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Breakfast champions preparing for the race

BRUNSWICK – It is a bit old-fashioned for a woman to ask a man to order for her, but when you have breakfast with a chef who has competed in the incredible Breakfast Cook-Off for five years in a row and has breakfast for 350 students College students every day, it seems child’s play to ask him to bring you his best breakfast products from the restaurant line.

Isaac Aldrich, culinary director of Thorne Dining Hall in Bowdoin, places a tray with scrambled eggs, grapes, congee (Chinese rice porridge) with kimchi, a slice of pizza for breakfast Alfredo, pork sausage made right there in the campus kitchen and coffee.

“I love breakfast,” said Aldrich. “It’s really that meal of the day where there aren’t many rules, so you can be creative and play.”

Aldrich is one of 10 Maine chefs who will compete on Friday in the incredible breakfast Cook-Off at Sea Dog Brewing Co. in South Portland. It is the official kick-off of Maine Restaurant Week, which will take place from March 1st to 12th. Over the past decade, the cook-off has raised over $ 50,000 for Preble Street, a local social services agency that has benefited from the event for nine out of 10 races. Breakfast lovers pay $ 25 per ticket to walk from station to station, tasting the chefs’ dishes and voting for their favorites.

Isaac Aldrich, culinary director of Bownein College’s Thorne Dining Hall, has attended the Incredible Breakfast Cook-Off since 2015. Brianna Soukup / Staff Photographer

The chefs break hundreds of eggs for the competition, loaded with ladles of pancake batter and Hollandaise, and tackle the ingredients in perfect little bites that they hope will get the title of best breakfast chef in Maine. Some years all seem to be on the same wavelength, like the time many chefs made hash. In 2015, candied bacon was the spicy ingredient. Eggs Benedict is always popular, although it is usually dressed in lobster or another special touch.

Chefs and restaurants come and go every year, but some come in year after year. Aldrich has been present every year since 2015, when he represented the Sebasco Harbor Resort. That first year, he made a “drunken waffle” topped with candied bacon, covered in chocolate. He flavored it with a Jack Daniels syrup, then finished it with whipped cream. Aldrich still remembers how disappointed he was that he didn’t even participate in the competition, especially with his secret bacon and alcohol weapons.

“We had a lot of fun doing it. I remember being very angry at the end about what I lost because I don’t like losing, “he said, laughing.

The following year, he said, he returned to the competition with “a better attitude”. It worked: he won and has placed every year since then. His winning dish was a Maine lobster breakfast taco. What was the taco that put it on top? “No. 1, it was lobster,” said Aldrich. “No. 2, I think it was the scrambled eggs. The way I do the eggs is a little different. I do it in French style, so there is a continuous whipping with a lot of butter. And then, of course, I created my chorizo ​​for that, and the chorizo ​​came out really nice. It was just a perfect melting pot of flavors, all affected at the same time, and people were coming back for the third and fourth. Actually they said I won with the largest margin ever. “

Chef Isaac Aldrich won the Incredible Breakfast Cook-off in 2016 with this Maine lobster breakfast taco. Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

Aldrich, 37, grew up in Durham but now lives in Topsham with his wife Meghan and two children, Silas, 6 and Evan, 8. He began his cooking career in restaurants in Brunswick and Portland. After cooking school, he took a job as a catering for the Denver Broncos, where he stayed for eight years. Eventually, he returned to Maine and spent five years as an executive chef at Sebasco Harbor Resort.

Aldrich was working for Sebasco Harbor when he was named first place in 2017 with his “Bacon and Eggs”, a toasted croissant brushed with culture butter and seasoned with scrambled eggs, bacon, pork sausage Bucksport Farms, Hollandaise, queso, micro chives and smoked paprika oil. He later became a catering chef at Colby College and represented the school when he was runner-up at the 2019 cook-off. That year, he made biscuits with scrambled eggs, lobster, bacon, sour cream and caviar.

The chef’s favorite breakfast is steak and eggs, which he prepares at home. “To be honest with you, I don’t really go out to breakfast,” he said. “It’s more a bit of relaxation and cooking at home in general.”

Aldrich says he starts thinking about the possibilities of a cooking dish in January and it takes about two months of experimentation to nail his entrance. First, choose an ingredient to build the dish. His first year in the kitchen, that ingredient was Jack Daniels. Another year, it was lobster. This year he started with four or five main dishes – one with yogurt and blueberries, another lobster – and crossed them one by one. In the end, he chose the Maine crab because “crab is my favorite thing on this planet to eat.”

The result is his Maine crab breakfast focaccia, made with a cream cheese egg sauce, apple smoked bacon, sweet red peppers and candied jalapenos and served on naan cooked by a company owned by a Bowdoin alumni. “I will understand what I want to do, so I will run tests,” said Aldrich, explaining his process. “So I make my changes.” Since the cook is judged by the public, Aldrich likes to ask the people around him for opinions: how does it sound? What do you think about this? What would this taste be like?

To prepare the cream cheese sauce for this year’s entrance, beat the egg yolks in melted cream cheese. “It really makes a nice creamy base that has some body,” said Aldrich. “Then I put some lemon juice, some acid in there, and then it is seasoned with crab, it is seasoned with peppers, it is seasoned with candied jalapenos. I really think they’ll become the star of the show, to be honest with you. They are getting wet right now. They are in brine for 30 days and they improve every day. “

Take out a sample. A bite brings first sweetness, followed by an explosion of spiciness and finally persistent heat. With another two weeks in brine, the jalapenos “will become a little more balanced,” predicted Aldrich. “It will solve all the flavors of the dish because it is such a contrast.”

Kitchen chefs have to think of logistics almost as much as food itself. How much do they need all their ingredients and what can be prepared in advance? Aldrich arrives at Sea Dog Brewing at 5:30 in the morning to make sure he will have plenty of time to cook and prepare. This year, he expects his dish to be less laborious than in the past.

“In past years, you’ve been trying to mix four liters of eggs in a 45-minute window, and it’s stressful,” he said. “‘Scramble, scramble, come on!’ And you can’t warm yourself up because you will burn it very quickly. “

He plans to make enough breakfast buns to feed 300 people. He doesn’t want to disappoint anyone who comes back for a few seconds.

Aldrich said the chefs would like to taste the other’s work during the event, but it is “extremely difficult” to do it while preparing their own dishes. “No. 1, the adrenaline increases so much that your appetite is nonexistent,” he said. “But some dishes are like” You have to try this “and they will bring me a sample and I will eat it. I always try to eat Sea Dog’s dish because they do a good job.”

Thanks to that lobster breakfast taco, the chef knows how fun it is to win: the haste to hear his name called, followed by his phone that burns with messages and calls that offer congratulations. Hope for a repeat of that experience this year. Aldrich also knows how much the people attending the event appreciate it. Breakfast has become, he says, “a big deal” in Maine and other places where breakfast and brunch options are exploding.

“People want to have breakfast for dinner,” he said. “People love breakfast. It’s just that he doesn’t like to cook it every day. “

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