PORTLAND — Dipping claw meat into butter while dining at a harborside restaurant anywhere along the Maine coast, it can be hard to believe that lobster is a hard sell. What could be more enjoyable than eating lobster fresh from the ocean and caught by a lobsterman whose boat may be bobbing on a mooring just off the dock and who may even be sitting at a nearby table enjoying the view?
Selling lobster in those circumstances is easy, Matt Jacobson, executive director of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, said recently. But it also moves only a fraction of the lobster landed in Maine. Last year, Maine lobstermen brought ashore nearly 111 million pounds of lobster worth some $450 million and, by recent standards, that was a bad year. Just a year earlier, landings topped 132 million pounds worth more than $554 million.
Only so much of that can be consumed at in-state restaurants, shoreside lobster shacks and summer picnics in Maine. To keep the lobster industry healthy demand for lobsters has to increase in places far from the traditional markets and, Jacobson said, for demand to grow people, especially chefs, have to know more about Maine lobster.
To that end, the MLMC this week hosted the first ever live broadcast of one of its events featuring prominent chefs and Maine lobstermen. The live event took place Monday evening in New York City, but it was also live-streamed on the internet so viewers around the globe could tune in and watch.
According to Jacobson, the broadcast will feature Dana Cowin, the former editor-in-chief of Food & Wine and three special guest chefs: Karen Akunowicz, Kwame Onwuachi and Jimmy Papadopoulos.
The Boston-based Akunowicz was named as the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Chef Northeast” for 2018 and an award-winning cookbook author.
The Bronx-born Onwuachi is the Culinary Institute of America-trained founder and executive chef of the Afro-Caribbean cuisine hot-spot Kith and Kin in Washington, D.C.
Papadopoulos is a chef/partner in the acclaimed Bellemore — featuring “new American classic” cuisine — in Chicago.
The show focused, Jacobson said, on Maine lobster as one of America’s “most iconic seafoods” and explained how it is sustainably harvested.
With the foodies in New York were several Maine lobstermen, Bruce Fernald of Islesboro among them, who recently hosted the chefs on their boats, and in their homes, to expose them to how lobsters are harvested, and by whom.
“We’re always trying to reach more people with our story,” Jacobson said last week. “The trend is live internet events.”
Over the past few years, Jacobson said, the collaborative’s “Maine after Midnight” events in several U.S. cities, which brought influential, “high-profile” chefs together with Maine lobstermen, have been a significant factor in the success of marketing Maine lobster.
“We would have had to buy 28 Super Bowl ads to reach the number of people we’ve reached” through the collaborative’s events and promotions.
Jacobson and the collaborative aren’t resting on any laurels. In August, work will begin on several product videos aimed specifically at educating chefs on more and more interesting ways to prepare lobster — both new and hard shell.
On Sept. 13, there will be a Maine after Midnight event in Chicago that will, Jacobson said, help prepare the media for National Lobster Day on Sept. 25.