Many American chefs showed their skills in seafood preparation at the 2009 Great American Seafood Cook-Off, held Saturday in New Orleans for the sixth straight year. The event, which has featured both up-and-coming and celebrity chefs over the years, underscored the importance of cooking with domestic seafood and encouraged the use of products from sustainable fisheries.
Tory McPhail, executive chef of Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, was crowned “King of American Seafood.” New Jersey’s Peter Fischbach, executive chef for Gourmet Dining Services at New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, captured second prize, while Alaska’s Patrick Hoogerhyde, executive chef of WildFin Seagrill in Anchorage took home third.
Sig Hansen, the commercial fishing captain who stars in the popular documentary television show Deadliest Catch, and Chef John Folse, who is often recognized as Louisiana’s Culinary Ambassador to the World, co-hosted the event.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal participated in the cook-off’s opening ceremonies. Earlier this year, the governor sent letters to governors of all 50 states asking them to appoint a chef executive chef and an assistant to represent his or her state in Saturday’s competition at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, during the Louisiana Foodservice Expo.
The cook-off featured 15 teams, each preparing a domestic-seafood dish that reflected the cuisine of their home state. Judges representing the top echelon of the culinary arts crowned the King or Queen of American Seafood 2009. Last year, executive chef John Currence of City Grocery in Oxford, MS won with his Mississippi Redfish Courtboullion with Seafood Dirty Rice and was on-hand to pass the crown to this year’s winner.
McPhail’s winning dish was a “Creole Seafood Mixed Grill,” which combined Louisiana sheepshead, shrimp and crabmeat. Earning second place, New Jersey’s Fischbach prepared Pan-seared Viking Village day-boat sea scallops with creamy chili-herb grits, warm “pickled” root vegetables, smokey apple wood bacon, micro greens and corn volute. Hoogerhyde of Alaska captured third with Wild Alaska King Salmon with cranberry-infused birch syrup molasses and Susitna Valley hash of potatoes nested in Alaska summer greens.
NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, the event’s chief sponsor, uses the cook-off to highlight to American seafood consumers the agency’s management of the Nation’s marine ecosystems. “Rebuilding U.S. marine fisheries so they can support the highest sustainable harvest for future generations of Americans is a significant challenge,” says Jim Balsiger, acting NOAA Fisheries Service assistant administrator. “We are on target to end overfishing and set annual catch limits as required by U.S. law.”
“The Great American Seafood Cook-Off is a showcase for both the chefs and American seafood, and is an exciting way to educate consumers about the importance of sustainable seafood at the market and in restaurants,” says Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board and executive producer of the Cook Off. “Each year it is a treat to see and taste the amazing dishes that originated in American waters.”
Fifteen contenders for the title flew in from across the nation to represent their home states : Alabama, Zack Compton; Alaska, Patrick Hoogerhyde; California, Ian MacBride; Idaho, Randy King; Illinois, G. Michael Taylor, Kentucky, John Varanese; Louisiana, Tory McPhail; Maine, Margaret Salt McLellan; Maryland, Vaishali P. Chitnis; Mississippi, Rob Stinson; New Jersey, Peter J. Fischbach; Oregon, Philippe Boulot; Rhode Island, Nick Rabar; Texas, Chuck Harris; West Virginia, Ed Fischer.
Great American Seafood Cook Off sponsors include NOAA and FishWatch, Michelob Brewing Company, Whole Foods Market, Loubat Food Service Equipment, Louisiana Restaurant Association and the Royal Sonesta New Orleans hotel. Acknowledgement is also in order to the supportive seafood organizations; the National Fisheries Institute, Gulf and South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation, Texas Department of Agriculture, Jones Seafood Solutions, Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board and Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. A special thanks also to media sponsors, Gulfscapes Magazine, Louisiana Cookin’, Culinary Concierge and Louisiana Public Broadcasting.