Hood New England Chef’s Challenge

Being a blogger has definitely given me some amazing opportunities, and this weekend, the chance to be a judge in the Hood New England Chef’s Challenge brought my first opportunity to judge a cooking competition.

Because I was a judge in the competition, my hotel room at the brand new Residence Inn in downtown Portland was provided for free. The hotel was beautiful, very clean, spacious, modern, and ideally located across the street from the Ocean Gateway Terminal, the site of the Hood events for the weekend. The hotel was also blocks from many great bars and restaurants and gave us a chance to go out and about after the competition.

The hotel was also practically connected to the Shipyard Brewing Company, so we also had the chance to visit the brewery store to pick up some great local beer to bring back to Boston.

Residence Inn Portland Residence Inn Portland
island roses Shipyard beer

Everything about the weekend was wonderful, from the waterside accommodations (where, as you can see, island roses were still blooming!) to the food, and most of  all the Hood New England Chef’s Challenge competition.

Portland Harbor

Prior to heading to the competition, I met up with Amy from Poor Girl Gourmet. Amy is one of my favorite bloggers and recently published a book. Once we were inside the Ocean Gateway Terminal, we met up with my friend and fellow blogger, Michelle from Fun and Fearless in Beantown. I was honored to be included on a judging panel with such fun, great writers!

food bloggers

Once the competition officially kicked off, the chefs had an hour to create a holiday dish using Hood sour cream. During that time, the judges were allowed to wander around to check in on what the chefs were cooking up. Our New England chefs were:

Connecticut, Chef “Red” Keith Lanphear, Black Rock Tavern

Massachusetts, Chef Josh Ziskin, La Morra

Rhode Island, Chef Matt Jennings, La Laiterie Bistro

Vermont, Chef Steve Atkins, The Kitchen Table Bistro

New Hampshire, Chef Evan Mallett, Black Trumpet Bistro

Maine, Chef Gary Cartwright, Stripers

Chef Keith Lanphear Chef Gary Caron
Chef Steve Atkins Chef Matt Jennings
Chef Evan Mallett Chef Josh Ziskin

The smells in the room were amazing, and maybe at times, a little overpowering! There was so much activity and prep going into each chef’s dish, and to help them out, they had culinary school students as assistants in their demo kitchens.



harvest bread pudding

One of the standouts for me during the cooking portion of the competition was learning from each chef, as he cooked, how many local ingredients each of the chefs used. From locally foraged mushrooms to Granby Farms and Misty Knoll Farms turkeys, organic local sweet potatoes, and of course, the Hood sour cream, it seemed like the majority of the ingredients were carefully sourced from local farms. I think it was definitely reflected in the taste and quality of the food.

Harvest Bread Pudding

Each and every dish was beautiful, and it was difficult to decide on a winner!

chicken stuffed with kale image
chicken with spaetzle
The winning dish! A Hungarian-inspired chicken with spaetzle.
sweet potato gnocchiimage

As the chefs finished their dishes, the panel of judges went up to each station, were briefed on the dish, and then got to sample a bite before quickly moving on to the next chef. I think everyone agreed that the food needs to be cooked and tasted in a staggered time period next time as we were rushing around trying to taste everything right when it was done.

The final products were as follows: a harvest bread pudding with bacon brittle and sour cream ice cream from Chef Cartwright, sweet potato gnocchi from Chef Mallett, kale-stuffed chicken with mushroom polenta from Chef Ziskin, a chicken and spaetzle dish from Chef Lanphear, a deconstructed turkey pot pie from Chef Jennings, and a turkey tetrazzini from Chef Atkins.

We judged each dish on presentation, creativity, and taste, and when all was tasted and done, Chef Lanphear was the winner! I loved the rich, warm, spiced sauce and the tender chicken in Chef Lanphear’s dish, and I am not sure if I am allowed to say this. . . but it was my favorite. Each dish had some sort of outstanding quality, and I would have loved to have had the chance to sit down to eat more of each!

New England Chef Challenge

I love New England, the holidays, autumn, and Hood products, so it was a lot of fun to be able to judge chefs from around the region doing what they do best. I felt a little like a Food Network celebrity judge for the day, and I would judge another competition in a heartbeat! Thank you to Hood and everyone involved in making the weekend so memorable and fun.

Do you watch cooking shows or competitions on TV? What is your favorite?

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Tags: competition, cooking, Food, Hood, ME, Portland, sour cream

  1. Kristen’s avatar

    This sounds like SO much fun! I’m definitely jealous. Makes me want to go to CT just to try the winning chef’s food!


  2. Michelle’s avatar

    What a great re-cap; mine is going up tomorrow! Saturday was a lot of fun and I’m so honored that we got to guest judge this competition!

    To answer your question, m favorite cooking competition is Top Chef!


  3. Megan’s avatar

    What a great opportunity! It sounds like it was a lot of fun and you got to eat lots of great food. It makes me so happy to hear about how much of it was local.


  4. Julie’s avatar

    Wow, the foraged mushroom picture looks to die for! That’s so cool; what a bunch of great ideas! That must have been so fun to watch.

    To answer your question, I don’t watch many cooking shows. I do subscribe to a couple magazines (bon appetit; food & wine) and Cook’s Illustrated’s weekly email. Love F & W and have gotten a plethora of good recipes from Cook’s!


  5. Elizabeth’s avatar

    Bread pudding with sour cream ice cream. Sounds heavenly.


  6. sophia’s avatar

    Oh wow. that sounds SO fun! i’ve always wondered what it’s like to be a judge, looking at grown-up chefs quaking in their chef coats, waiting eagerly to please you…hee, hee, hee.

    I LOVE Top Chef, and most cooking shows. Emeril Live was my first love, because of his abounding passion and enthusiasm for garlic and bacon fat.


  7. Yesim’s avatar

    sounds cool.. i watch Martha Stewart sometimes, and there is a tv show in Turkey very famous called “we r at the dinner”, there are 5 competitors, eeveryday they r invited to one of their home and 1 cooking and others grade.. and the one who cookes have to cook in 3 hours.. the one who got most points win it, it s fun and interesting, sometimes there are good recipes i see,i think to apply for that program but not sure if i can cook while a camera staring at me:D


  8. Simply Life’s avatar

    wow, what an amazing opportunity!!!


  9. Emily’s avatar

    Such a cool experience! I love the Black Trumpet in Portsmouth, NH. I’m sad their chef didn’t win but I can imagine it was a tough decision. I hadn’t heard of Morra here in Boston but am excited to try it. Thanks for sharing your weekend!


  10. MelissaNibbles’s avatar

    Sounds like a great experience. You’re a regular Gail Simmons!


  11. Justin’s avatar

    Sounds like it was a great time. What a cool experience…. when will we see you on the Iron Chef judge’s panel?


  12. MichellePC’s avatar

    Looks like such a fun event – great recap!


  13. Anne @ Food Loving Polar Bear’s avatar

    This must be a bloggers dream come true, to be a judge at a FOOD competition where the dishes look that good :P

    I love Top Chef and other cooking shows… I could watch them all day long!


  14. Daisy’s avatar

    What a cool experience! The black trumpet is exceptional so I’ve heard:) oh and top chef for sure


  15. Kim’s avatar

    Wow! How awesome it is to have had such a great opportunity! Looks like you definitely had a blast and with great accommodations too!

    The food looks delicious even if not all of it would be something I’d eat. Darn picky eaters. Haha.

    Congrats on the chance to judge!


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