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Group Gets Crackin' on World's Largest Lobster Roll

February 24, 2009 - PORTLAND It's an event that's liable to attract lobster lovers near and far.

The West End Neighborhood Association plans to make the world's largest lobster roll at the Old Port Festival on June 7 and establish a first-time record with Guinness World Records.

The association intends to sell pieces of the sandwich to raise money for youth swimming lessons at the neighborhood pool and for programs at the neighborhood branch of the Portland Public Library.

Association leaders have pitched the record-setting idea to Guinness and are waiting for final approval to create a massive version of the quintessential Maine sandwich.

"It's an opportunity for us to raise money in a traditional but offbeat way," said Rosanne Graef, association president.

Now, the association is working out the logistics of making a lobster roll that will be at least 60 feet long. It will be judged by its length and weight, although the exact dimensions have yet to be determined.

A quick Internet search turned up a few other organizations that claim to have made record-setting lobster rolls as long as 59 feet, 10 inches, and weighing more than 60 pounds. However, Guinness has no record of those achievements, said Jamie Panas, the company's U.S. spokeswoman.

Panas said many people attempt or claim to have set Guinness records, but relatively few go through the stringent application and review process that's required to be recognized by the London-based company.

Still, the neighborhood association plans to trump the unofficial records, said Michael Whittaker, the group member who suggested the fundraiser.

Whittaker said the association's record must be impressive enough to discourage immediate challenges by other organizations or events, such as the Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland.

"One of our bigger fears is that Rockland will try to beat us next year and we'll be going toe to toe with them year after year," he said. "So we're trying to keep some details secret to confound attempts to surpass our record."

Whittaker manages the neighborhood's library branch. Surprisingly, he's no lobster lover.

"I actually don't eat any seafood," he said. "My wife, however, is an aficionado beyond belief, so I know how particular people can be about lobster rolls."

Whittaker said the association will name a panel of experts to develop a recipe for a lobster roll that's enormous, delicious and authentically Maine.

It will be made with fresh Maine lobster meat and mayonnaise. It won't include fillers such as chopped celery.

"That's a no-no," Whittaker said. "We haven't decided whether we'll use lettuce, which is mostly added for aesthetic value."

The association is looking for a bakery that's willing and able to bake a hot dog-style roll that's at least 60 feet long.

"Obviously, we'll need a much larger roll than we can purchase at a supermarket," Whittaker said.

The association also is seeking sponsors to cover the cost of renting space at the Old Port Festival and buying supplies, including live lobsters, which retail for $3 to $12 per pound, depending on size and season.

Janis Beitzer, executive director of Portland's Downtown District, which organizes the festival, said the lobster roll fundraiser would be a welcome addition to an event that attracts about 40,000 people each year.

"We're always looking for new things to draw people to the festival," she said.

Dane Somers, executive director of the Maine Lobster Promotion Council, said the association was smart to choose lobster as a fundraiser because it has instant cache with tourists.

"People usually have one or two things on their minds when they come to Maine," Somers said. "One of them is eating lobster."

By KELLEY BOUCHARD, Staff Writer, Portland Press Herald, February 23, 2009


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