Five years ago, we cooked up a seafood contest just for the chefs of Alabama, and we called it the Alabama Seafood Cook-Off.
Of course, we’ve had a wonderful time gathering the finest chefs in our state each spring or summer these past few years, and the ASCO crown is a special signifier for us. But it also represents something bigger—it’s our way of determining who will represent us on a larger stage at the Great American Seafood Cook-Off in New Orleans.
That’s the challenge that awaits Chef Ramon Jacobsen, our 2019 ASCO champion.
Jacobsen is our fifth ASCO champion, but he also happens to be the second ASCO champion hailing from Odette in Florence. Which means he’s been training with a former ASCO winner for a long, long time.
“Chef Quick is my mentor in my career and also one of my best friends,” said Jacobsen. “Everything I know in this profession comes from my training under him.”
Having Quick as a mentor has been an advantage for Jacobsen in more ways than one. In 2016, when Quick competed at the GASCO, Jacobsen was by his side helping him prepare his dish. Then, at this year’s ASCO, Quick returned the favor by assisting him with his dish.
That experience was key for Jacobsen, who was competing in his first ASCO competition this spring.
“Our experience in the GASCO was very helpful for every competition we participate in,” said Jacobsen. “I was familiar with the structure of the competition, so the pressure of a first time wasn’t there. It was a great experience for me, though.”
Having been in cooking competitions before might’ve given Jacobsen an edge, but it was his eye-opening recipe that sealed the deal. His dish—Gulf Snapper Escabeche with Kalamata Olive Causa—was made using Alabama ingredients, of course, but the recipe reaches back to his roots.
“I am originally from Lima, Peru, and Fish Escabeche is one of the most traditional dishes on the coast of Peru,” said Jacobsen. “My mother, who is also a cook, would make it often, so I grew up eating it. I want to share my culture and traditions through my food.”
Since the ASCO in May, Jacobsen has been preparing for the next big competition nearly every day. Since Odette’s menu is constantly changing, he and Quick added the Snapper Escabeche to the summer menu, so they’ve been constantly making it, tasting it, and plating it.
Jacobsen also reached out to Alabama’s only GASCO champion—Chef Jim Smith, chairman of the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission, who won in 2011—for a few pointers about the competition.
With just over two weeks until the competition in New Orleans, Jacobsen is feeling prepared and focused on the ultimate goal: bringing the title of GASCO champion back to Alabama where it belongs.
“Alabama opened its doors to me and my family when we moved here from Peru 13 years ago,” said Jacobsen. “Winning would be amazing, but it is an honor just to compete with the Alabama name on my shoulders. It is home!”