Cooking contest a national showcase for Gulf seafood

There will be two winners at this year’s Great American Seafood Cook-Off, held on 8 August in New Orleans, La.: The newly crowned King of American Seafood, according to the judges, and Gulf seafood itself, as the contest will promote the product to the U.S. market.

Throughout the summer, 11 or more states will hold cooking competitions – or appoint a chef to compete – leading up to the big event in August. Participating states include Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Florida, Arkansas, Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Alaska. The Great American Seafood Cook-Off is open to all 50 states, so organizers expect more chefs to join the competition.

Host state Louisiana has already named its participant: Mike Brewer, owner of The Sammich restaurant in New Orleans (pictured), snagged top honors at the Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off for his Sheepshead nachos with bacon fat tartar sauce and charred corn salsa.

Similar to last year’s event, the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board (LSPMB) will use the contest to promote Gulf seafood. The day before the competition, LSPMB and NOAA sponsor a separate “throw down competition” for chefs from states outside the Gulf. Those chefs cook their best seafood dish, while chefs from the Gulf Coast states judge them.

The winner receives fresh Gulf seafood shipped to his or her restaurant after the competition. Last year, Alabama and Louisiana shipped 30 pounds of fresh seafood to the throwdown winner, Barton Phillips, executive chef of the Missouri Athletic Club in St. Louis.

“It’s open to any of the Gulf Coast states that want to send seafood,” said Karen Profita, executive director of the LSPMB. “Our mandate is to promote Gulf seafood for the U.S. and we are trying to make the most of that opportunity.”

The LSPMB is also working on getting local fishermen and farmers at the event, to share information about their products.

“The audience can learn about underutilized species or the fresh, wonderful produce we have from farms,” Profita said. “More farmers [and fishermen] are selling directly to restaurants, but they can’t necessarily afford to have a booth at the trade show.”

Last year’s event was emceed by actor and producer Anthony Anderson and Cory Bahr, who was crowned the 2011 King of Louisiana Seafood. Bahr will host again this year, and LSPMB will line up a celebrity co-host.

The annual contest will be held in conjunction with the Louisiana Foodservice & Hospitality Expo at the New Orleans Morial Convention Center, 8-10 August.


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