It takes lots of preparation to be an Olympic athlete, from training to preliminary competition to pre-game tactics. But one thing’s for certain: they gotta eat. And during the 2012 Olympic Games in London, England, the men and women of Team U.S.A. were treated to a special feast.
In an effort to promote Gulf Seafood, longtime Team U.S.A. partners BP organized the “Spirit of the Gulf” event, a four-day seafood celebration that featured eight Gulf Coast chefs (two each from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida) preparing signature recipes for the athletes at the U.S.A. House. More than 1,000 people sampled Gulf Seafood each day throughout the event, and music was provided by a handful of bands from the Gulf Coast.
“BP’s support for the U.S. Olympic Movement in London demonstrates our commitment to operating in and contributing to the economic vitality of thousands of local communities across the globe,” said Crystal Ashby, BP’s vice president of government and public affairs. “BP is proud to use the power of the London 2012 Olympic Games as another way to promote the Gulf Coast, draw new visitors to the region and demonstrate our ongoing commitment to the community.”
For Alabama’s Chef Alec Naman (of Naman’s Catering in Mobile) and Chef Chris Sherrill (of EAT! Catering in Orange Beach), the event was a huge honor—and a big surprise. “I thought they were joking,” Naman said of the phone call he received from BP. “I was just overwhelmed.”
Sherrill, who had never been out of the country, was equally taken aback. “There are many chefs in this state that do a great job of promoting Alabama Gulf Seafood and are very talented, and for me to be chosen was just shocking and an honor,” said Sherrill.
Once they arrived in London, Naman and Sherrill soon discovered that they were doing more than just serving food to the athletes—they were a part of the Olympic experience. So much so, in fact, that the Team U.S.A. athletes saw them as VIPs. “They certainly treated us like celebrities,” said Naman, “and I was honored to treat them as celebrities as well. All of our dishes were big, big hits. They came back for seconds and thirds.”
“They couldn’t have been more humble or more grateful,” echoed Sherrill, who recalled one athlete’s reaction in particular. “One young lady looked at us and said, ‘you mean to tell me that y’all are here to give us a little piece of home?’” Even the BP officials that were present at the event took part in the festivities. “Every one of them ate our dishes and ate them with gusto,” said Sherrill. “They had lots of great things to say.”
When it came to their recipes, Naman and Sherrill took different approaches to the event. One of the culinary styles that Naman’s Catering boasts as a specialty is Cajun cuisine, so Naman, a 20-year veteran of the Mobile seafood scene, chose to feature Shrimp in a Cajun Shrimp with Artichoke Cream Sauce recipe. Sherrill, on the other hand, decided to put together a special recipe featuring Grouper called Grouper Jubilee in honor of both the Queen’s recent 60th Anniversary Diamond Jubilee and the naturally occurring seafood jubilee that happens on a regular basis only on Alabama’s coast.
“The Queen of England has a few favorite dishes that her chef prepares her, so I loosely interpreted that,” said Sherrill. “I wanted to mirror some things that she liked, and the dish was really in her honor.” That’s what the “Spirit of the Gulf” event was really all about: the opportunity to present Gulf Seafood to an international audience.
“For BP to take [our] culture and food to another country and showcase what we do in the South and the Gulf of Mexico was an ingenious plan,” said Sherrill.
“It’s just a matter of pride,” echoed Naman. “I’ve been in Alabama all my life, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else but Alabama.”
That’s not to say, though, that Naman would turn down an offer to cook for Team U.S.A. again at a future date. “I hope they invite me to Rio de Janeiro!”
If you’d like to try Alabama’s “Spirit of the Gulf” recipes in your own kitchen, check out our Cook It page to see Alec Naman’s Cajun Shrimp with Artichoke Cream Sauce and Chris Sherrill’s Grouper Jubilee.
Other recipes from BP’s “Spirit of the Gulf” event include Ultimate Louisiana Crab Cakes from Chef John Folse of Louisiana, Crabmeat Maison from Chef Michael Sichel of Louisiana, Gulf Seafood and Gator Sausage Gumbo from Chef Calvin Coleman of Mississippi, Southern BBQ Shrimp with Smoked Sausage, Green Onion and Goat Cheese Grits from Chef Chris Poplin of Mississippi, Grouper with Onion-Corn Relish and Creamy Crab Sauce from Chef Paul Stellato of Florida, and Crispy Pan-Seared Swordfish from Chef Justin Timineri of Florida.