Kennebunkport Festival 2017

Despite Monday evening being cool and damp, the atmosphere at On the Marsh Bistro was warm and welcoming for the kickoff of the Kennebunkport Festival. Named Gratitude, this cocktail party is a thank you to festival sponsors, hosts, and volunteers. The evening had the air of a reunion, with old friends greeting each other and new acquaintances being brought into the fold. “This group has remained the same,” says Maine Media Collective publisher Kevin Thomas, as he welcomed the group. “People don’t step out, but new people are added every year. Relationships matter to us.” This is the seventh year that Maine magazine has produced the festival, a six-day-long celebration of food, wine, art, and music.

Tuesday evening brought the first round of Art of Dining, intimate dinners set in private homes around town, with Maine’s top chefs in the kitchens. Each dinner also included a Maine artist in attendance as well, with the artist’s work hung in the home. Before the Tuesday dinners, the Kennebunkport Inn’s new restaurant, the Burleigh, hosted a cocktail party with a signature drink of red sangria spiked with bourbon and loads of fruit.

At the home of Gwen and Christopher Genest, where chef German Lucarelli of Ports of Italy was cooking, a warming fire and a glass of prosecco welcomed guests. The chef prepared appetizers of beef tartare on Parmesan crostini and sautéed shrimp, a delicious prelude to dinner. Lucarelli is known for his handmade pasta and deep, multi-faceted flavors, and he did not disappoint. Scallop crudo with fresh ginger and spring onions was bright and fresh. Jonah crab ravioli were set in a smooth arugula veloute and garnished with grilled ramps and radishes from the Genests’ own garden. “Everything I use tonight is local,” says Lucarelli, who will also be serving food at the Spirit of Maine and the Grand Tasting Party on Friday and Saturday, respectively. His dessert of orange tiramisu with caramelized strawberries was decadently rich and creamy. Part of the fun of the Art of Dining dinners is discovering who else will be at the table with you. I spoke with Sherry Turner and her husband, Steve Bull, who have been hosts and attendees of the festival for years. “We go to one dinner, and we host one dinner,” says Turner.

Wednesday afternoon brought blue sky and bright sunshine, the perfect backdrop to Cocktails at the Colony. The party at the grand old hotel, with a sweeping lawn and gardens full of irises, included cocktails on the expansive porch. Former state senator Justin Alfond, a co-founder of Full Plates Full Potential, the beneficiary of the festival, spoke to the crowd about the challenges of childhood hunger in Maine. “Forty-seven percent of public school children in Maine live in food insecure households and qualify for free and reduced price lunch,” he says. He and co-founder John Woods also took the time to visit every Art of Dining dinner to thank hosts, chefs, and guests for their parts in helping the Full Plates Full Potential mission.

The host of my Wednesday dinner was Brandon Gillard, owner of Kennebunkport Bicycle Company. He lives above his shop in a loft-like space that combines refined style with rustic touches. Chef Dan Sriprasert of Portland’s Green Elephant and Boda was calm and cool in the open kitchen, turning out appetizers while guests mingled. He and his staff worked diligently and quietly to create a vegan Thai dinner, every dish an astonishing work of art and flavor. A delicate rice crepe filled with caramelized peanuts was presented atop a pottery bowl. A disk of khao yum rice, red from the beets, was served with ingredients ready to be mixed in: lemongrass, puffed rice, watermelon radish, grapefruit, pennywort leaves, and more. The dish was a playful riff on beef tartare with its accompaniments. Black sticky rice pudding came in a small glass jar, along with individual spoonfuls of pistachios, coconut, and crunchy puffed rice and a tiny pitcher of coconut cream. It was a gorgeous blend of textures and tastes to finish the meal.

Wood Fired, perhaps the most anticipated event of the festival each year, was held Thursday evening at Vinegar Hill Music Theatre. It brought together a roster of well-respected and talented chefs, including Brian Hill of Francine Bistro, Chris and Paige Gould of Central Provisions, Michael MacDonnell of Tempo Dulu, and Tony Messina of Uni in Boston. The evening is organized with precision and style by Danielle and Justin Walker of Earth at Hidden Pond, with Justin contributing several dishes as well. While the chefs were prepping food under a tent and on wood-fired grills, guests enjoyed cocktails and wine on the lawn under strung lights. Servers carried plates of appetizers, such as fried whole belly clams on a cured lemon chip, created by chef Jake Smith of Black Birch in Kittery, and salt cod croquettes from TJ Delle Donne of Johnson and Wales University. Dinner was served in the barn, family style at candle-lit, elegantly set tables. Each chef created a dish (or two) that best displayed his or her talent. Standout dishes included Justin Walker’s whole monkfish with barley and smoky greens, Messina’s bulgogi short rib bo ssam, and Chris Gould’s grilled peaches with feta and crispy prosciutto. For dessert, the inimitable Ilma Lopez of Piccolo and Chaval offered a burnt sugar tuille with vermouth cherries, and Earth’s pastry chef Matt Jauck made his signature sassafras and sarsaparilla doughnuts, served fresh and hot.

The festival continues through the weekend with a full schedule of events. On Friday, a cocktail party will be held aboard the Spirit of Massachusetts, a restored schooner docked on the Kennebunk River. From there, it’s just a few steps to the big white tent at which the Spirit of Maine will be held. The Spirit of Maine is always a rollicking, fun time featuring tastes from chefs David Turin, Harding Lee Smith, and more, plus live music and dancing. Saturday brings the Grand Tasting Party at the same venue, with more of Maine’s favorite chefs and producers, including Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier of M.C. Perkins Cove, Isaul Perez of Isa Bistro, East End Cupcakes, Frontier Cafe, and many more. The Maine Craft Music Festival will be held at the Kennebunkport Village Green, featuring performances from Spencer Albee and the Ghost of Paul Revere. Food trucks will provide sustenance, and Maine craft beer will be poured. Afterward, head to the Gallery at the Grand to see works from two of Maine’s most collectible artists, Eric Hopkins and Jane Dahmen. The Grand Finale marks the end of the festival on Saturday night at David’s KPT. Chef David Turin outdoes himself every year with a stunning spread of his creative and delicious food and drink. Live music brings guests to the dance floor for a truly fantastic festival ending.