By Christine Blank, Contributing Editor
Published on Thursday, August 11, 2016
Alex Eaton, chef and partner of The Manship Wood Fired Kitchen Inn Jackson, Mississippi, has become a celebrity overnight.
After taking first place at the Great American Seafood Cook-off in New Orleans on 7 August, he has already seen an increase in the number of guests flocking to his already-popular, three-year-old restaurant.
“Some people were flying in from Chicago for business, when they opened USA Today and saw the article [on the win]. They decided to eat here while they were in town,” Eaton told SeafoodSource.
Eaton won the “King of American Seafood” title over 10 other U.S. chefs for his dish, a trio of Gulf shrimp. The dish contained New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp, Mediterranean white shrimp and royal red shrimp giving the dish a Florida theme.
“I wanted to do shrimp, even though it’s the hardest thing not to overcook in a competition,” Eaton said.
The New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp was inspired by his time working at Mr. B’s Bistro in New Orleans and his own style of “Mediterranean cooking with Southern roots.”
The Mediterranean shrimp dish was accompanied by a broth made with pernod French liquor, garlic and lemon and topped with pickled onions.
Eaton’s Florida-themed dish was inspired by the royal red shrimp that Eaton ate as a youth every summer while visiting Perdido Key, Florida.
“A lot of people wrap it in bacon, but we wrapped it in Serrano ham, served it with an artichoke and piquillo pepper vinaigrette and topped it with micro lemon basil to give it some citrus flavor,” he said.
Eaton believes one of the reasons the shrimp dish was successful was because it was simple.
“We didn’t do a lot of stuff; each dish only had two to three components. So, they didn’t get all these crazy sauces and vegetables.”
With a Lebanese background, Eaton has been serving Mediterranean and Southern-inspired seafood dishes like his Great American Seafood Cook-off entry to growing crowds at his restaurant over the past three years.
“It’s getting busier, which is a good problem to have,” he said.
The eatery purchases around 250 pounds of fresh seafood weekly, primarily from the Gulf of Mexico. The restaurant primarily sources Gulf seafood from New Orleans Fish House and Evans Meats in Birmingham, Alabama.
Eaton’s restaurant keeps seafood dishes reasonably priced for an upscale restaurant by purchasing whole fish – for USD 8 (EUR 7.18) per pound, in some cases – and then breaking them down.
“I don’t like to charge more than USD 29 (EUR 26) for any entrée,” Eaton said.
The restaurant features a whole fish or filleted fish entrée nightly – using whatever is most seasonal – along with several seafood appetizers, including grilled oysters, raw oysters and tuna crudo. Eaton brings in whole ahi tuna loins and then smokes them weekly for the Manship’s popular tuna dip, along with salads and other dishes.
The restaurant also prepares a lot of wood-roasted whole fish and wood-roasted Italian seafood skewers. Other popular dishes at the restaurant include crab beignets, smoked salmon and shrimp ‘n grits.