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Tony Bomba's 'fusion-confusion' cuisine wins NH Food Bank's Steel Chef competition

By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN

MEREDITH — The Taste of the Lakes Region is an unusual opportunity for people to sample the creations of some of the area's best food companies. This year, the 27th episode of the annual fund raiser offers a particularly interesting wrinkle – the chance to taste the food of a chef who recently won the NH Food Bank's Steel Chef competition, and who will soon be featured on a Food Network reality cooking show.

Tony Bomba, who grew up in Lincoln, knew that he wanted to be a chef from a young age, and when he was in high school, he took advantage of a program that allowed him to intern with professionals. After high school, he started a culinary program but realized that he already knew everything in the lessons. So, he decided to begin his career right then and there.

"I'm not a behind-the-textbooks kind of guy," he said. He got a job as a line cook at Foster's Boiler Room in Plymouth, one of the properties in the Common Man Family of Restaurants, and within a year was wearing a jacket with the word "chef" on it. Bomba, now 24, has now been a Common Man chef for the past six years, and for a year and a half has been the head chef at Lago in Meredith.

On March 26, Bomba's food will be among the others served to guests at the Taste of the Lakes Region, held from 4 to 6:30 p.m. in Church Landing in Meredith. Tickets are $30 per person, and proceeds will benefit the Altrusa International of Laconia club's charitable efforts, which include literacy projects and scholarships.

Bomba is an ascending young chef. The Common Man holds its own internal cooking competitions, fashioned after the Iron Chef television show that started in Japan and has since been replicated in the United States. He's a five-time champion of his company's tournament. So, when he was asked to join the Steel Chef event, held on March 6 in Manchester, he readily agreed.

"I'm all for it, it's good to get your name out there. I was glad to do it," he said. Many chefs from around the state applied, and Bomba was one of four finalists asked to take to the stage for a live cooking event, hosted by celebrity chef Robert Irvine and in front of a live audience measured in the hundreds.

The surprise challenge was to create a dish using salmon, duck and Captain Crunch cereal. The contestants had to break down both the fish and the bird, had only two burners to cook with, and had to plate their dish 20 minutes after the word "Go!" Bomba won, on the strength of a plate that contained pan-seared duck and salmon, served over a risotto flavored with the cereal, cauliflower and mushrooms, and he tied everything together with an orange and asparagus beurre blanc.

As it turned out, Bomba had an advantage going into the event, because it turned out to be similar to the ingredients he was challenged to combine during a taping of "Guy's Grocery Games," a reality television show hosted by Guy Fieri on the Food Network – Bomba said the episode featuring his performance will be broadcast on April 30.

Bomba works in the Common Man's Italian restaurant, and comes from an Italian family. He sees that adjective as a beginning point, rather than a confining definition. Like the early explorers and traders of the great Mediterranean peninsula, he is curious about the flavors and products available from around the world, and he sees Lago as more than a place for pasta and marinara. Instead, he wants the menu to draw inspiration from the travels of Marco Polo.

"My style is very much not Italian," said Bomba. "I grew up Italian, I'm sick of cooking Italian," he said. He describes his favorite cooking as "fusion-confusion" and "culinarchy" – a collision of "culinary" and "anarchy." It's a playful, experimental approach to providing approachable food, best exemplified by the "Late Night" menu presented to bar patrons after the main dinner service at Lago. It includes spring rolls stuffed with apples, brie and sausage, and tacos filled with tuna tartare. When the restaurant rewrites its menu for the warm months, he expects such items to make an appearance on the regular dinner menu.

His daring is also on display when he creates specials. One of his favorites is a direct confrontation to conventional expectations. Could an Italian restaurant serve chicken and waffles, and get away with it? The answer is yes, and yes. Bomba serves Cornish game hen over Amaretto-infused waffles with wilted Italian greens, grilled peaches, and drizzled with a sauce of Gran Maniere and local maple syrup. His diners are up to the challenge, as his version of chicken and waffles has sold out every time he's offered it.

Like the Steel Chef event, Bomba sees participating in such events as both a professional opportunity and responsibility. Not only do participants in the Taste of the Lakes Region donate their time for the event, they also cover the cost of the product they're serving, and all for no material reward.

"I'm all for it. It's good to get your name out there. I was glad to do it," he said about the Steel Chef event. "They raised a bunch of money for the food bank, which was the whole point of it."

Because of the willingness of people like Bomba to donate their talents to put on such an event, the food bank will likely be able to provide a million meals more than it would otherwise. Nancy Mellitt, director of development for the NH Food Bank, said the organization can provide two meals for every dollar raised. Last year's event attracted 380 guests and raised $290,000. While she is still totaling this year's figure, but the attendance figure of 660 leads her to believe that this year's proceeds will exceed last year's by a healthy margin.

To Bomba, having a hand in such an effort is part of the job description, and it's why he's willing to lend his time and talents to the Taste of the Lakes Region.

"Being a restaurant, or any business inside a community, people in that community come in and spend their money with you. You, whether you know it or not, have a responsibility to give back to that community and keep the cycle going."

For more information about the Taste of the Lakes Region, visit www.altrusalaconia.org.

 

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Tony Bomba is head chef at Lago in Meredith, one of the restaurants participating in the Taste of the Lakes Region on March 26 (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun).

 

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Bomba is congratulated by celebrity chef Robert Irvine for winning the NH Food Bank's Steel Chef competition on March 6. (Courtesy photo)

Tamworth Distilling

 

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The 250-gallon copper still at Tamworth Distilling was made in Louisville, Kentucky. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

 

 

By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN

TAMWORTH — There was a time when New Englanders made their own booze, using ingredients at hand and concocting blends of flavors to suit the season or to mark an occasion. That's the spirit with which the Tamworth Distilling and Mercantile Company was founded in 2015 by Steven Grasse. The distillery, carefully designed to appear as though it has always been part of Tamworth village, is dedicated to the production of artisinal spirits, made entirely from scratch, and the relentless pursuit of new recipes.

Though it is still completing its second year of operation, Tamworth Distilling is already gaining attention, with mentions in The New York Times and USA Today, as well as statewide media. While it's worth the drive to visit the distillery in charming Tamworth Village, those seeking a nearer opportunity to sample their creations should buy a ticket for the Taste of the Lakes Region, the Laconia Altrusa Club's annual fundraiser and food celebration, which will be held at Church Landing in Meredith on March 26. Tamworth Distilling will be one of the more than 20 food and beverage companies that are volunteering their time and product to offer attendees.

Grasse, who vacationed in the Lakes Region as a child, set his mind to open an artisinal distillery after a career in which he re-branded Hendrick's Gin, and launched Sailor Jerry Rum. He was drawn to Tamworth as much because of its connection to Transcendentalist thinkers – Thoreau wrote about visiting the village – as he was to the abundance of clean water available in the Ossipee Aquifer.

A good source of water is important because, as Sales Manager Jill Anderson explained during a recent visit to the facility, Tamworth Distilling eschews the usual business model of purchasing a base spirit by the tanker truck, then adding other flavors to create a unique product. Instead, Tamworth Distilling starts from grain – corn, rye and barley, all grown on nearby organic farms – which are distilled in a 250-gallon, copper still.

"(Grasse) wanted to open a distillery that got back to the scratch-made philosophy – that we source our ingredients locally, the best that we can," said Anderson. There are some exceptions to the local-source rule, such as the tamarind that flavors a cordial currently on hand. Most of the time, though, Tamworth Distilling's products are New Hampshire in a bottle.

Part of Tamworth Distilling's mission is to experiment, and so, with a few exceptions, each product exists only as long as the bottles remain on the shelf. This winter, the distillery released Skikulbben, an aquavit created to honor the Nansen Ski Club's 145th season. Want to try a taste? Better hurry.

"When the aquavit is gone, the aquavit is gone, and it probably won't be made again," said Anderson. Gin flavors follow the season: Apiary Gin for spring, followed by Floral, Wild Hops and, in winter, Spruce. Flights of fancy are also indulged, such as the black trumpet and blueberry cordial, which balances the sweetness of berries and lavender with the brightness of lemon verbena and earthiness of wild mushrooms.

"It has developed a bit of a cult following," Anderson said of the cordial. 

To the Taste of the Lakes Region, Anderson said she will bring the three products that are available at state liquor stores: White Mountain Vodka, Art In The Age chicory root-infused vodka and Camp Robber, a blend of whiskey, apple brandy and apple cider. She will also bring a handful of other products to show the range of flavors that can be coaxed out of clean water and local plants.

"People are finding a vast difference in tasting something that is scratch-made," said Anderson. "People can really taste it for themselves."

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Matt Power, one of the distillers at Tamworth Distilling, is a trained chemist. Here, he analyzes the different flavor profiles that are distilled out of hops, to determine which flavors to use in gin. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

March tee time – Simulators busy with golf tournaments this winter

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Dr. Paul Racicot, president of medical staff at LRGHealthcare; The Golf Club at Patrick's Place Manager Dan Wilkins, and Maureen Wilkins, manager of donor relations at LRGHealthcare, are offering a tournament through the month of March to benefit a planned renovation of the LRGH Emergency Department. It will be the third charity tournament hosted by the indoor, simulated golf facility this winter. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN

GILFORD — The iconic Pebble Beach Golf Links, bathed in California sunshine and lapped by the Pacific Ocean, seems like another world when compared to New Hampshire's February landscape. But, thanks to the three sophisticated simulators at The Golf Club at Patrick's Place, teams of four will be able to experience the closest thing to Pebble Beach without buying a plane ticket. The simulated, indoor golf tournament is now the third fund raising tournament this winter to be held at The Golf Club at Patrick's Place.

Dan Wilkins, club manager at The Golf Club, said the facility opened four years ago, occupying a second-floor space above Patrick's Pub and Eatery. The club held its first fund raising tournament last winter, for the Laconia Rotary Club. It went well enough that the Rotary Club held the event again this year, as well as a fund raiser for a Pub Mania team, which in turn donated its proceeds to the Greater Lakes Region Children's Auction in December. The Pebble Beach tournament, held during the month of March, will benefit a planned renovation of the Emergency Department at Lakes Region General Hospital.

Why an indoor golf tournament? There are several reasons beyond the obvious, that it allows players to golf when there's a foot of snow covering local courses. The indoor tournaments are convenient, because they allow a foursome to play any time they choose within a given time frame, while conventional tournaments are played on a single day. Simulated tournaments make it possible for players to try out some of the world's most prestigious courses, such as Pebble Beach, for a fraction of the cost of the real thing. And then there's the social angle – because of the more laid-back atmosphere, and with only the other members of one's team watching, beginner or casual golfers feel more comfortable in a simulator than they would teeing off in front of a large crowd.

The trio of simulators at The Golf Club at Patrick's Place are made by aboutGOLF, a brand endorsed by the PGA Tour. Players stand inside of a three-sided booth, looking at a 15-foot screen showing the hole they're playing. They strike the ball into the screen, while a high-speed camera above and slightly behind them records the velocity, trajectory and spin of the ball, then shows the ball traveling down the course and, the player hopes, toward the fairway or green.

"It knows everything about that ball," said Wilkins. "This can be just as frustrating indoors as outdoors, the good thing is that you don't lose any balls."

Wilkins said that The Golf Club, over the course of a month, can accommodate as many golfers as could a conventional tournament held on one day. Four-person teams will pay $160 to participate in the Pebble Beach.

Maureen Wilkins, Dan's wife and manager of donor relations at LRGHealthcare, said proceeds from the event will further the campaign to give Lakes Region General Hospital's Emergency Department a much-needed overhaul. "The hospital has gotten on sound financial footing, they're looking at the services they need to improve."

The plans for the renovation are still being finalized, but Dr. Paul Racicot, president of medical staff, said medical practices have changed since the last time there was a renovation to the Emergency Department, which, during the summer season, is the second-busiest department of its kind in the state.

"In my eyes, it's the front door of the hospital. It's a new era for infectious disease," Racicot said. The old way of managing patients, by keeping them all in a large room, separated by curtains, has been left by the wayside. In its place is a philosophy that every patient should have a private room, and that different services should be segregated into different pods, so that a child with a cut on her finger doesn't have to be treated in the same space as someone suffering from a psychotic crisis.

"For all hospitals, profitability is razor-thin, if at all, so projects like these are going to have to come through philanthropy," said Racicot.

Maureen Wilkins said that teams will be playing for prizes such as dinner for eight at The Local Eatery, the prize for the Open Division, while teams in the Senior Division will be competing for a foursome of golf at the Laconia Country Club. There will also be Closest to the Pin prizes for each of the holes, and raffle prizes.

To sign up for the tournament, contact Dan Wilkins at 603-387-2597.

 

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Dr. Paul Racicot attempts to find the green on a simulated version of Pebble Beach's famed seventh hole at The Golf Club at Patrick's Place. The indoor golf simulators use high-speed cameras to read the speed, trajectory and spin of each shot, then project how the ball would travel down the course. (Adam Drapcho/The Laconia Daily Sun)

 

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Get your nerd on at White Mountain Comicon

PLYMOUTH — Remember what it was like to hold a brand-new comic book in your hands, see a familiar character on the cover, and turn the pages to see what adventure was held within? If so, you're not alone. Now that that children of the comic book era have children, or grandchildren, of their own, a new golden age of comic books has dawned. Celebrating the comic renaissance, the inaugural White Mountain Comicon, a convention of sorts for fans of comic books and related movies and televisions shows, will be held on Feb. 25 and 26 at the Common Man Inn in Plymouth.

A comicon is a gathering of people who create comic books, people who market comic books and related collectibles, and fans of the books, movies and TV shows from the genre. While they have become hugely popular in other parts of the country, including southern New England, the White Mountain Comicon is only the second such event in New Hampshire, and it is the brainchild of Tom Lord.

Lord has been a long-time fan of comic books, though it was only recently that he turned his past-time into an occupation. About a year ago, he opened White Mountain Comics, at 607 Tenney Mountain Highway in Plymouth, after leaving a career as a heavy equipment operator and four-by-four event organizer. A father of five, he shared his love of comic books and their culture with his children. He noticed the number of people interested in comic book culture increase several years ago, propelled by big-budget action movies based on comic book characters.

"I've always been a collector of comic books, my kids started getting in comicons five, six years ago. Once the movies started hitting, it started getting more popular. So, we decided to try it." Lord said the idea to start a comicon was suggested by his daughter, and he opened his comic book store about a year ago to gauge the local interest in comics. Business has been "very good," he said, and so he felt the time was right to organize his firs 'con. 

White Mountain Comicon will include vendors offering comics, collectibles and games, a magician who performs a pop culture-themed show, celebrity guests such as actors from a Star Wars movie and Walking Dead shows, artists of well-known comic book titles as well as creators of indepedently-produced and published titles.

And then there will be people engaging in Cosplay – fans of comic book or movie characters who assemble their own, sometimes remarkably identical, costumes of the character, and even behave as that character at the convention. Cosplay blurs the line between performer and audience, as particularly convincing cosplayers will often be stopped by strangers and asked to be part of a photo.

"You become part of pop culture itself, just by dressing as a character and having fun," said Lord. 

Lord has no idea how many people will show up for the first-ever White Mountain Comicon, although he has already sold tickets to people throughout New England and into New York. The event will be held from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on both Feb. 25 and 26, and daily admission costs $10 per adult and $5 for those under 16. Lord said he was careful to keep prices low enough for a family to be able to attend together. Advance tickets can be purchased at White Mountain Comics, or online at squareup.com/store/whitemtcomics.

Tilton resident Michael Mitchell, who, along with his wife Michelle, creates the comic book Zombie Sub 920, said he was signing copies of his books at White Mountain Comics when Lord mentioned to him his plans to create the comicon.

"We thought that was a great idea. We offered to do a poster for him," said Mitchell. Like his other works, Mitchell hand-drew the poster in a style reminiscent of comic artists many decades ago. "All my comic books look like they were printed in 1962," he said, chuckling. Comicons have become an important opportunity for artists such as Mitchell.

"It gives us a chance to meet comic fans face-to-face, introduce our brand, tell them about our product – plus it's a great chance for us as artists to meet up and exchange ideas." The sudden popularity of characters from the DC and Marvel brands, introduced to broad markets through blockbuster movies, has brought a lot of attention back to those characters' origins in paper books, said Mitchell. However, it also has created an opportunity for smaller-scale artists. Mitchell Comics, Michael and Michelle's company, produces a series titled "Zombie Sub 920," in which a submarine of zombies cooperates with humans to fight off an alien invasion. They have also produced non-fiction comics, which tell the history of New Hampshire astronaut Alan Shepard, UFO sightings in Exeter, and the innovative USS Albacore, which was built at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

"A lot of the independent artists are doing off-the-wall things," said Mitchell, such as comic books about New Hampshire history. "You're never going to see that from a Marvel or DC."

Lord plans to made the White Mountain Comicon an annual, late-February event, and is considering adding another comicon in late fall. For more, visit www.facebook.com/whitemtcomicon/.

 

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The poster for White Mountain Comicon was drawn by Michael Mitchell, a comic book artist from Tilton.

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Tom Lord, who operates White Mt. Comics in Plymouth, decided to organize his own comicon after attending many others with his family. The White Mountain Comicon will include artists from well-known titles, as well as local, independent atists, such as the creator of "Harold the Happy Human Eater," who painted his character on Lord's wall. (Adam Drapcho/The Laconia Daily Sun)

 

 

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