PORTLAND, Maine — Agave nectar, with some ghost chili pepper, peanuts and… popcorn?

The latter was the most important ingredient for Matt Burns, sous chef at the Portland restaurant Zapoteca, as he carefully mixed everything up in a silver bowl with gloved hands.

Among the people he most needed to impress in his first try at cooking with popcorn was young Robert Gonneville from Boy Scout Pack 311 in Saco.

Five of the city’s most popular eateries sent teams to Monument Square on Wednesday afternoon to put gourmet spins on Boy Scout popcorn in an effort to help raise the profile of the organization’s signature fundraising snack. Judges for the light-hearted first Popcorn Bowl were Gonneville, the Pine Tree Council’s top popcorn seller for 2011, WMTW TV news anchor Erin Ovalle, Southern Maine Community College culinary arts program chairman and chef Wil Beriau, and Portland Press Herald food writer Meredith Goad.

“Popcorn sales for Boy Scouts is a major fundraiser,” said Jim Lesser, a member of the Boy Scouts Pine Tree Council’s marketing committee. “But talking to people, it just doesn’t have the same awareness surrounding it as the Girl Scouts do with their cookies.”

Lesser said the Portland-based Scouting organization aimed to make a splash with a new event that could turn heads and make potential buyers think twice before turning down the Cub Scouts knocking on their doors or at a stand next to the local grocery store.

The message? Popcorn isn’t just for movie theaters anymore.

“Portland is such a foodie town with such amazing chefs, we thought, ‘What better way to get the word out about our popcorn,’” Lesser said.

“This is very new for me,” Burns admitted. “Our owners threw this my way a week ago, and so I’ve been testing and developing recipes to prepare.”

Joining Burns in the Monument Square competition Wednesday were Chef Jason Loring from Nosh, Frog & Turtle owner James Tranchemontagne, Christian Gordon from the South Portland Sea Dog Brewing Co., and line cooks Elizabeth and William Armington from Hot Suppa.

“We’re making spicy sweet popcorn,” William Armington said. “Some of our ingredients are maple syrup, bacon fat, and then this spice mix here with black pepper, salt, cayenne, chili and onion powder.”

Melted butter, eat your heart out.

Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.