Chef Jeremy Downey is no stranger to Alabama Gulf Seafood. Growing up in Bayou La Batre, the Seafood Capital of Alabama, he was constantly working around (and dining on) fresh Alabama Gulf Seafood. Even today, he eats seafood every other day.
Cooking competitions, however, are a new feather in his cap. And considering the fact that his first ever competition was the 4th Annual Alabama Seafood Cook-Off (ASCO)—which he won, by the way—he’s riding high in our state’s culinary circles.
“It was the first time I’ve ever competed, and that made it even sweeter,” said Chef Downey, who is currently the head chef of Bistro V in Birmingham. “And it was in Bayou La Batre, my hometown, and I had my family there. My mom, dad, grandmas, my son was there, a bunch of cousins and aunts and uncles. It was so much fun to see their faces and then bring it home.”
This year’s crop of ASCO contestants was impressive, to be sure. Last year’s runner-up, Chef Jason Ramirez of Villaggio Grille in Orange Beach, was joined by newcomers Chef Jeremiah Matthews of Southwood Kitchen in Daphne and Chef Scott Simpson of The Depot in Auburn, who was this year’s runner-up.
This was the first year that Bayou La Batre played the host city for the competition, and it was one of the most successful years ever.
But Chef Downey’s work is not yet done.
As part of his winnings, Chef Downey has been chosen to be Alabama’s ambassador to the Great American Seafood Cook-Off (GASCO) next month in New Orleans. While Alabama chefs have competed well over the past several years, our state hasn’t brought home the top prize since Chef Jim Smith, Chairman of the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission, won it in 2011.
Chef Downey isn’t interested in just a good showing—he wants to capture the crown.
“I love competition, and I love to be in a contest against other states,” said Chef Downey. “To show them that Alabama’s as good as anybody. I know that, and most people that eat here know that, but nonetheless, bringing it home is very important to me. So I’m going to work my tail off and hopefully win this thing.”
At the advice of Chef Smith and other former participants, Chef Downey’s spent part of the summer tweaking his ASCO-winning recipe: Cast Iron Grouper with Royal Red Mezcal Ceviche, Benton’s Bacon, Sweet Onion, Chayote Squash, and Lump Crab Stuffed with Squash Blossomg, Tempura Style with Salsa Verde. (It’s as tasty as it sounds.)
Chef Downey has been revising parts of the recipe in terms of both ingredients and preparation, based on his ASCO marks last month. Beyond that, he’s just doing what any other skilled competitor would do before a big event: practicing.
“I’ve been working a lot of hours at work, just staying steady,” Chef Downey said. “My sous chef and I, Matt Faust, we’ve just been working a lot, trying to keep that work ethic strong. So that when we get in the competition and it’s seven plates in an hour, we’ll knock that out.”
The 2018 GASCO will take place August 4th at the Ernest Morial Convention Center in New Orleans in conjunction with the Louisiana Restaurant Association Foodservice Expo. Tickets will be $10 at the door.
Best of luck to Chef Downey and his team next weekend!