Creativity Reigns at the 5th Annual Oyster Cook-Off

When the weather gets colder, the oysters get tastier. That’s why The Hangout in Gulf Shores kicked off the month of November with the 5th Annual Oyster Cook-Off.

Seafood fans from across the South gathered at The Hangout on Nov. 3 to sample Gulf oysters from more than forty different teams made up of celebrity chefs and regional restaurants, and this year’s event was the best yet. From Oysters Rockefeller to Cajun oysters to the most inventive raw oysters imaginable, it was truly a seafood spectacle.

Alabama Gulf Seafood nominated several official entrants to bring in chefs from all over the state, including Chef Chis Sherrill of Orange Beach, Chef Wesley True and Chef Jim Smith of Montgomery, and Chef Bill Stellwagen and Chef James Boyce of Huntsville.

And to spice things up with a bit of celebrity, “Next Food Network Star” finalist and Birmingham-native Martie Duncan assembled an all-girl team of fellow Next Food Network Star personalities, including Michele Ragussis, Nikki Martin, Emily Ellyn, and Linkie Marsais.

But the real celebrity, of course, was the oyster. And the Grand Prize of Best Overall was awarded to Happy Harbor of Gulf Shores, who placed first in the Raw category and third in the Cajun category.

For the folks at Happy Harbor, it was a giant step forward in the Oyster Cook-Off ranks. “This was our third year being involved,” said co-owner Dominic Specchio. “The best we had done previous to this year was having one of our teammates finish second in the shucking contest. It’s a huge achievement for Happy Harbor to win something so big involving so many great competitors.”

While Happy Harbor’s oyster recipes remain a secret, their innovative ingredients were certainly on display. Their raw oyster was a cucumber mignonette mix with sesame and chili oil, and their Cajun oyster was topped with shredded tasso ham, crawfish, smoked gouda cheese and a spicy Cajun sauce on top.

Other teams that took home multiple awards included the Texas 1 Spice Gourmet Seasoning team, who placed second in the Rockefeller category and third in the Raw category, and Big Fish Restaurant of Orange Beach, who placed first in the Cajun category and were also awarded Best Booth.

The official judges panel wasn’t the only barometer of oyster success. Spectators were allowed to sample every oyster on the list, and the honor of People’s Choice was awarded to Chef Chris Sherrill’s Eat! Restaurant in Orange Beach.

But with this year’s Oyster Cook-Off, everyone that showed up and chowed down was a winner thanks to fresh, premium oysters and a cavalcade of creative chefs. “This area is about more than just ‘raw oysters,’” said Specchio. “Chefs and restaurants in the Alabama Gulf are creative and like to come up with more than one way to eat an oyster.”

For a full list of this year’s winners, check out the official Oyster Cook-Off site. And to check out some of this year’s Oyster Cook-Off highlights and learn more about Alabama’s oyster industry, check out the videos below.