Kennebunkport Fest 2012

And so it begins… The 2012 Kennebunkport Festival, day one.

Though the Kennebunkport Festival technically starts on Tuesday, June 5, this doesn’t stop me from indulging in Monday-evening margaritas at Pedro’s to “warm up” for the long week that lies ahead.

My base of operations for the entire week is a very comfortable suite at the Kennebunkport Inn, which is also, conveniently enough, the venue for the first official cocktail party of the festival on Tuesday evening. After a few solid days of cold rain, the weather finally cooperates and allows for the use of One Dock’s sun deck, and party-goers divide evenly in half between the deck and the newly renovated bar area inside.

Passed appetizers include tuna maki rolls, Chinese-style sweet and sour pork meatballs, and house crab cakes. I take a few sips of “Life is Good,” One Dock’s signature concoction of Patron Reposado, Cellardoor blueberry wine, and strawberry infused rum, before initiating what later becomes a marathon of wine consumption.

Though there are festival-related dinners happening all over town, my destination this evening is the Intimate Evening at the White Barn Inn. Eileen Crane, winemaker for Taittinger-owned California sparkling wine house Domaine Carneros, as well as the Inn’s executive chef, Jonathan Cartwright, greets us in the garden.

Each course is thoughtfully paired with Crane’s wine, beginning with tender, thinly sliced raw beef and fried quail egg alongside the Domaine Carneros Pinot Claire. What makes this wine exceptionally interesting is that it is white, yet produced exclusively from pinot noir, and its fruit characteristics become quite pronounced when enjoyed with the beef.

The true standout in my mind is the yellow fin tuna tartare, garnished with a bracing dollop of cucumber sorbet, served opposite a piece of loin that has been seared Tandoori-style and sprinkled with passion fruit “caviar.” The dish marries beautifully with a glass of Domaine Carneros “La Rêve” Blanc de Blancs, a sparkling wine made from 100 percent chardonnay grapes.

After eating and drinking my fill, I stop by Bandaloop for a nightcap before retiring to the inn for a well-deserved night of rest. The key to surviving seven straight nights of festivities lies with getting ample amounts of sleep and drinking oceans of water, and this only the beginning.

One Dock at the Kennebunkport Inn
One Dock Sq. | Kennebunkport | 207.967.2621 |

181 Port Rd. | Kennebunk | 207.967.5544 |

The White Barn Inn
37 Beach Ave. | Kennebunk Beach | 207.967.2321 |


Day Two of the Kennebunkport Festival: Go big or go home.

In preparation for head-on collision with day two of the festival, I find myself at the Old Fort Inn for a cocktail reception. While sampling my way through a plethora of different sauvignon blanc, I begin investigating the interior of the old carriage house, before unsuccessfully attempting to convince musician Sara Hallie Richardson to sing Motley Crüe’s famous power ballad, “Home Sweet Home.” Crushed, I find solace in the surprisingly addictive caramelized onion crostini being passed by servers.

Next it is on to the private residence of Robyn Friedman and Alex Miller for dinner prepared by Lee Farrington of Figa. If you have ever met Friedman, then you would know that the two of us share both facial features and personality traits. I often refer to the experience of dealing with us at the same time as “a lot for any reasonable human being to handle.”

Galen Ricci of Mariner Beverages is responsible for wine pairings, and I am delighted to be greeted with a glass of Vigneto Saetti Rosato dell’Emilia, a Lambrusco-esque sparkling rose. Farrington’s internationally influenced menu covers a range of styles, and as I write I am still fawning over her cumin and coriander duck breast with wild mushroom and duck confit spätzle. About halfway through the meal, I raid Friedman and Miller’s liquor cabinet and produce a bottle of Patron Silver, which we proceed to pass around the table for those in need of a boost, before we all make the logical transition back into Cru Beaujolais to pair with the duck. Deconstructed s’mores and bright, creamy Lemon Budino, served with Bull Jagger Brewing Company’s Baltic Porter as well as a glass of Chateau du Cros Loupiac, complete the equation nicely.

Afterwards, the merrymaking continues at the Tides Beach Club, where despite knowing that I really should get some sleep, I order up a few glasses of Gruner Veltliner as a nightcap. On to day three…

Thank you to Rob Rice for sharing some of his photos from the event

Old Fort Inn
8 South Maine St. | Kennebunkport | 207.967.5353 |

Tides Beach Club
252 King’s Hwy. | Kennebunkport | 207.967.3757 |

Figa Restaurant
249 Congress St. | Portland | 207.518.9400 |


Pop the Kennebunks successfully launches us into the weekend… Day 3 down.

My first destination of the evening is the Hinckley Reception at Chicks Marina, where I instantly gravitate toward deviled eggs with bacon before settling into my familiar habit of drinking any non-Chardonnay white wine made available. Aurora Provisions has prepared the passed appetizers, which also include delicious fresh crab sandwiches with pickled fiddleheads.
From the Hinckley event I find myself being whisked away mid-beverage, and piled into a car that is supposedly taking me to some manner of trolley, which will in turn transport me to a remote location. The scene at the “drop-spot” is not unlike a high school project graduation, with people anxiously lined up to be taken to a special surprise party. I can barely contain my excitement to ride the trolley, but am disappointed to discover that there is no bar onboard.
Pop the Kennebunks is an event put on by Cellardoor Winery, and this year’s theme recreates Maxim’s de Paris, complete with can-can dancing and cross-dressing. Between each glass of cava that I consume, I remind myself that it would be prudent to track down hors d’oeuvres from Kitchen Chicks Catering, but I keep getting sidetracked in my endeavor, usually by another glass of cava. Eventually I find my way to the mussel bar, and partake in grilled bread and mussels resting in a broth of butter, lemon, and fresh herbs. Temporarily satiated, I take in the scene: —hundreds drenched in red-hued lights with cocktails in hand. As the evening progresses, more people abandon the tables lining the walls of the tent and head to the dance floor to take in music by Shelley MacArthur and the Chris Humphrey Band, and, later, Alice Tan Ridley.

Before I know it I find myself back on the trolley and on my way to a plate of crispy wonton, raw tuna, and wasabi cream at Bandaloop. This is perfect with a glass of Thierry Cardon Touraine “Les Chardons,” as is the fresh Chiffonade of Kale, a surprisingly delicious pile of healthy greens tossed with hemp seeds, candied pepitas, and sesame-tahini vinaigrette. I enjoy a few more glasses of wine before walking across the street to the inn, where I collapse into a deep and dreamless slumber. Today’s valuable lesson of “maybe you should eat more if you’re going to drink that much sparkling wine” has been successfully absorbed.

Chicks Marina
75 Ocean Ave. | Kennebunkport | 207.967.2782 |

Aurora Provisions
64 Pine St. | Portland | 207.871.9060 |

Kitchen Chicks Catering
41 Water St. | Kennebunk | 207.985.0252 |

Cellardoor Winery
47 West St. | Rockport | 207.236.2654 |

2 Ocean Ave. | Kennebunkport | 207.967.4994 |


Day 4 marks my turn to give back, while still continuing to drink a lot of wine.

The beginning of Day 4 finds me rushing around Portland, procuring supplies and ingredients for the Maine Magazine Dinner, which I will be preparing at the residence of Steve and Alicia Spenlinhauer. There are to be 16 guests in attendance, mostly comprised of a group from Texas who attended my dinner last year. Because it always occurs toward the end of the festival, I base the menu on Asian cuisine with the intention of kickstarting potentially weary palates.

I visit a total of four Asian markets to get everything I need, as well as Browne Trading for seafood and Rosemont Bakery for the best pork around. Once I have my entire kitchen and pantry loaded into my vehicle, it’s off to Kennebunkport with my lovely assistant and former co-worker, Laura Romasco, in tow.

Alicia Spenlinhauer welcomes us into her stunning home, immediately easing the stress of the day’s frantic shopping. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect kitchen to work in, as the large stove allows for both my large and small wok to rest comfortably. Laura and I fire up a couple of cold Ki-Rin Ichiban lagers and set to work making sense of our mis-en-place.

Shortly before dinner, Tabitha Blake of Crush Distributors arrives to commandeer the wine pairings for the evening. Given my menu, she relies heavily upon high-acidity wines from Austria and Italy, such as Gruner Veltliner and Barbaresco. Additionally, she completely bails me out of a jam by doubling as our food-runner, and providing a bottle of Steininger Sekt destined only for “staff consumption.”

For a passed appetizer I have chosen Malaysian-style crab cakes with lemongrass and kefir lime. After being deep-fried, these toothsome little morsels are garnished with a dollop of creamy Sendai miso sauce and a bit of scallion. Shortly after, as guests are seated, we present our first course—pork buns. To cover myself for possible delays, I choose a thicker, more dense steamed bun to fill with Kewpie mayo and batons of spicy, Szechuan style pork shoulder.

Next up is a spicy Korean-style cabbage soup, with a soba dashi broth used as base. The depth of flavor in the dashi mingles hauntingly with the rust-colored Gochujang chili paste used to cook the cabbage. I go a bit overboard with the heat level here, to the dismay of some but the delight of others. I just wanted to test the waters…

Jumbo Prawns and wild squid, simmered in an aromatic coconut broth and served over warm baguette, serves to heal those wounded by the fiery soup. It is garnished with crispy fried shallots and cilantro, and is elevated beautifully by the Rampa di Fugnano Vernaccia chosen by Blake.

After allowing the guests to digest for a while, and myself to drink a few glasses of Zweigelt rosé, I present the final savory course. Mappo Dofu consists of ground pork and tofu, stir-fried with garlic, chilies, and ginger, before being simmered in a sweet, vinegar-spiked sauce. We serve it over jasmine rice, with charred spicy broccoli on the side.

Because it is getting late, I quickly prepare the mango lassi—an Indian-style smoothie with mango, yogurt, and a bit of rose water. In addition to being sweet, this also serves as a soothing base to end the meal. We have gone slightly over the projected end-time, but no one seems to notice or care, which makes me very happy. I enjoy a few more glasses of wine as we break down the kitchen and prepare for departure. At this point I am quite exhausted from the week, but I only have to suffer through one more day of great food, wine, and friends, before heading home for a much-needed rest.

photo credit: C.A. Smith Photography


Day 5: the Grand Tasting, Brews & Tunes, and Earth at Hidden Pond.

The final day of the festival begins with a helpful reminder of just how much better I feel when I get more than four hours of sleep. I know I’ve got one more marathon day of consumption ahead of me, so to fortify myself I shotgun a bottle of oak barrel aged Kombucha tea from the Urban Farm Fermentory in Portland, as well as a full liter of water. This is followed by a leisurely breakfast at One Dock, before packing up and hoofing it to the Colony Hotel for the Grand Tasting.

A sea of vendors has been assembled throughout the tasting, and I rely upon my ability to cherry pick in an effort to keep my glass consistently filled with wine that I enjoy. In the end, though, I find myself camped out near bar and mustache legend John Meyers, who is serving up delicious and refreshing cocktails created with Rhum Clémente.

After a couple of these, I am primed to sample the food, and find myself favoring lighter, spicier fare as the temperature is quite warm. Standouts include pulled pork sopes from Zapoteca, as well as a beautiful golden gazpacho soup from 98 Provence. I am especially particular when it comes to cold soups, but the perfect texture and intense flavor of the tomatoes leaves me wanting a full bowl. I also particularly enjoy the crispy wontons with a deep, earthy eggplant dip prepared by MC Perkins Cove, and when I transition into sweet I make a beeline for the incredibly decadent Belizean chocolate cupcake being served by Kristin F. Simmons of Custom Cakes and Pastries.

After having my fill, I walk up the street to Brews & Tunes just in time to catch the Fogcutters Big Band with a few special guest vocalists, among them Zach Jones and Spose. Allagash Brewing Company has provided beers on hand, and selections include their white ale and stout. With the sun beating down, I opt for the white.

After Brews & Tunes it’s off to the Arundel Wharf to satisfy my urge for a margarita. It is, as I predicted, quite busy, but soon we are able to wrangle up some sun-drenched patio real estate and set up shop for some drinking before returning to my quarters to “freshen up.” After all, I still have dinner at Earth to attend to.

After scaring up transport to Hidden Pond, I arrive to a packed house at Earth. I sample two of the house cocktails, including a festively-spiced bourbon drink, while enjoying delicious passed appetizers by the pool. I am particularly partial to the mini Japanese egg custards served with fresh wild asparagus, as well as, for obvious reasons, mortadella corn dogs. The dining room is stunning—the centerpiece is an apple tree that has been fashioned into a magnificent chandelier. We are seated at the bar for dinner, which is prepared by chef Kevin Walsh. Among the courses are tuna sashimi drizzled with a yuzu-chili-soy emulsion and topped with avocado and sunchoke crisps, a dish that works nicely with the mineral and citrus notes of Napa Valley’s Sea Glass Sauvignon Blanc. I also very much enjoy the fresh cavatelli pasta, tossed with sweet chunks of lobster, morel mushrooms, and English peas.

Eventually, attendees of the after-party begin to shuffle in, and as the vibe of the event begins to alter I make my escape back to the inn. It looks like a good time, but I have to admit I’ve completely hit the wall.

Because of the festival, I feel I’ve managed to somehow jam a month’s worth of eating and drinking in Kennebunkport into one short week. It’s been fun, but I’m very much looking forward to getting some rest.

The Colony Hotel
140 Ocean Ave. | Kennebunkport | 207.967.3331 |

Arundel Wharf
43 Ocean Ave. | Kennebunkport | 207.967.3444 |

Earth at Hidden Pond
354 Goose Rocks Rd. | Kennebunkport | 207.967.9050 |


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