousands and thousands of dollars were raised at the event, all of which will benefit the school's culinary and hospitality and tourism management programs.

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