On the afternoon of Monday, May 16, at the beautiful Lodge at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, four chefs began prepping their recipe items in anticipation of the 7th Annual Alabama Seafood Cook-Off. Chosen in the weeks prior by an anonymous judges’ panel among entries from across Alabama, Chef Sam Adams from Small Batch in Birmingham, Chef Morgan McWaters from The Depot in Auburn, Chef Jeffrey Compton from The Battery in Birmingham, and Chef Robbie Nicolaisen from The Hound in Auburn were selected to go head-to-head for the state crown. Each selected recipe was composed of an Alabama Gulf Seafood item as the main ingredient.
At 6:00 p.m., these chefs, alongside their respective assistant chefs, began preparing dishes, each team having one hour to present to the judges. In a blind draw with four separate start positions, chef teams began cooking in 10-minute intervals to account for presentation and judge tasting in between competitors.
Up first was Chef McWaters and Assistant Chef Blaze Ferrell with a unique Fried Green Snapper creation highlighted with spicy creamed corn, jumbo crab, Granny Smith apple, and red cabbage slaw with Alabama white sauce. Second was Chef Jeffrey Compton and Assistant Chef Kyle Kirkpatrick with their Butter Poached Redfish alongside new potato and blue crab salad, late spring vegetables, lemon bay aioli and garden herbs. Chef Adams and her Assistant Chef Liz Brody competed third, choosing Seafood Tamal as their signature dish and integrating crab, black garlic masa, shrimp stock, fermented corn puree, shrimp pico de gallo, oyster emulsion, candied habanero, and local radis. As the final competing team Chef Robbie Nicolaisen alongside Assistant Chef Fernando Justiniano prepared Binchotan Grilled Cobia with chubby belly XO glaze, crab fat rice middlins, green tomato dashi, nuoc cham braised cabbage and collard green togarashi.
Throughout the Cook-Off, emcee Chef Pete Blohme, also known as “Panini Pete,” led the crowd in cheering on Alabama Seafood Cook-Off competitors. A long-standing industry expert, Blohme has been owner of Panini Pete’s Café and Bakeshoppe since 2006. He currently operates locations in three states and, in 2015 opened Sunset Pointe in Fairhope – an award-winning waterfront restaurant with local gulf seafood and mixology bar. Not only a restaurant owner, Blohme has also made his way in the media industry, from hosting his own web series, podcasts, and even appearing on a variety of Food Network programs and web videos. One of Blohme’s many stakes to fame is his appearance in over 30 live Food Shows on tour with the Guy Fieri Road Show. He additionally co-founded TheMesslords, a group of celebrity chefs that travel across the world cooking for American troops.
As Panini Pete energized the crowd, chefs completed their dish creations in their allotted cadence on the open Lodge terrace overlooking the beach and ocean views and presented their dishes in order to a panel of five judges for scoring:
- Jim Smith, Founder and Executive Chef of The Hummingbird Way and Chairman of the Board for the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission
- Jason Burnett, Founder of Oyster Obsession, Director of Flower Magazine and Founding Editor of myrecipes.com
- Steve Zucker, Executive Chef of Dauphin’s
- James Balster, Executive Chef of the Lodge at Gulf State Park
- Chris Nelson, President of Bon Secour Fisheries, Inc.
After scoring, Second Place was awarded to The Depot’s Chef Morgan McWaters and Chef Ferrell who took home an Alabama Seafood Cook-Off branded cutting board and customized Alabama Gulf Seafood spoon, courtesy of Charlie’s Trophies in Montgomery.
The 2022 Alabama Seafood Cook-Off title was then awarded to The Battery’s Chef Compton and Chef Kirkpatrick who received a cash prize of $2,500, courtesy of the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission, in addition to a branded cutting board and spoon, and a handmade knife from Meadows Knives. Chef Compton will now go on to represent Alabama in the national Great American Seafood Cook-Off (GASCO) in August. Held in New Orleans, GASCO is a part of the Louisiana Restaurant Association’s Food Service Expo.
“It’s a huge honor to be deemed the top seafood chef in the state of Alabama,” said Chef Compton. “My competitors were tough to beat, and it’s exciting we have such talent within our four corners. I am excited and honored to represent our state on a national level in a few months to showcase the bountiful seafood Alabama has to offer.”
The Cook-Off was live-streamed from WSFA 12 News. Additional information can accessed here.